Fo Joe Biden, the United Nations climate summit in Egypt it is the climactic scenario to announce that the US will finally pass important legislation to curb dangerous global warming. But the thoughts of the US president and delegates around the world are likely to fly nervously to events 6,000 miles (9.65 km) away: the knife-edge midterm elections in USA.
The climate talks, known as police27, will begin in earnest on Monday when more than 90 heads of state meet in Sharm el-Sheikh amid warnings from scientists that the world is headed for a disastrous climate breakdown without deeper cuts in planet-warming emissions. António Guterres, UN Secretary-General, warned governments heading to Egypt that they are facing “economy-destroying levels of global warming” and that their efforts to stop this disaster are falling “woefully short”.
The Biden administration aims to enter police27 in a mood of determined optimism, officials have told briefings, having steered the landmark Inflation Reduction Act through Democratic votes in Congress over the summer, a $370,000 package million (£331bn) to boost clean energy which is the first major climate bill ever enacted by the US.
But the White House’s attempts to portray the US as an empowered standard-bearer for climate action risk being undermined just a day after the conference, with midterm elections on Tuesday that could shift control of Congress to Republicans, who harshly criticize what they call the president’s “radical green agenda.”
Biden will arrive in Sharm el-Sheikh on November 11, shortly after the midterm elections but likely before the full results of the vote. The prospect of the president’s program being partially overturned by Republican gains would dampen hopes for further progress from the world’s largest historic emitter of greenhouse gases.
“Everyone at Cop27 will be watching the US election and trying to understand what it means, it will affect the general tenor of the talks,” said Nathan Hultman, a climate policy expert who was part of the US negotiating team. .at last year’s meeting. Cop26 speaks in Scotland.
“We have this strong, transformative body of work from Congress that has completely changed the narrative about the US. We’re in a good position to hit our emissions reduction goal, but it’s obviously more difficult if the election doesn’t go as planned.” planned”.
The United States has been a hugely influential but unreliable actor during the climate crisis, with its unusually partisan politics leaving leaders of other countries nervously watching US elections for sharp changes in climate policy. “The United States will come with a good message to say that it is a leader on climate, but the political winds can change quickly,” said Alice Hill, a former adviser to Barack Obama, now a climate expert at the Council on Foreign Relations.
“If the results go against the Democrats, it is unlikely that we will see more climate legislation and there will be more legal challenges to the actions taken by the Biden administration. There will be question marks about how far the United States can go on climate.”
John Kerry, Biden’s climate envoy, has remained upbeat about the prospects of using American influence in Egypt. Scientists have warned that the world remains a long way from avoiding disastrous climate change, with emission reduction commitments to date likely to result in global warming of 2.5°C (4.5°F) during the pre-industrial era, which is well above what is agreed internationally. safe limit of 1.5C (2.7F).
“No country has the right to be in arrears for not presenting an NDC [a nationally determined contribution to cut emissions]not strengthen it where they can and not be a part of this effort,” Kerry said at a recent briefing with reporters, adding that “everyone needs to do their part here” and wants to “make sure everyone understands that we’re doing what it takes to keep the 1.5C”.
Kerry is likely to come under pressure at Cop27 from developing countries unhappy that the pledged $100bn (£89.4bn) a year from rich countries in climate finance has yet to be delivered, as well as the issue of loss and damage, which provide the poorest nations with a form of compensation for floods, heat waves, droughts and other shocks that they themselves did little to cause.
A group of 143 climatic groups has written Kerry to criticize the US’s “recalcitrant” stance on loss and damage, demanding progress on the issue in Egypt. “The US has stood in the way of loss and damage installation, and the countries that are suffering right now are still demanding that installation,” Vanessa Nakate, Ugandan climate justice activist, said Recently. “I need to see America helping those who are hurting right now.”
Delegates from less wealthy countries say they are all but lost by the lack of progress on damages paid by the US and others. “We recognize the key role of the US in these climate talks and commend its steps in taking leadership in the fight against climate change at the national level,” said Madeleine Diouf Sarr, a Senegalese official who chairs the Least Developed Countries, a bloc deal maker. of 46 nations.
But Sarr added that “we are getting to the point where our patience of listening to the same old arguments is over. Now look around the world to see all the devastation you couldn’t adapt to. It is simply obvious that climate change outpaces our ability to perfectly prepare for it. We cannot rebuild houses with words.”
US negotiators have said they are open to discussing the idea at Cop27, but are wary of opening up any kind of liability that might be imposed on the US. Kerry said he wanted a “serious dialogue” on loss and damage, but did not commit to any kind of agreement. Regardless, Republicans would likely try to thwart any attempt to provide any new climate aid to developing countries, should the GOP prevail in the midterms.
“Biden still has two years left in his term and there are now strict regulations that will be strict and will help fuel the existing momentum in renewables and electric cars,” Hultman said. “Depending on that momentum, the outcome of the election may not be very important. But we will have to see how things turn out after November 8”.
Democrats, meanwhile, are not only worried about their electoral prospects heading into Cop27, but also question the stage of the talks, given Egypt’s dismal human rights record. “Egypt was the wrong choice for Cop27,” said Don Beyer, a Democratic congressman who called on Kerry to raise human rights issues with the Egyptian government. “His government of him imprisons environmental and political activists and treats NGOs as a threat.”
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