The last week of the European summit was a great diplomatic success for President Joe Biden. Gone are the tensions and conflicts of the Trump era and back was an America that respects its allies and seeks to work with them to solve global problems. America certainly looked like it was “back”. And yet, lurking beneath the surface are growing doubts in Europe about American leadership. After all, how can Europe trust America when the commitments of one administration can be so easily canceled by the next?
Nowhere is this clearer than on climate, the issue that will rule world affairs for decades to come. President Donald Trump withdrew from the Paris climate accords and rolled back many climate-related regulations put in place by the Obama administration. Now, the big test for America’s global leadership is whether America can lead over the most critical issue facing the planet. Unfortunately, after a week of summits, there have been few tangible climate achievements.
G-7 climate pledges fail
At the start of the past week, leaders from the world’s seven richest countries, known as the Group of Seven or G-7, gathered in the UK to discuss a number of pressing global challenges. But the focus has been on climate change. 2021 is a critical year for climate diplomacy, and the G-7 meeting was expected to create a wave of momentum for bold climate action ahead of a number of other critical global meetings, including the 26th Conference of the Parties on Change. United Nations Climate Change (COP26). However, the results of the G-7 meeting were decidedly trivial, with some of them falling well below expectations. This could pave the way for others to combine their efforts and reduce the pressure on major global emitters such as China.
To be fair, in their final communiqué, the G-7 countries made a number of climate commitments. For example, they called for accelerating efforts to achieve zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 at the latest, including halving collective emissions by 2030, to ensure that the global warming threshold climate of 1.5 degrees Celsius remains at your fingertips. The final communique also aimed to end new direct government support for the relentless international production of coal-fired thermal power by the end of 2021 and to conserve or protect at least 30% of the world’s land and oceans. by 2030.
However, these commitments were undermined by the lack of precision provided by the G-7 countries on when they would end their own use of coal-fired power plants. Instead, they simply indicated that they were determined to “rapidly develop the technologies and policies that further accelerate the transition to relentless coal capacity.” Such a lack of specificity will likely make it much more difficult for the G-7 countries to pressure other countries, like China, to end their growing use of coal.
Most disappointing has been the lack of real progress on climate finance. The G-7 has called for a joint mobilization of $ 100 billion per year in international public and private climate finance to support developing countries through 2025. But this commitment falls far short of expectations and is insufficient to meet this challenge. growing crisis. Moreover, it is an old and unfulfilled commitment, the same commitment that the G-7 made 10 years ago and that it still has not kept. Since then, the costs of the climate crisis have only increased, requiring a greater response.
The climate commitments of the US-EU summit were very similar to those of the G-7 meeting, but with less specificity. Instead of simply reaffirming G-7 commitments, the United States should have taken advantage of this summit to support the European Union’s efforts to create a new carbon border adjustment mechanism (CBAM), which will be a necessary tool to force companies in and countries to decarbonize. Additionally, the US could have worked with the EU to develop standard taxonomies for green finance. A new commitment – the creation of a high-level climate action group between the US and the EU – could be quite important; but it will take the direct involvement of the president and his key advisers to have a real impact.
Conclusion: next steps for US climate leadership
Ultimately, President Biden’s efforts to restore American leadership on the world stage will ultimately be determined by what actions the United States takes nationally on the climate, rather than what is expressed in an international statement. While U.S. officials are confident they can meet short-term climate goals through executive regulation, the world does not trust such an approach after seeing under the Trump administration how great it is. easy to undo them. Therefore, for America to truly be back in the world, it must first pass strong climate legislation that commits the United States to taking climate action.
Europeans and the rest of the world are therefore very attentive to the climatic provisions of the bill on infrastructure. The outcome of this bill and whether it includes climate provisions – to strengthen electric vehicles, modernize the energy grid, and protect and restore nature-based infrastructure – will determine whether America can reclaim the mantle of global leadership. Adopting such a transformative package would suddenly make the United States a climate leader. This would allow the United States to work with Europe to create the carbon-free economy of the future. It would also allow the United States to pressure China for more action, not only diplomatically but also in the arena of global public opinion. For too long, the United States has been a climate pariah, allowing China to position itself as a responsible and productive player on the issue. Strong US action would suddenly turn the situation around and allow the US to step up global pressure on China, which is now the world’s largest emitter, producing more carbon than all developed countries combined.
For that to happen, however, the climate arrangements outlined by President Biden in his initial infrastructure proposal must go through the legislative process. That they are included in the ultimate infrastructure and budget that will pass through Congress will be essential not only to save the planet, but also to preserve America’s global leadership.
Max Bergmann is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. Carolyn Kenney is Senior Policy Analyst for National Security and International Policy at the Center.