New Bill Boosts US Climate Credibility 08/10 06:02
After a moment when hopes dimmed that the United States could become an
international leader on climate change, legislation that Congress is poised to
approve could rejuvenate the country's reputation and bolster its efforts to
push other nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions more quickly.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- After a moment when hopes dimmed that the United States
could become an international leader on climate change, legislation that
Congress is poised to approve could rejuvenate the country's reputation and
bolster its efforts to push other nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
The head-snapping turn of events, which has generated a joyful case of
whiplash among Democrats and environmentalists, is a reminder of how domestic
politics is intertwined with worldwide diplomacy.
Advocates feared that last month's breakdown in negotiations in Congress had
undermined efforts to limit the catastrophic effects of global warming. Now
they're energized by the opportunity to tout an unprecedented U.S. success.
"This says, 'We're back, baby,'" said Jennifer Turner, who works on
international climate issues as director of the Woodrow Wilson Center's China
Environment Forum in Washington.
The legislation, which also has provisions on taxes and prescription drugs,
includes about $375 billion over the next decade for clean energy development
and financial incentives for buying electric cars, installing solar panels and
weaning the power grid off fossil fuels. Although the proposals were downsized
during difficult negotiations, it's the single biggest investment in climate
change in U.S. history, and a significant shift from years of inaction that
limited Washington's clout overseas.
The Senate passed the legislation on Sunday, and the House is expected to
approve it on Friday. Then it goes to President Joe Biden for his signature.
Poor nations remain concerned that rich countries like the United States
have not fulfilled financial commitments to help them cope with global warming
and transition to clean energy, something the legislation does not address. But
Biden can still point to it as evidence that the U.S. political system can
address the world's most pressing problems.
"Our ability to have credibility on the global stage depends on our ability
to deliver at home," said Ali Zaidi, the White House deputy national climate
adviser. "We are the pace car. That helps other people go faster and faster."
After President Donald Trump withdrew from the Paris climate accord, Biden
entered office pledging to rejoin the fight against global warming. He set an
ambitious new target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions -- at least 50%
below 2005 levels by 2030 -- and began proposing policies to put the country on
The legislation that Biden is expected to sign is estimated to reduce
emissions between 31% to 44%, according to an analysis by the Rhodium Group, an
independent research firm. Further regulatory steps by the administration could
close the rest of the gap.
"It's good that finally the U.S. is trying to catch up after years of
dragging its feet on climate change and this investment will go a long way to
undoing some of the harm caused by the administration of President Trump," said
Mohamed Adow, director of Power Shift Africa, a think tank based in Nairobi,
The movement on the bill comes just three months before the next U.N.
conference on climate change, which is known as COP27 and will take place in
"Let's hope this legislation is the start of more international cooperation
in the lead up to the COP27 summit, where the most vulnerable get the support
they need," Adow said.
Although the U.S. will still face entrenched skepticism, the progress in
Washington may also give John Kerry, the White House's special envoy on
climate, more momentum going into the conference in November.
"It puts wind in his sail, it gives him a real credibility boost," Turner
said. "This will change the whole dynamic."
Several experts said the U.S. will be empowered to put more pressure on
China, India and other nations that have high emissions but have been unwilling
to cut back for economic reasons.
"This restores some diplomatic legitimacy to the U.S. as an influential
player in international climate negotiations," said Scott Moore, director of
China Programs and Strategic Initiatives at the University of Pennsylvania.
Shayak Sengupta, a fellow at the Observer Research Foundation America, a
Washington-based affiliate of a think tank in India, was less enthusiastic.
"Considering that this bill is long over due after years of U.S. climate
inaction, many countries may view this as the 'bare minimum' of the U.S.'s
historical and moral responsibility for climate," he said.
Sengupta emphasized that poor nations are still looking for rich countries
to fulfill their $100 billion commitment for financial assistance to address
global warming, an issue that's been a sore spot during international
There will be no shortage of other challenges, too. If Republicans retake
Congress or the White House, they could unravel Biden's progress. Supply chains
could struggle to accommodate increased demand for equipment like solar panels
and batteries. China's foreign ministry on Friday announced the country is
cutting off direct climate talks with the U.S. in response to House Speaker
Nancy Pelosi's trip to Taiwan, severing a rare point of longstanding, if
sometimes tumultuous, cooperation between the two countries.
However, experts said China will still take notice if the U.S. succeeds in
becoming a clean energy powerhouse.
"For a while now, China has been leading in clean energy investment
globally," said Xizhou Zhou, an expert in climate and sustainability at S&P
Global, a global research firm. "They will probably see this legislation as a
Deborah Seligsohn, an expert on China's politics and energy at Villanova
University and a former U.S. diplomat in Beijing, said the result could be
lower prices globally.
"To the extent the U.S. starts really investing in things that compete with
key Chinese businesses -- in solar, wind, electric vehicles, batteries -- I
think you're going to see Chinese businesses interested in ramping up their
competitiveness in these industries, by making better products and bringing
prices down," she said.
That could have a ripple effect around the world.
"Developing countries may see prices for renewable energy going down, and
adoption going up," Seligsohn said.
Vibhuti Garg, an energy economist focused on India, said U.S. investment in
clean energy research could pay dividends in poorer nations that don't have the
same resources to develop new technologies.
"The U.S. can share the technology know-how with other countries, especially
the Global South," she said.
Aditya Ramji, from the Institute of Transportation Studies at University of
California, Davis, said that cooperation -- along with financial help -- will
"At some point there will have to be discussions on how they can provide
intellectual property access or lower costs to countries like India and others
to leverage electric vehicle technology," he said.
Climate activists said the U.S. legislation is just one step on a larger
path towards climate action. More progress is needed to put the world on track
to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), a
target that some scientists believe is slipping out of reach.
"We need to fight for political commitments in other countries," said
climate activist Luisa Neubauer, a leading figure in the Fridays for Future
"That's the only way we will manage to turn this from a year of fossil fuel
backlash to a year of climate justice," she said.