The big COP26 news Thursday was that 23 new countries agreed to phase out their use of coal, a highly polluting fossil fuel. But the United States was notably absent from the announcement.
“It’s great that the US is back in the climate talks, but it’s clearly a difficult time for them domestically, and timing is a real problem for this particular COP,” said Camilla Finning, an international coal expert at an independent European think-tank. E3G. . CNN. “Everyone understands that this makes it difficult for the United States to join anything now, which is a shame.”
As the US House of Representatives continues last-minute negotiations on President Joe Biden’s key economy and climate bill and partisan infrastructure package, other nations are paying close attention to the climate summit in Glasgow. COP participants acknowledge the key role played by Manchin, a Democrat who represents coal-rich West Virginia and a key player in shaping Biden’s climate policy.
“In all my interactions with other countries, there is a deep understanding of what is going on,” said Jake Schmidt, NRDC’s senior director of international climate strategy. “They know where the Gu Palace is. Honestly, they read the news every day. They ride a roller coaster like everyone else in the States.”
A State Department spokesperson told CNN that US commitments must be backed by action. The spokesperson also noted Biden’s pledge to decarbonize the US energy sector by 2035, saying, “No one should doubt how serious this is.”
“Data is data and it is very important, but it cannot be considered an end in itself,” the spokesperson said. “They need to support them with action, and the United States is already moving forward with a just energy transition. We will soon also have a series of bills that generate $800 billion in clean energy and climate programs — the largest spending of resources in the United States on climate action ever.”
While the United States has not signed an international 23-nation agreement to phase out coal — along with other major emitters including China and India — it signed a separate agreement on Thursday to stop funding all fossil fuel projects abroad.
On Friday, the House looked set to vote on Biden’s $1.9 trillion economic and climate package, which includes $555 billion for climate programs, clean energy and tax cuts. This package then goes to the US Senate, where Senate leader Chuck Schumer wants to pass it on Thanksgiving.
Manchin was responsible for his opposition to the Democrats’ clean electricity program — which was scrapped from the final bill — and created uncertainty throughout the process, signaling several times that he wanted to extend the negotiations further.
Manchin’s influence on Biden’s climate policy was most acutely felt at COP26.
“A lot of people said to me, ‘Are we going to see the United States achieve some kind of national clean energy plan? “And I think the truth is, that’s not how we run our energy system in the United States. It makes these kinds of statements or commitments more difficult.”
Statewide action on coal, along with new federal investment in Biden’s bill, could make it possible for the United States to phase out coal relentlessly, Laiki said.
“It could be said that the issue of timing was the most important question facing the government,” she added. “Without the Clean Power Plan, can they continue to the timelines that are required here instead of the timelines they might be able to do if they waited a year or two and put something in?”
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