After a time when hopes faded that the United States could become an international leader on climate change, the legislation Congress is about to approve could rejuvenate the country’s reputation and bolster its efforts to push others nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions faster.
The dizzying turn of events, which has generated a cheery boost among Democrats and environmentalists, is a reminder of how intertwined domestic politics is with global diplomacy.
Supporters feared that the breakdown of negotiations last month in Congress undermined efforts to limit the catastrophic effects of global warming. Now they are spurred on by the opportunity to tout unprecedented American success.
“It says, ‘We’re back, baby,'” said Jennifer Turner, who works on international climate issues as director of the China Environment Forum at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington.
The legislation, which also contains provisions on taxes and prescription drugs, provides about $375 billion over the next decade for clean energy development and financial incentives for the purchase of electric cars, l installation of solar panels and weaning from the electricity grid of fossil fuels. Although the proposals were scaled back during tough negotiations, it is the largest climate change investment in U.S. history and a significant change from years of inaction that have limited Washington’s influence abroad.
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 countries remain concerned that rich countries like the United States have not met their financial commitments to help them deal with global warming and the transition to clean energy, which the legislation does not address. . But Biden can still see it as proof that America’s political system can solve the world’s most pressing problems.
“Our ability to have credibility on the world stage depends on our ability to deliver at home,” said Ali Zaidi, deputy national climate adviser at the White House. “We are the pilot car. It helps others go faster and faster.
After President Donald Trump withdrew from the Paris climate accord, Biden took office pledging to join the fight against global warming. He set an ambitious new target to cut greenhouse gas emissions – at least 50% below 2005 levels by 2030 – and began proposing policies to get the country back on track.
The legislation Biden is expected to sign is expected to cut emissions by 31% to 44%, according to an analysis by the Rhodium Group, an independent research firm. Further regulatory action by the administration could close the rest of the gap.
“It’s good that the United States is finally trying to catch up after years of dragging its feet on climate change and this investment will go a long way toward undoing some of the damage done by President Trump’s administration,” Mohamed said. Adow, director of Power Shift Africa, a think tank based in Nairobi, Kenya.
The move on the bill comes just three months before the upcoming United Nations climate change conference, known as COP27, which will take place in Egypt.
“Let’s hope this legislation is the start of greater international cooperation ahead of the COP27 summit, where the most vulnerable will get the support they need,” Adow said.
Although the United States still faces entrenched skepticism, progress in Washington could also give John Kerry, the White House’s special climate envoy, a boost ahead of the November conference.
“It puts some wind in his sails, it gives him a real boost of credibility,” Turner said. “It’s going to change the whole dynamic.”
Several experts have said the United States would be empowered to exert more pressure on China, India and other countries that have high emissions but have been unwilling to reduce for economic reasons.
“It restores some diplomatic legitimacy to the United States as an influential player in international climate negotiations,” said Scott Moore, director of strategic programs and initiatives for China 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.
“Given that this bill is long overdue after years of U.S. climate inaction, many countries may view this as the ‘bare minimum’ of U.S. historical and moral responsibility for climate.” , did he declare.
Sengupta pointed out that poor nations are still looking for rich countries to fulfill their pledge of $100 billion in financial aid to fight global warming, an issue that has been a sore point in international negotiations.
The other challenges will not be lacking either. If Republicans take over Congress or the White House, they could unravel Biden’s progress. Supply chains may struggle to meet increased demand for equipment such as solar panels and batteries. China’s Foreign Ministry announced on Friday that the country was ending direct climate talks with the United States in response to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan, severing a rare point of longstanding cooperation. albeit sometimes tumultuous, between the two countries.
However, experts said China will always notice if the United States succeeds in becoming a clean energy powerhouse.
“For some time now, China has been the world leader in clean energy investment,” said Xizhou Zhou, climate and sustainability expert at S&P Global, a global research firm. “They will likely view this legislation as a competitive decision.”
Deborah Seligsohn, an expert on Chinese politics and energy at Villanova University and a former US diplomat in Beijing, said the result could be lower prices globally.
“To the extent that the United States really starts to invest in things that compete with major Chinese companies – in solar, wind, electric vehicles, batteries – I think you’re going to see Chinese companies interested in growing their competitiveness in these industries, by making better products and lowering prices,” she said.
This could have a ripple effect around the world.
“Developing countries could see renewable energy prices fall and adoption increase,” Seligsohn said.
Vibhuti Garg, an India-focused energy economist, said US investment in clean energy research could pay dividends in poorer countries that don’t have the same resources to develop. new technologies.
“The United States can share technological know-how with other countries, especially countries in the South,” she said.
Aditya Ramji, from the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis, said cooperation – as well as financial help – will be essential.
“At some point, there will have to be discussions about how they can provide access to intellectual property or reduce costs for countries like India and others to take advantage of electric vehicle technology,” he said. he declared.
Climate activists said the US legislation is just one step on a broader path to climate action. Further progress is needed to put the world on track to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), a goal that some scientists say is out of reach.
“We have to fight for political commitments in other countries,” said climate activist Luisa Neubauer, a leading figure in the Fridays for Future activist movement.
“This is the only way to succeed in turning this year of backlash from fossil fuels into a year of climate justice,” she said.
Associated Press writers Frank Jordans in Berlin and Sibi Arasu in Bangalore, India contributed to this report.
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This story was originally published August 10, 2022 5:19 a.m.