US climate deal is a “baby step”, but diplomats say the world needs broader action

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Even as Democrats work to deliver the largest ever US climate investment in a new spending package, many officials and activists overseas have described the deal as not compliant with the nation’s obligation to help other countries and galvanize global action to avoid dangerous warming.

The Inflation Reduction Act would represent a major impetus for climate-friendly efforts in the United States, a change of unprecedented proportions. But it wouldn’t do much to support vulnerable nations around the world who have been pleading with rich nations to help them prepare for a warming world for years. It would also not reduce America’s carbon emissions as much as President Biden has promised.

More than one climate diplomat has used the word “minimum” to describe the climate measures of the Inflation Reduction Act, which analysts say would reduce US emissions by about 40% by the end of the decade from 2005 levels. non-partisan for a responsible federal budget estimates it will devote approximately $ 385 billion to tackling climate change and encouraging energy production.

“It’s a step forward,” said Harjeet Singh, head of global policy strategy for Climate Action Network International, a coalition of nonprofit groups that advocates for emission reduction, clean energy policy and environmental justice. “But the international community would call it a small step when we actually need a leap.”

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Singh, who is based in New Delhi, pointed out that the United States is the world’s largest historical emitter, responsible for more than 20 percent of all greenhouse gases generated since 1850. It is also the largest economy in the world, which means which has more capacity than any other nation to make the investments needed to move away from fossil fuels.

According to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, nations must roughly halve emissions by 2030 for a chance to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. , a threshold that scientists believe would save millions of lives in vulnerable communities and prevent a dangerous escalation of climate disasters.

To achieve this, the United States pledged last year to reduce global warming pollution to 52% below 2005 levels. Biden’s commitment and what could be achieved through legislation.

“This will certainly help increase the credibility of the United States on the international stage and support its active international diplomacy,” said a senior European climate official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal assessments of the deal’s consequences. “If approved, it could help with policy at an important time” ahead of a new round of climate negotiations in Egypt this fall.

“But you can’t bring a great economy to zero without regulation. And many would like to see more funding for international climate finance, where US shortages have already led the world off course from the $ 100 billion target, “the official said.

Nor does the legislation provide funding to assist vulnerable countries already struggling with extreme heat, persistent drought, sea level rise and an onslaught of other climate impacts, despite multiple promises that the United States would.

In Wednesday’s remarks, Biden called the Inflation Reduction Act a “huge step forward” that would help the US meet its global climate commitments, though he noted that it falls short of the $ 555 billion package. he proposed before the Glasgow climate talks last fall.

The United States delivered just $ 1 billion out of a $ 3 billion pledge to the United Nations Green Climate Fund made under former President Barack Obama. Biden pledged last fall to quadruple that amount, to $ 11.4 billion, but Congress has yet to appropriate that additional money.

And although Biden sought about $ 11 billion for international climate finance in his most recent budget request, it’s unclear whether Congress will award those funds.

“Global climate action means not only reducing emissions nationwide, but also providing technology and financial support so that we, as a global community, are able to emerge from the crisis,” Singh said. “No one is safe until everyone is safe. This is the situation we are in. “

David Waskow, director of international climate action at the World Resources Institute, said there are some provisions that will give US negotiators more leverage in the UN climate talks in Egypt this fall, while urging other countries to strengthen their ambitions. He was especially encouraged by the $ 1.5 billion methane emissions reduction program, which incentivizes oil and gas companies to reduce their emissions of the powerful gas that warms the planet.

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Last year, the United States helped lead a coalition of more than 100 countries that pledged to reduce methane by 30% by 2030. But analyzes show that methane emissions in major fossil fuel-producing areas, such as the Permian basin, have soared in the months since that oath.

This program, along with initiatives to curb agricultural pollution, will add “real momentum” to efforts to stop emissions of a gas whose immediate global warming power is 80 times greater than that of carbon dioxide, he said. Waskow.

However, others have argued that the bill does not do as much as it could.

Singh pointed to provisions of the climate agreement that would promote continued investment in fossil fuels, such as the requirement that the federal government allow greater exploration of oil and gas in the Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Alaska. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the International Energy Agency and other major research groups have said that the world cannot afford to develop new fossil fuel infrastructure in order to have the hope of reaching the goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius.

US policy “sets the tone for the kind of transition we need to make,” Singh said. By promoting more oil and gas projects, “to me he is still showing listless leadership on climate action.”

But some experts said they were just happy with a win.

“Progress on a US climate package is good news,” Conrod Hunte, a diplomat from Antigua and Barbuda and chief negotiator for a group of small island states working together on climate policy, said in an email. international. He added that the group hopes to see the United States and “other major emitters demonstrate their leadership with urgent action in the climate space to reduce CO2 or decarbonise.”

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Carlos Fuller, longtime negotiator at global climate talks and Belize’s permanent representative to the United Nations, said in a message to the Washington Post that it was “certainly a big step forward, especially after the Supreme Court’s disappointing ruling against. the EPA “.

Fuller complained that the bill “includes new oil drilling,” but said that “support for the auto industry for electric mobility is great, as this will spill over to those countries that import US vehicles.”

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“We could ask for more, we could always do more,” said Anders Levermann, a climate scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. But he said he thought it was an important step.

“The climate agreement as it came out, as I read it, is trying to induce structural change,” Levermann said. “If the United States aims for carbon neutrality, the rest of the world won’t be able to ignore it.”

And as the world watches Biden’s declining poll numbers, many fear that whatever the US does now could easily be revealed if Republicans win the White House in 2024. Solar panels may not be. uninstalled in that scenario, but a US president hostile to international climate talks would represent a major setback to the wider effort to persuade the world’s biggest polluters, including China and India, to agree to step up their efforts to reduce their emissions .

“Getting a deal through in Washington is the least of what the US has to do,” said another senior European diplomat involved in climate negotiations.

“I don’t expect champagne to pop,” the diplomat said. “Maybe a sigh of relief that there will be some climate action in the United States for the next two years. But with another change of administration looming on the horizon, it’s hard to talk about restoring credibility. “

Brady Dennis contributed to this report.

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