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COP26: Biden Makes Economic Pitch for Climate Action

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AP21305556922363-Joe Biden COP26 Summit Glasgow

US President Joe Biden took a message to the COP26 UN climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland that seemed equally suited to a domestic audience: Spend money today to mitigate and adapt to climate change, or spend more tomorrow to deal with its effects.

“This is a moral imperative, but it’s also an economic imperative — if we fuel greater growth, new jobs and better opportunities for all our people,” he said.

Fighting at Home

Biden could have been making his pitch to lawmakers in the US Congress, who have yet to pass either a bipartisan infrastructure bill or a broader Democratic spending package through the “reconciliation” process.

Holdout Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) told reporters Monday that he “will not support a bill this consequential without thoroughly understanding” its economic, tax and energy implications. Manchin’s remarks would seem to dampen the chances of moving forward on a bill that fleshes out the White House’s $1.7 trillion reconciliation framework, announced last week.

The White House on Monday rolled out a strategy for implementing the US’ promised 50%-52% cuts to carbon emissions by 2030 from 2005 levels. That plan cites a “crucial role” for both clean energy and electrification incentives and sector-specific emissions standards.

Weeks of speculation in Washington led up to Biden’s remarks, with environmentalists suggesting the White House should have done more to front-load executive actions for cutting greenhouse gases (GHGs) before the COP26 summit.

Other policy watchers, however, countered that publicly airing a “Plan B” could undercut Democratic negotiations in Congress, and that a lack of congressional action was better than a “no” vote before Glasgow. A federal proposal to regulate methane from the oil and natural gas sector is said to be forthcoming, and the Department of the Interior has taken a modest interim step to ratchet up reviews of the climate impacts of planned federal oil and natural gas leases.

But the Biden administration has been more guarded about its plans for regulating the power sector’s GHG emissions — in part due to the legal scrutiny that is slated to increase after the Supreme Court decided to wade into the issue last week.

Targeting Laggards

When it comes to the international arena, US officials have both hit out at and cajoled countries with less ambitious emissions reduction targets.

Speaking to reporters Sunday, US Climate Envoy John Kerry framed recent announcements by Russia and China in positive terms, noting some progress.

Biden, meanwhile, on Sunday said that it was “disappointing” that Russia and China “basically didn’t show up in terms of any new commitments to deal with climate change” at the G20 meeting over the weekend.

The White House instead appears to be taking steps to align its climate policy with like-minded countries.

Emissions and Trade

The Biden administration took early steps toward integrating emissions reductions into its trade policy, reaching an agreement with the EU to mutually remove steel and aluminum tariffs that were imposed during the Trump administration and levy additional tariffs on steel imports from countries that use more carbon-intensive forms of electricity during manufacturing.

“We can reject the false idea that we can’t grow our economy and support American workers while tackling the climate crisis,” Biden said Monday.

The White House's plan — expected to be finalized by 2024 — will “incentivize emission reductions in one of the most carbon-intensive sectors of the global economy; restrict access to our markets for dirty steel from countries like China; and counter countries that dump steel in our markets,” he added.

The announcement comes as countries including the EU and the US are considering carbon border taxes, designed to guard against domestic industry being threatened by imports from countries with more lax GHG emissions controls. It was praised by the Climate Leadership Council, an organization backed by oil companies and environmental groups that advocates both a carbon tax and carbon border adjustments.

Topics:
Low-Carbon Policy, Policy and Regulation, CO2 Emissions, Trade
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