WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden is set to attend the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, starting on Monday. The conference, referred to as COP26, is the first opportunity for Biden to try to convince the international community that the United States is committed to a greener future by addressing climate change. Here’s a primer on the conference.
What is COP26?
“COP” stands for “Conference of the Parties,” a formal way to say a summit. This year’s gathering also is known as the annual United Nations Climate Change Conference. It is the 26th such meeting, dating back to 1995.
The summit will take place in Glasgow from Oct. 31 to Nov. 12. Parties involved in the conference are the signatories of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, a treaty agreed to in 1994 by 196 nations and the European Union.
COP’s influence on international climate regulation reached its peak in 2015 with the signing of the Paris Agreement.
“It was ‘top down’ in that every country – no matter how big or small – signed up to cutting carbon emissions to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees and ideally to 1.5 degrees above pre industrial levels,” The United Nations said in a statement. “And it was ‘bottom up’ in that it left room for each individual country to decide how they would get there.”
Why is this conference so important?
In the signing of the Paris Agreement, each nation vowed to set its own non-binding emissions reduction targets and to outline actions to meet the agreement’s targets every five years.
Although long-term goals were due from each nation by 2020, the global coronavirus pandemic postponed that deadline by a year.
This meeting is particularly important for the United States, which rejoined the Paris Agreement on Biden’s first day in office after former President Donald Trump formally withdrew the United States from the pact in November 2020.
Biden announced that the nation was committed to cutting emissions by 50%-52% below 2005 levels by 2030.
“In this make-or-break moment for our planet, the Biden administration has taken swift action to restore our commitment to address the climate crisis and chart a course towards a pollution-free, 100% clean energy future for all,” Jill Tauber, vice president of litigation for Climate & Energy, said in a statement.
“The target announced… is achievable, consistent with science, and in line with President Biden’s climate goals,” Tauber said “It is a powerful signal to the world that the U.S. is serious about meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement and advancing bold climate solutions quickly and equitably.”
What is President Biden’s stance on climate?
The fight against climate change and especially the implementation of clean energy has been a cornerstone of Biden’s political agenda since the start of his presidential campaign in April 2019. It took him less than 24 hours after entering the White House to rejoin the Paris Agreement.
“The president and I and our administration are unwavering in our commitment to these issues,” Vice President Kamala Harris said in a meeting on Monday with a number of top climate activists. “Absolutely unwavering.”
The president’s crown jewel in his first year in office, his “Build Back Better” package, includes monumental clean-energy provisions. The bill, if passed in Congress, would be the nation’s most significant step on climate to date and would be the first step in hitting the Paris Agreement’s goal.
“We thank you for your leadership and bold vision on Build Back Better,” Senator Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, said in a letter to Biden jointly written with Senator Edward Markey, D-Massachusetts, and Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Washington. “We urge you to secure a Build Back Better deal that meets the climate test before COP26 so that you can walk into Glasgow with historic investments in climate action, good-paying union jobs, and a more just economy.”
How is Congress having an impact on the American position at COP26?
While Biden’s bill will likely meet the COP26 requirements if passed, it’s not entirely up to him whether Build Back Better comes to fruition.
The complicated legislation needs 50 votes – plus Harris’s – in the Senate to survive, and the chamber is split evenly between the two parties. Nearly every Democrat is in favor of Build Back Better as it stands, with $500 billion being allocated towards clean energy. The key is Senator Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, which is a coal-producing state.
“(Manchin) didn’t like the provisions that were in the president’s proposal,” Senator Angus King, I-Maine, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press”. “But I don’t think that necessarily means that he’s, you know, death on climate legislation.”
Biden, along with many other Democrats in Congress, has negotiated with Manchin throughout the fall over clean energy and other unrelated provisions.
Ultimately, the bill was reduced from the initial $3.5 trillion to roughly $1.75 trillion. The largest reduction in the bill, which addresses an array of social spending issues, came from climate and clean-energy measures that target fossil fuels like coal. Climate provisions still exist in the bill, nearly $600 billion of them, but it is still unclear how much of that will survive if additional negotiations prove necessary.
“I think the most unfortunate part about losing the provisions of the reconciliation bill is that it weakens Joe Biden’s hands in Glasgow…” King said. “If we’re going to get the rest of the world to take serious steps to remedy this problem, we’ve got to do it ourselves.”
What are other nations doing ahead of COP26?
Most governments that are part of the Paris Agreement are sending high-ranking officials to the summit. Biden is scheduled to be in Glasgow for the first few days and will be joined by the leaders of nations like France, Canada and India.
The United States is the world’s second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases behind China. President Xi Jinping, who has not left China since 2020 and has reported that he will not for the remainder of 2021, is not going to attend the conference. Russian President Vladimir Putin also will not be in attendance.
“If it’s not possible in person because of Xi’s travel constraints, doing it by virtual meeting is the next best thing. That’s what we’re intending to do,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said in a Tuesday briefing for reporters. “And we’re intending to do that because, in an era of intense competition between the U.S. and China, intense diplomacy at the highest levels, leader-level diplomacy is vital to effectively managing this relationship.”
What is Biden trying to achieve in Glasgow?
Aside from outlining long-term U.S. plans to combat climate change, Biden will work with leaders from other developed nations to call on developing countries such as China, India and South Africa to limit their emissions.
The United States and much of Europe, have committed to mobilizing roughly $100 billion annually through 2025 to fund clean-energy technologies in poorer nations around the globe.
If the president’s Build Back Better agenda is not passed, he may have a difficult time pushing other nations to enact change.
“The only thing that’s serious about President Biden’s environmental agenda is the trouble it’s already causing here at home,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said in a speech on the Senate floor. “Our adversaries like Russia are salivating over big windfalls while working American families are feeling the pain.”