This year, President Biden heads to the United Nations climate summit with major legislation to tackle the issue he can trumpet.
The passage of the inflation Reduction Act gives Biden something concrete to point to, a sharp contrast to former President Trump’s climate denial.
But Biden is also coming to the climate conference in Egypt when much of the world’s attention is on energy security instead, and he may find some countries eager for the U.S. to keep up its status as a major fossil fuel producer — at least in the short term.
Biden will give a special COP27 address on American efforts to reduce emissions and help the vulnerable build resilience to climate change, a senior administration official told reporters this week.
He’s expected to tout the investments in the Inflation Reduction Act, which put nearly $370 billion towards energy and climate, largely through clean energy tax credits. He may also highlight the signing of a global climate treaty aimed at cutting pollutants used in refrigeration — though the U.S. was on track to already comply with its terms due to 2020 legislation signed by Trump.
Throughout his first two years in office, Biden has sought to restore the U.S.’s image on climate after Trump withdrew from the global Paris Agreement and falsely claimed that climate change was a “hoax.”
The passage of the climate bill will give him actual, concrete action to tout, with the legislation’s multi-year timelines guaranteeing some U.S. climate action at least in the medium term.
In 2021, the situation was different. While Biden said at COP26 he wanted to get the U.S. back on track, the prospects of significant climate legislation were very uncertain.
“Last year Biden was coming in new, with a lot of goodwill, but also a lot of understandable skepticism from the international community about whether he was going to be able to deliver on those promises,” said Aimee Barnes, CEO of climate consulting firm Hua Nani Partners.
“Now he’s able to go with the biggest climate funding package the U.S. has ever seen under his belt,” added Barnes, who has previously worked on climate issues with the governments of California, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom. “I think he’s coming in in a much stronger position, at least from the perspective of mitigation.”
But Biden is still expected to garner some skepticism, especially around climate finance and the U.S.’s ability to uphold its commitments to other countries.
“On the international stage, I think there will be concerns about the ability of the Biden administration, despite its best efforts, to deliver on what it has pledged in terms of finance,” said Dan Lashof, director of the World Resources Institute, United States.
Government spending is usually done through the appropriations process. Such bills need 60 votes to evade a Senate filibuster. The disparate stances between Democrats and Republicans on climate action and financing has historically made this a hurdle.
The U.S. and other nations also have a bad track record on the subject. Wealthy countries have fallen short of their promise to deliver $100 billion annually by 2020 to help developing ones deal with climate change.
Meanwhile, the situation is playing out amid a geopolitical energy crisis. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine led to a natural gas crunch in Europe, leaving nations to turn to both additional renewable and fossil-based energy sources. Stateside, the U.S. has grappled with high prices of gasoline and other fuels.
Biden has called on oil producers to drill more in response. The U.S. has also maintained relatively large levels of natural gas exports throughout the year.
His administration has argued that it can and should see more production in the short term, while also setting up long-term investments in clean energy to take on the climate crisis.
Morgan Bazilian, a public policy professor at the Colorado School of Mines, said that despite the U.N. conference, for many countries, climate change is taking a back seat to energy security. Bazilian, who has previously served as a climate negotiator for the European Union, said this may bring new sympathy for the U.S. in its role as a major energy producer.
“I think the negative comments on the United States this time will not be so much… on us as the world’s largest oil and gas producer,” he said, adding that they may be instead “more focused on this issue of loss and damages as historical emitters of larger scale.”
He added that even on the issues of climate responsibility, there may be “some softening of rhetoric from official delegates” because of other priorities like energy or food security.
Lashof had a different perspective, saying that developing countries in particular see an unfairness in the developed world’s continued use of fossil fuels while they’re urged not to develop their own energy resources.
“All of these countries recognize, yes, fossil fuel production ultimately has to decline,” he said. “The problem we have is that everybody wants to be the producer of the last barrel of oil and the last therm of gas.”