A week is all it takes to get thereThe United States has yet develop a solid plan to curb climate change. This is evident from COP26, UN Climate Change conference. Sen. Joe Manchin (West Virginia senator) is opposed. deep ties to energy industries, has stripped the Clean Electricity Performance Program (CEPP) from the Democrats’ spending bill, removing roughly a third of the hoped-for emissions cuts and crippling the Biden administration’s goals of weaning America off fossil fuels and slashingNet greenhouse gas emissions will be roughly half of 2005 levels by 2030.
President Joe Biden last week announced a “Plan B” to meet emissions pledges without the CEPP—by using wind and solar energy incentives, new regulations, and clean energy laws. These policies, according to an analysis, may help the US meet its emissions goals. emissions targets, there will be significant hurdles to their implementation. Plan B also ignores meaningful regulation of fossil-fuel combustion, which is essential to curb global warming.
“The simplest way to look at the climate problem is fossil fuel production, because three quarters of global emissions and 80 percent of US emissions come from oil, gas and coal. So we cannot continue to produce more than we can afford to burn and still stay below the temperature guard rails,” notes Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute. I called Siegel to talk about what lies ahead at COP26 next week—and what a weakened US climate policy means for the rest of the world.
Environmental advocates fear that leaders around the world will not be able to respond to the urgency of this moment without a clear plan. Siegel is one of those calling for Biden to ignore lawmakers and address climate change through executive action. “It’s always been entirely predictable that we would be where we are right now with Congress, because this is where we’ve been for 30 years with Congress,” she told me. “Biden needs to transcend that thinking, realize that Joe Manchin is going to do the bidding of fossil fuel companies, and actually be the climate president we need, because we’re simply out of time.”
The following interview was edited to ensure clarity and length.
What will happen to climate spending if Congress cuts back?
That’s up to President Biden. The President has broad powers under the existing law to do many things to reduce US greenhouse gas emission and to bring the package he needs to Glasgow for success. Additional spending by Congress would be welcomed and very important.
If the US isn’t meeting its emissions targets, how might developing nations respond?
We see less action to the detriment everyone. That is what we’ve seen. The Clinton Administration was in Kyoto 1997. They made many commitments regarding clean energy finance to India and China, but then they reneged. We saw a massive increase in coal use in these countries. That didn’t have to happen. Ironically, US politicians continue blaming India and China for the current state of affairs. This is largely because the US failed to fulfill its commitments.
Is it true to say that the US can either make or break the summit’s effectiveness?
Yes. That is 100% correct.
What are some executive actions Biden might take?
Federal fossil fuel production is the number one thing. Twenty-five percent of US greenhouse gases are produced by oil, gas, or coal that is owned by the public. It’s held in trust for the American people by the federal government. It has been sold to oil, coal, and gas companies for development in the past. This must stop.
It is absolutely absurd for the federal government to be holding additional oil, gas, and coal lease sales—because there’s already enough oil, gas and coal in developed reserves to blow way past 1.5 degrees and 2 degrees. President Biden has made it clear that he will do this, and also that he will end federal land extraction. He can do it under existing law, both onshore and offshore.
What other executive actions can you take?
Under the Climate Emergency Declaration Act, the president can and must declare a crisis climate under the National Emergencies Act.This is important for communicating urgency and unlocking emergency powers that the president may use. Normally, Congress controls the purse strings. However, Biden can use emergency powers to redirect a portion military spending towards renewable power infrastructure.
He could also reinstate the ban on crude oil exports. The 40-year-old ban was lifted by Congress in 2015 when we attended the Paris climate talks. ban on crude oilExports. This was because North American fracking was just getting started. This was because lifting the ban completely accelerated that. Crude oil exports soared by 750%, so that 25% of US oil production can be exported at the moment. To put that ban back in place, in conjunction with these other policies that we’re advocating, is a really important piece of this. Biden must declare a national emergency to restore the ban.
Do fears of political repercussions play a role in Biden’s reluctance to take these actions?
They may, but I think they are wrong. For my entire career, the idea has been “if we just do a little bit, if we just pick the easy things, and we just get some compromise, and we just get some members of Congress to go along with it, then we’ll set ourselves up and then we can go faster later.” That approach has failed.
The politicians and the fossil fuel industry are going to oppose climate action with all they have. This industry has lied about climate science for decades, has funded this disinformation campaign, preventing progress. We need Biden’s bold, radical, and transformative actions if we are to maintain a livable planet. He can do it under existing law.
What happens if you don’t?
Climate catastrophe is possible if the Biden administration resigns. We’re out of time for half-steps on climate. The United States is the world’s largest cumulative greenhouse polluter. We’re on a bus speeding toward the climate cliff and easing up on the accelerator a little bit is not going to prevent us from going over the cliff. The driver must slam the brakes. And that’s what Joe Biden has to do.
One drawback to executive action is the possibility of them being reversed by the next president.
It is not possible to reverse everything. I agree with the idea that the next president could reverse many things. But it takes time. And when you put good, strong transformative policies in place, and they have several years, three years or seven years, to get going, we’re going to start reaping the benefits. As a practical matter, even if you have another pro-fossil-fuel, climate-denying president come in, they’re not going to be able to reverse it all.
President Obama drew large portions of the Atlantic and Arctic oceans out of offshore oil and gas development. in litigationConcerning whether Trump could come in to undo the and we won in district court. For three years, good, solid policies are in place to ensure that the future is as bright and positive as possible. Even if another president is unable to reverse it, many of these policies will be in place for three years. Trump did everything possible to revive the coal industry, but he couldn’t.
How can a more moderate US agenda encourage other nations to do the same?
It has a tremendous impact. The United States has been a major obstacle to international progress and good, strong agreements for many years. It is crucial that Biden makes strong commitments towards Glasgow. If he can’t get them out of Congress, he needs to bring them himself.
Biden has indicated that he will still make a strong commitment in Glasgow, regardless what happens to the spending bill. Will other countries buy that?
They’re not going to listen to it if he doesn’t go to Glasgow with a good package. Time is precious. Biden can do it in a stroke of a pen. The Obama administration went to Paris and said, “Okay, here’s what we’ve done. And here’s what we’re gonna do.” The Paris Agreement is far from everything we need, but that’s why we have what we have. Climate targets and that agreement about what needs to happen to limit warming to below 1.5 degrees are because Obama went there and said, “I can put some commitments on the table.” Biden needs to do that, but so much more and so much faster.
What makes a strong climate package work?
A package must be fair, achievable, and binding. Biden should commit to science-based targets for reduction. Scientists have stated that to fight climate change, we need to reduce greenhouse emissions by half by 2020. The US is the richest country in the world—the world’s largest cumulative climate polluter. It needs to do better than the global average. That means it must reduce its emissions by 70 percent or more over the next ten years. Next, it should finance and support developing countries that have already suffered severe losses and damage from the crisis. There is a huge gap between the agreement to limit global warming to below 1.5 degrees and the actions that countries must take to achieve it. It’s not the promise for 2050 that is most important. It’s the promise for the next decade.
You’re saying because we’ve long been the world’s biggest carbon polluter, we should now sacrifice more?
Yes. In the 1990s, the United States agreed to do this. That was the basic agreement—that the richest countries who did the most to cause the problem would also do the most to fix it. Despite this, successive administrations tried to blame those in the developing world instead of agreeing to it.
Do Are individual US states key to all of this?
Absolutely. Leadership at the state and federal levels is crucial. This is why we have been pressing Governor Newsom on California’s dirty oil production—to actually join the first movers of the world in limiting fossil-fuel production. Governors and other sub-national leaders around the globe can demonstrate leadership and use their executive power to get things done.
What are your thoughts on Biden’s so-called Plan B?
It’s my assumption that that’s not fully fleshed out yet. There is not enough in the announcements of the administration to get us to where our needs are. I believe that executive action should have been Plan A. That would have made far more sense, because that’s what Biden has total control over. Obama did the exact same thing: The administration said, “We’d like to pass climate legislation, but if we don’t, we’ll use our executive authority.” That just doesn’t make any sense. We’re in a climate emergency. The president should use all available authority to move the matter forward as quickly as possible and then try to get Congress to take action. I don’t think the Plan B framing makes any sense and I would urge the administration not to use that.
What do you hope to see from COP26
The key thing is to increase emissions and reduce fossil fuel production. There’s a huge gap between what needs to happen to limit warming to 1.5 degrees, and what countries have pledged. There’s a huge gap between the amount of oil, gas, and coal that can be dug up and burned and what the world’s fossil fuel producers are planning to do. These gaps must be closed by countries increasing their emission reduction pledges.
Do you think it is possible that the summit will result the world meeting its emission targets
This is highly unlikely. But, we must keep insisting on it.
What authority will an International Climate Treaty have?
Enforcement is always difficult. The United States agreed to certain things back in the 1990s. It hasn’t done them and, unfortunately, there has been no consequence. It’s a global problem and we need a global solution—we desperately need international cooperation. It is crucial to have a treaty every country has agreed to and will be responsible for. It is vital that world leaders work together in order to create the international norm. We can’t underestimate the power of making that happen.
Do you think it’s problematic that a lawmaker like Joe Manchin, who is backed by fossil-fuel interests, is allowed to dictate climate policy?
Yes. This is a moral issue. It’s a question of life or death. Opposition politicians [ambitious reforms]They do it for the profit of fossil fuel corporation profits as well as their own financial gain. And it’s morally shocking.