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China Daily Global / 2021-04 / 26 / Page007

Politics clouds US climate pledge

By ZHAO HUANXIN in Washington | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-04-26 00:00

Biden's carbon commitment wins kudos, but history of policy swings troubles experts

A pledge by the United States to cut its carbon dioxide output by up to 52 percent from 2005 levels by 2030 is an ambitious commitment, but the country's strong swings in climate policy leave a question market over the target, researchers said.

The goal, unveiled at the start of a two-day virtual climate summit last week, is ambitious as it exceeds the average annual rate needed to reach net-zero emissions economywide by 2050, Dan Lashof, director of the World Resources Institute and his colleague Greg Carlock, wrote in a commentary on Friday.

The administration of former US president Donald Trump spent four years weakening important climate and pollution regulations installed in the previous administration, and some of the most damaging floods, hurricanes, droughts and wildfires in US history have taken place in the past five years, they said.

While US President Joe Biden vowed that "the commitments we've made must become real", referring to reduction promises made by the US and other countries at the summit, experts following the event said his administration may face a steep road ahead in attaining the climate goal given concerns about policy stability and legislation.

Oliver Geden, a senior fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, voiced caution.

It's not only about well-meaning intentions of current governments, but also about expectations regarding policy stability, he said. "That's where US and EU differ a lot on#climate," he said in a tweet.

Geden was probably referring to the fact that unlike the pledges from the European Union, the US administration's 2030 climate target is not enshrined in law.

Sanjay Patnaik, director of the Center on Regulation and Markets at the Brookings Institution, said that while the summit is a signal that the US is back at the negotiating table on the international climate front, many questions remain on how the US gets to the goal "credibly".

"Because for the last 20 years, we have seen really strong swings in US climate policy, oscillating between taking substantial policy measures on climate, and doing little to address climate change."

Flurry of executive orders

Within the first 100 days of his taking office, Biden has issued a flurry of executive orders on climate, including one for the US to rejoin the 2015 Paris Agreement that Trump rejected as a plot to hobble the US economy, and taken a "whole-of-government" approach to address climate issues.

"The problem with executive orders is that they can be reversed very easily by someone who comes in next," Patnaik said.

The New York Times said that a big infrastructure overhaul proposed by Biden, estimated to cost up to $4 trillion, includes tax incentives for clean energy and electric vehicles.

"But none of those measures have passed into law yet. And they face an uncertain fate in Congress and the courts," the Times reported on Thursday, adding there is also the "biggest uncertainty" of all: Biden's first term ends in 2024. What happens, the newspaper said, if the Democrat is succeeded by a president who abandons his climate targets?

Samantha Gross, director of the Energy Security and Climate Initiative at the Brookings Institute, said Biden has to deal with the Congress, where members-particularly Republicans-have not kept up with increasing concern among the public about climate.

"So, I don't see sweeping climate legislation," Gross said.

As climate change remains a partisan issue in Washington, Republicans have been largely echoing the narratives Trump made in withdrawing the US from the Paris climate accord, disputing arguments by Biden and other Democrats that the transition to clean energy creates good-paying jobs in the US.

"Now their so-called infrastructure plan would aim at completely 'decarbonizing' our electric grid, which means … putting good-paying American jobs into the shredder," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Thursday in a speech in which he dismissed the administration's plans as costly and ineffective.

Nathan Hultman, nonresident senior fellow in the Global Economy and Development program at the Brookings Institute, said that while US federal re-engagement on climate is important, what happens in the US should be also viewed through the lens of action by subnational actors such as states, cities and businesses.


Members of environmental group Extinction Rebellion bring cow manure to dump outside the White House on Thursday, in an Earth Day protest against US President Joe Biden's climate plan. EVELYN HOCKSTEIN/REUTERS



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