US climate commitments in chaos – is Biden’s “Build Back Better” policy dead?

At the Glasgow climate meeting in November 2021, US President Biden was keen to promote the US “commitment” to the Paris Agreement (which the US regime had only recently “rejoined”) aimed at preventing some of the worst effects of global warming.

Much was made at the time by the Biden regime and its acolytes of the claim that the US would cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 to 50% below 2005 levels. Many commentators pointed out that, with the best will in the world, there were serious doubts that the US, as an economy dominated by oligarchs with contradictory vested interests, possessed the state capacity needed to deliver the promised cuts to greenhouse gas emissions.

US failure to implement international environmental conventions

The US is well-known for its lack of political cohesion within its federal system of government. Indeed, in the months leading up to the Glasgow climate conference China Environment (CEN) questioned the Biden regime’s much touted return to the Paris Agreement really reflected the “return” of the US to a position of global environmental “leadership”. In late August 2021 CEN commented that “it is too early to judge whether action will replace rhetoric” for the US on climate change.

In that commentary we pointed out that the while most of the world’s countries, including China, support major global agreements on conservation and pollution. However, the US refuses to ratify (i.e. commit to implementing) major international protocols, including:

  • Convention on Biological Diversity
  • Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants
  • Basel Convention on Transboundary Movements and Disposal of Hazardous Wastes
  • UN Convention on the Law of the Sea

China, like most nations, has ratified each of them.

There is a pattern of the US regime “signing” but not ratifying key environmental treaties. As analysts hace commented that “the biggest hurdle is that ratification of a treaty has to go through the Senate.”

Damaged power lines and homes can be seen days after hurricane Ida ripped through Grand Isle, Louisiana, U.S., September 2, 2021. REUTERS/Leah Millis
Damaged power lines Grand Isle, Louisiana, U.S., September 2, 2021

Build Back Better (B3) proposal

Biden’s posturing at Glasgow revolved around his so-called Build Back Better (B3) initiative, a $1.75 trillion USD infrastructure propsal, which was to include $555 billion to advance the core of Biden’s climate agenda — the Build Back Better Act, which requires passage through US Congress. The Bill is now stalled in the Senate — not a suprise, following the decades long US tradition of state failure. The Bill mixes proposed social and environmental spending in the one piece of legislation.

Even if the Bill were to pass, many analysts say that does little to curb planet warming emissions and falls short of the investments scientists say are necessary to prepare for the worst impacts of climate change.

In the absence of the B3 funding, analysts estimate that under existing policies, U.S. economy-wide emissions reductions will only get about halfway toward the 2030 target.

US media are widely speculating that due to lack of support, the B3 Bill is now unlikely to be passed by the Senate, and that Biden’s policy is effectively dead.

The global fallout from the collapse of Biden’s policy

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On the international front, analysts say that “Build Back Better’s demise — if it’s indeed dead — means for Biden administration efforts to convince China to act more aggressively on climate” .

Li Shuo, Senior Climate and Energy Policy Officer at Greenpeace China commented that “The US won’t be able to deliver its climate target without the Build Back Better, but at the same time it expects others to ramp up their ambition. How much longer could that game be sustained? … I am afraid when all sides exhaust what’s domestically possible, what’s left at the international level is just a war of words,” he adds.

The magazine, Scientific American, on December 21, 2021, ran an article which argued that the demise of the Biden regime’s policy calls US climate commitments into serious doubt.

Extracts of the Scientific American article follow:

“It isn’t just the fate of U.S. climate policy that appears in tatters. It could reverberate into other corners of the globe and undermine efforts to keep deadly floods, fires, heat, hurricanes and sea-level rise from inflicting greater havoc.

“If the U.S. doesn’t meet its target, everybody else needs to step up and make up for it. That’s the simple math of global [carbon] concentrations,” said John Larsen, director of the Rhodium Group, a research institute that analyses climate and energy policy.

“That could mean other countries have to accelerate their action to reduce emissions, and that’s a big ask if the U.S.—the world’s second-largest emitter of greenhouses gases—isn’t seen to be doing its part.

“The Biden administration has pledged to slash U.S. emissions 50-52 percent by 2030. The goal helped put the world on track to halve emissions by that same end date—a target that scientists say is necessary to keep global temperatures from rising beyond the dangerous threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). Already the planet has warmed by around 1.1 C since the Industrial Revolution.

“Getting there requires aggressive action starting now, according to climate modelers.

“The $1.7 billion climate and social spending bill, known as the “Build Back Better Act,” would have put $550 billion toward things like clean energy tax credits and a methane fee for the oil and gas industry.

“An analysis by Rhodium in October showed that passage of both the infrastructure bill, which was signed into law last month, and “Build Back Better” are the foundation of reaching U.S. emissions targets.

“Not investing in climate and clean energy infrastructure would be a setback for American credibility and global leadership on climate,” Nat Keohane, president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, said in an email.

“It’s not the first time the U.S. has failed to make good on its climate commitments. But it further dents U.S. credibility after former President Trump withdrew from the Paris Agreement and denied the basic tenets of climate science.

“That makes it harder to expect bold action from other big emitters.

“During a call with reporters in September following a visit to China, climate envoy John Kerry said China’s expansion of coal-fired power risked undermining efforts by other countries to keep global warming in check and he urged them to cut back.

“This latest setback could put the US in an uncomfortable position.

“You can talk all you want about how we have these ambitious goals, but if other countries can see that we’re not able to deliver on the policies to help with those goals, then what are they going to be thinking when Kerry is pushing China or India for steeper reductions in coal use?” asked Marc Hafstead, a fellow at Resources for the Future.”

Sources:

Scientific American, December 21, 2021. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/possible-demise-of-build-back-better-act-threatens-u-s-climate-commitments/

Axios, December 22, 2021. https://news.yahoo.com/visualizing-climate-stakes-build-back-143459404.html

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