With no major climate legislation firmly in hand and international allies still resentful after four painful years of Donald Trump, Joe Biden faces a major challenge in reasserting American credibility as he addresses the crucial UN climate talks in Scotland.
The US president, who has vowed to address a climate crisis that he has described as an “existential threat” to civilization, will be greeted at the Cop26 talks with a sense of relief after the decisions of his predecessor, who removed his country of the historic Paris climate agreement and ridiculed climate science as “bullshit.”
But Biden, who left for Europe on Thursday, will arrive in Glasgow with his domestic climate agenda erased by a recalcitrant Congress and a barrage of criticism from climate activists who claim that Biden’s actions have yet to match his words.
This disconnect has unsettled delegates eager to see a reliable American Trump-era partner emerge, amid increasingly dire warnings from scientists that heat waves, floods, crop failures and other “irreversible” effects they are being caught up in the slow response of governments to global warming.
“The United States is still the world’s largest economy, other nations pay attention to it, and we have never had a president more committed to climate action,” said Alice Hill, who was a climate adviser to Barack Obama. But there is skepticism in other countries. They saw our dramatic change from Obama to Trump and the concern is that we will change again. The lack of consistency is the problem. “
Laurence Tubiana, a French diplomat who was a key architect of the Paris agreement, said that Biden had put climate “at the top of his agenda” and that American diplomacy has helped make some progress in countries like Saudi Arabia, South Africa and India. .
But he added that the United States had a “historic climate credibility problem” and that other leaders worry about its domestic political dysfunction and long-term commitment.
“We worry, because it has happened before and it could happen again,” he said. “The United States is the largest historical emitter in the world and has never passed a significant climate law. [Biden] he still has a long way to go to make up for Trump’s lost years. “
In a show of soft American power, Biden will bring a dozen members of his cabinet to Glasgow, where delegates from nearly 200 countries will discuss a deal aimed at avoiding a disastrous 1.5 ° C of global warming, a key goal of the Paris accord. . But perhaps the most transcendent figure in the American effort, who rivals the president himself, is staying home: West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin.
Manchin, a centrist Democrat, stands out in the talks after derailing the centerpiece of a landmark reconciliation bill that would cut U.S. emissions. The White House is still hoping that the bill, which would be the first major climate legislation passed in the US, will help convince other leaders to also increase their efforts in Glasgow to prevent climate collapse.
Delegates to Cop26 have become acutely aware of how Biden needs a vote from Manchin, who has close ties to the fossil fuel industry, to pass his agenda and help determine the future livability of places far away from the state of origin. Senator from West Virginia.
“Bangladeshis probably know more about American politics than the average American, people know about Joe Manchin,” said Saleemul Haq, director of the Bangladesh-based International Center for Climate Change and Development, which faces impending devastation. of the floods. “Joe Manchin is in the pocket of the fossil fuel industry and he is trying to eliminate everything that the coal lobby does not want.
“Biden’s agenda is stuck in Congress with his own senators and he hasn’t delivered anything close to what the United States should deliver. They are only words. His actions are woefully inappropriate. “
Biden has admitted that “America’s prestige is at stake” over the reconciliation bill, according to Democrats who met with the president, but publicly has remained optimistic. When John Kerry, Biden’s climate envoy, said That failure to secure legislation would be like “President Trump withdraws from the Paris agreement, again,” Biden chided him mildly, saying that Kerry had indulged in “hyperbole.”
“In every day of this administration we have been pushing a whole government approach that prepares us to go to this climate conference with incredible momentum,” said an administration official.
The White House has signaled the reinstatement of the Paris accords, the resurrection of several environmental rules removed by Trump, and what it calls the “largest effort to combat climate change in US history” with the reconciliation bill, that is still ready to be channeled. hundreds of billions of dollars in support of solar and wind energy and electric vehicles.
Progressives argue, however, that the Biden administration has done little to curb the fossil fuel industry, notably by allowing two controversial oil projects, the Dakota Access pipeline and the Line 3 pipeline, to go ahead. of Cop26, the administration will auction 80 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas drilling, an area larger than the UK.
“The president is doing so much, but he’s just not doing everything he can to do climate justice and save lives, and we need him now,” said Cori Bush, a progressive Democratic congresswoman who visited the Minnesota Line 3 construction site.
Protests have erupted in front of the White House over this record, and several young climate activists are currently on hunger strike to demand that Biden do more.
“President Biden got off to a great start by joining the Paris accord, but it’s been a frustrating few months, things have slowed down,” said Jade Begay, a climate activist who sits on a White House advisory council. “Joe Manchin is holding our survival on planet Earth hostage for his own political career and people really wonder if Biden will keep his promises.”
The United States has also refused to set an end date for the coal sector, unlike countries such as the United Kingdom and Germany. This position runs counter to a key objective of the British government as host of Cop26, with Alok Sharma, the conference chairman, promising that the talks will help “consign coal to history.”
When asked by the Guardian about the US position on coal, Sharma said that progress on the issue has been slow so far, but “we want to see what is going to be possible” at the Glasgow summit. “I welcome the fact that we now have an administration in the United States that is very focused on taking climate action and supporting the international effort,” he said.
Sharma added: “Ultimately, it is up to world leaders to deliver. It is the world leaders who joined the Paris agreement and … if I may put it that way, they must collectively comply in Cop ”.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism