Washington Watch: Biden addresses COP27 on firmer climate footing, but world wants U.S. leadership on pollution


President Joe Biden addressed the U.N. climate summit Friday with his party surviving a midterm election “red wave” by Republicans — in the process protecting at least the bulk of the landmark climate-change spending law signed this year.

Biden addressed the U.N.’s Conference of the Parties, or COP27, climate summit in Egypt on his way to the Group of 20 meetings and a planned sitdown with China’s Xi Jinping.

Biden arrived in Egypt having signed the largest U.S. investment in fighting climate change ever, by way of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). That puts him on stronger footing even from last year’s COP26 gathering in Scotland, when American commitments to carbon reduction weren’t backed by law.

In all, four themes color Biden’s trip: Russia’s war in Ukraine, escalating trade and security tensions with China, the potential for a global recession in the coming months and the existential problem of climate change.

“The climate crisis is about human security, economic security, environmental security, national security and the very life of the planet,” Biden said, addressing the summit.

Biden apologized to the group for the U.S. pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord, which it did briefly, under President Trump. And he said the U.S.’s commitment to the global effort is apparent in the climate-heavy Inflation Reduction Act, which earned applause from the COP27 crowd.

Biden highlighted a proposal requiring large federal contractors to develop carbon-reduction targets and disclose their greenhouse gas emissions, which the administration believes can leverage the federal government’s purchasing power to slow climate change impacts from the private sector and bolster vulnerable supply chains.

According to the White House, Biden will tell COP27 summit attendees of his administration’s plans, including:

Investing more than $150 Million to support PREPARE’s adaptation efforts throughout Africa, including early warning systems, disaster-risk protections and insurance, and more;

Releasing an updated Methane Emissions Reduction Action Plan, including a new proposal from the Environmental Protection Agency to reduce methane emissions across sectors;

New actions that would make the U.S. the first national government to require major suppliers to set Paris Agreement-aligned emissions reduction goals — leveraging the Federal Government’s over $630 billion in annual purchasing power.  

Biden’s task is to convince the climate summit of the U.S.’s commitment to engage with China, not only on trade and other matters, but in an alliance between the world’s two top polluters to deliver on their carbon-reduction plans with measurable progress sooner versus later.

Related: China says Pelosi’s Taiwan visit hurt climate talks with U.S.; Biden official says Xi neglects formal engagement

Already, U.N. chief Antonio Guterres called for a historic agreement — or “climate solidarity pact” — between developed and emerging economies at the start of the flagship climate conference, which runs roughly two weeks ending Nov. 18.

The U.S. and China, the world’s two largest economies and top greenhouse gas emitters, “have a particular responsibility to join efforts to make this pact a reality,” Gutteres said earlier this week.

Biden used a better-than-projected midterm election for Democrats as an opportunity to reassure the world that the U.S. is committed to doing its part in the threats to the globe as a whole, including climate change.

“If the United States tomorrow were to, quote, withdraw from the world, a lot of things would change around the world. A whole lot would change,” Biden said in a midweek speech after the election.

The IRA’s $375 billion commitment of climate efforts, including EV manufacturing


and purchasing incentives, tax breaks for home solar and more, will provide Biden leverage as he works to convince other countries to step up their own efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, all with the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Current and former Biden climate officials told the Associated Press that the vast majority of the summer’s incentive-laden $375 billion climate-and-health spending package — by far the biggest law passed by Congress to fight global warming — was crafted in a way that will make it hard and unpalatable for future Republican Congresses or presidents to reverse it. That’s in part, because of the tax incentives, typical Republican strategies, within the law. Plus, many of the advancing “green” technology would bring jobs to strongly Republican states.

Read: Some 75% of surveyed Americans would jump at a ‘green’ job in solar, wind or EVs, which tend to pay 21% more

Replubicans won’t have a veto-proof majority, even if the GOP edges out a few-seat advantage, and even if a Republican takes over the White House in the next few years, the tax credits will be in place and spur industry, said Samantha Gross, head of climate and energy studies at the centrist Brookings Institution.

“It’s a lot of tax credits and goodies that make it hard to repeal,” Gross said.

At the climate negotiations in Egypt, Biden’s special climate envoy John Kerry said, “Most of what we’re doing cannot be changed by anyone else who comes to Washington because most of what we do is in the private sector. The marketplace has made its decision to do what we need to do.”

Still, it won’t be all smooth sailing for the president. Republicans, who as of Friday, neared a modest advantage in the House and a Senate runoff, have said they will work to repeal parts of the law, advance their own climate and energy bill, and have accused Biden of contributing to rising energy prices

by blocking more U.S.-drilled fossil fuels
Those fossil fuels are the major contributor to climate change.

Even absent American political uncertainty, there are concerns that rising energy costs and a looming recession could dampen resolve toward transitioning to cleaner energy. Germany, for one, has dipped back into heavy-polluting coal markets to assure power for a cold winter ahead.

Still, efforts are underway at the COP27 in Egypt, including continued attention on methane, a more intense, but shorter-lasting greenhouse gas than carbon.

On Friday, the Biden administration detailed what it calls a “super-emitter response program” that would require operators to respond to credible third-party reports of high-volume methane leaks.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that in 2030, the proposal would reduce methane from covered sources by 87%t below 2005 levels.

“The United States is once again a global leader in confronting the climate crisis, and we must lead by example when it comes to tackling methane pollution – one of the biggest drivers of climate change,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “We’re listening to public feedback and strengthening our proposed oil and gas industry standards, which will enable innovative new technology to flourish while protecting people and the planet.”

The U.S. government also released a new draft report this year about what climate change is doing to America, determining that over the past 50 years, the U.S. has warmed 68% faster than the planet as a whole.

Since 1970, the continental U.S. has experienced 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit of warming, well above the average for the planet, according to a draft of the National Climate Assessment, which is the U.S. government’s definitive report on the effects of climate change and represents a range of federal agencies.

The effects of human-caused climate change on the United States “are already far-reaching and worsening,” the draft report says, but every added amount of warming that can be avoided or delayed will reduce harmful impacts.

The Associated Press contributed.

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