COP26: Will Biden advance the US in the climate fight?

Status: 01.11.2021 6:31 a.m.

The US president wants to advance climate protection measures to counter global warming. But he has to contend with resistance – at home and on the world stage.

By Torsten Teichmann, ARD-Studio Washington, currently Rome

US President Joe Biden would like to combine everything in environmental policy: When he talks about the climate, he means jobs, Biden repeated at the G20 summit in Rome at the weekend. Well paid jobs all over the world. Sounds almost too good to be true: Even more growth for a better climate.

Behind this is the wish of the US President and other politicians in industrialized nations not to let environmental protection seem like a sacrifice. Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi spoke only cautiously at the G20 summit about the need to adapt technology and lifestyle to a changed world.

On the other hand, Biden said at his final press conference that there is no need for punishment for people to move. The US president referred to incentives such as tax breaks of 320 billion US dollars for solar panels, wind energy and the insulation of houses.

G20 summit: Biden “disappointed” with Russia and China

US President Joe Biden has expressed satisfaction with the resolutions of the G20 summit on climate protection, the corona pandemic and economic policy. The meeting brought “tangible progress” in these areas, Biden said in Rome. This is also due to the commitment of Washington. The G20 summit has once again shown the “power of America” ​​if it participates and works with its allies. At the same time, Biden said he was “disappointed” with Russia and China, whose heads of state Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping were not in Rome and were only switched on via video. Russia and China “basically did not appear at the G20 meeting in terms of any commitments to deal with climate change,” said Biden. “There is a reason people should be disappointed about it, I found it disappointing myself,” added the US President. Nevertheless, in Rome it was possible to decide on “a number of things”.

Internal political blockades

Biden bases his climate policy on gigantic government spending, on investments in the polished infrastructure of the United States. The US government is pursuing several goals: The economy should recover permanently after the corona pandemic. The administration wants to support the lower middle class in order to bridge at least some of the wide socio-economic rifts in society. And at the same time, the USA wants to cut greenhouse gas emissions by half by 2030 with the help of investments – the basis for this is the level of emissions from 2005.

According to scholars and policy analysts, it is uncertain whether current plans to transform the economy will be enough to achieve this goal. It is also uncertain whether the US will be able to meet its international obligations under the Paris Agreement. The constant back and forth in regulation also unsettles private investors.

At the moment, internal political breaks and blockades are also holding the president back. The dispute over infrastructure packages worth billions of US dollars in the Democratic Party and the fact that the Republicans completely refuse to do so are forcing Biden to compromise. Critics fear that important climate protection projects could be watered down or fall by the wayside.

Will to change

“The US President cannot achieve his maximum goals, that is correct,” says Robert Suttner of Georgetown University in Washington DC. But Biden is advancing the US in the fight against climate change. “My goodness, of course,” Sutter calls out during the video conference. People should say half-long: “We live in a democracy. You can’t achieve that overnight. You can’t say we’re going in that direction, everyone listens to me, everyone after me,” said the professor.

It is often not because of the will to change: The Biden government had decided not to grant any new rights for drilling for oil and gas. The protection of nature parks has been restored. And the Keystone XL oil pipeline has stopped. Because the government of the elected President Trump had already given many rights, more new wells for oil and gas in public areas could be counted this year than in previous years, reported the news agency “AP”.

The higher prices for gasoline and energy are putting the US government and the leaderships of other countries, such as Brazil, under additional pressure. “Nobody expected that we would be able to do without oil and gas this year or next,” said Biden in Rome. On the first day of the summit, the president even asked the OPEC states to provide more subsidies in the phase of rising energy prices. “And I ask, ‘Why are you stopping your oil and raising prices just to make it harder for us?'” Said Biden.

“Spongy, watered-down, weak language”

Asking energy-producing countries for higher subsidy quotas and at the same time calling for an end to subsidies for fossil fuels is not a contradiction, said Biden’s climate ambassador John Kerry in a video conference after the G20. In Scotland, at the UN climate summit COP26, US President Biden wants to explain the ways in which the USA wants to achieve that the economy is CO2-neutral by 2050.

There are ministers, state secretaries and directors of public authorities. The US is committed to the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees compared to the pre-industrial era. The British Prime Minister Johnson rumbled at his closing conference at the G20 in Rome that the goal will not be achieved at the moment without question – although he had agreed to 1.5 degrees shortly before.

Spongy, watered-down, weak language enables every member to sign the final declaration of a summit, complains Tristen Naylor, G20 expert from the University of Cambridge. But the text does not hold the heads of state and government accountable, said Naylor.

Confrontation with China

Interestingly, it always becomes very specific when environmental policy and geostrategy come together. The US and China face each other in a confrontation over trade, influence and international rules. Climate protection could become another tool in competition. Initially, Europe and the United States came to an agreement over the weekend in a steel dispute.

But compromise is linked to a new initiative. The participating states must look for ways to produce steel in a “cleaner” and, in the long term, CO2-neutral way. The President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen spoke of progress that would create fair conditions for industry.

US President Biden became clearer: The solution “restricts access to our market for ‘dirty’ steel” – that is to say, for products that produce high CO2 emissions. Or as Biden said, steel from places like China.

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