January 30, 2023

US officials hope that will put them in a better position for the upcoming difficult negotiations: the international climate talks in Egypt this fall.

Kerry and Biden now have billions of legislative investments in clean energy to promote when they go to COP27 in November, which US lawmakers and experts say is a game-changer.

“I think we all felt like we were walking through the desert with no hope of finding water, and the vultures started circling,” Heather Zeichal, CEO of American Trade Group Clean Power and a former Obama White House climate official, told CNN. “We are now talking about more than 360 billion dollars [of climate investment]. It’s really apples and oranges in terms of what you can get.”

But while the bill is being welcomed abroad, there is a general feeling that the United States is simply catching up with its allies after years of inaction. Pressure has also grown on the United States to assume financial responsibility for its historic role in the crisis.

“Obviously it’s a good thing, but it’s important not to get carried away,” Bob Ward, director of policy and communications at the London-based Grantham Institute for Climate Change and Environmental Research, told CNN of the bill.

Ward said the bill gave pledges that the US had already done “a degree of credibility,” but what much of the world wants to see is the US committing significant climate finance — money to help the most vulnerable countries reduce emissions and adapt to a crisis.

The United States vs. China: How the world's two largest emitters stack up on climate

“Issues that remain central to the discussions have not really been addressed by this bill — there is nothing in the bill on international climate finance, which is a bit worrisome,” Ward said. “Leadership is now needed from rich countries in climate finance.”

Climate finance will not normally be included in the kind of tax and climate law Democrats are preparing to pass, and Biden has requested climate finance in his 2023 budget. But the United States has a history of resisting international calls for financial instruments. In last year’s talks, the United States opposed a loss and damage plan that would compensate affected countries for the damage done by the climate crisis.

However, if the bill is passed, lawmakers and experts said it would represent a huge boost in Biden’s ability to meet his international climate commitments. It will put the United States on a path to cutting greenhouse gas emissions 31-44% below 2005 levels by the end of the decade, according to a nonpartisan climate think tank, Rhodium Group. Biden has pledged to halve US emissions by 2030.

“Suddenly, we can show up at these conferences with not just rhetorical leadership but political leadership,” Democratic Senator Chris Murphy told CNN. “It makes it more difficult for underdeveloped countries to claim that the United States is talking on both sides – and use that as an excuse to sit on the sidelines.”

Tensions between China and the United States could overshadow progress

While the bill allocates a historic amount of money for climate and clean energy, it also tries to achieve something even greater — competitiveness with China in renewables and manufacturing jobs at home, too.

The bill contains $60 billion for domestic clean energy manufacturing and $30 billion in production tax credits for wind, solar, and battery storage. Its tax credit on electric cars was written to stimulate manufacturing in the United States, or manufacturing in countries with which the United States has a free trade agreement, such as Canada and Mexico.
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But China has cornered the market on solar panels and electric batteries, and US lawmakers and experts have long warned that the United States will be left behind if Congress does not invest in the domestic supply chain with financing and tax credits.

Murphy and Democratic Senator John Hickenlooper of Colorado told CNN they hope the bill will encourage fruitful competition with China — prompting the world’s largest emitter (the United States is now the second largest) to do more to decarbonise.

“China is our competitor,” Hickenlooper said. . “If you look at how much solar and wind energy China has been implementing in the past few years, it’s been exciting. Now they’re going to have to ramp up more because we’re after it.”

China's special climate envoy Xie Zhenhua speaks at the World Economic Forum in Davos in May.
The decades-old rivalry between the United States and China has stymied climate negotiations ahead of the 2015 Paris Agreement. But the two countries’ climate partnership announced last year in Glasgow gave hope that the world’s two biggest polluters might cooperate enough to make a real impact on emissions.
But this is now pending. On Friday, China’s Foreign Ministry said it would suspend bilateral talks on climate change after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. The two countries have been cooperating on climate even as tensions in other areas have risen in recent years.
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Sam Gill, chief executive of the China Dialogue think-tank, told CNN he doesn’t think the US legislation will have a significant impact on China’s decisions on climate.

“China has its own concerns, such as the fallout from the Russian invasion, the macroeconomics, the Covid lockdown, and the important National Conference in the fall,” Gilll said. “Even if there was such a positive shift, I’m not sure it would have an impact on the COP, given the other issues that are distracting and fueling tensions at the moment.”

Ward warned the United States to remain modest in the run-up to the November summit and to remember how the Trump administration’s strike reorientated international climate policy.

“The United States is playing catch-up, and I worry at times that the United States has forgotten that the world did not stand idly by all those years of the Trump administration, when he got on with things,” Ward said. “To some extent, there has been a change in the world order, and the United States cannot dominate in the same way as it did before.”

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