Biden’s Climate Summit

Biden’s Climate Summit

By: Jeff Todashi

            The Biden administration has an unequivocal message at the two-day Leaders’ Summit on Climate last week: America is back.  The biggest news out of the virtual event was the commitments various countries made to reduce their emissions.  At the top, Biden formally pledged America would cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 50 to 52 percent relative to 2005 levels by 2030 — the most ambitious target the United States has set to date.  The message from Biden and U.S. climate envoy John Kerry throughout the two days was that the United States cannot do this alone. Historically, the United States is the biggest emitter of carbon, and America is currently the second-largest greenhouse gas emitter (14 percent), after China (28 percent).

            Targets announced by other nations were more modest. The big pledge from Chinese President Xi Jinping is to reduce coal consumption between 2026 and 2030. Xi’s announcement was short on specifics, and China’s overall targets — hitting peak carbon emissions by 2030 before getting to net-zero emissions by 2060 — remained unchanged.  We have to remember that Xi has set two other goals: (1) achieve economic and military parity with the United States in Asia by 2035; and (2) achieve economic and military parity with the United States around the globe by 2049.  China needs its 28 percent of carbon and more to achieve those two goals.  This is why Xi’s climate target reductions are modest and will endure to 2060. He does not care if he is a polluted world’s leader, he only cares that he is the world leader.  Even if the pledges from the United States and other countries were broadly encouraging, the real test of whether these countries will actually make good on them is yet to come.  Most nations are putting economic growth first after a year of stagnation due to the pandemic; air pollution levels are already soaring again in China.

            Both Biden and John Kerry believe that Climate Change means U.S. job growth.  This very concept — rerouting the American economy to be powered by wind, solar, nuclear, and other renewables — is the big idea in Biden’s economic vision. He’s pledged 100 percent of America’s energy to be carbon-free by 2035, and his infrastructure and jobs plan calls for a clean electricity standard, tax credits to accelerate wind and solar development, and $174 billion to be put into electric vehicle infrastructure alone.  U.S. climate envoy John Kerry is enormously optimistic about what’s happening in the private sector around clean energy.  The market is trending too much toward clean energy to go back. no government is going to solve Kerry believes that solutions are going to come from the private sector and he has good reason to feel this way. The cost of renewable energy has fallen sharply over the past few years; it’s now cheaper than fossil fuels.

            Even as economies slowed last year from the pandemic, tropical deforestation worldwide paced ahead — jumping 12 percent, compared to 2019. And that number came with a big toll on the climate: carbon emissions equal to roughly double the annual tailpipe emissions of cars in the US, according to the World Resources Institute. A large chunk of those emissions can be tied to Brazil, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Bolivia, which saw the highest rates of deforestation last year.  Enter a new coalition, Lowering Emissions by Accelerating Forest Finance Coalition (LEAF), that seeks to funnel at least $1 billion in payments to countries that show they’re preventing tropical deforestation and its associated emissions. The United States, the United Kingdom, and Norway are driving the effort along with a number of major corporations, including Amazon, Nestlé, Unilever, and Salesforce.

            While the summit attendees sent a clear signal that coal is on the way out, they were far more lukewarm on another major contributor to climate change: natural gas. To hit the world’s 1.5-degree Celsius target, we’ll have to rein in methane, a type of greenhouse gas that is especially effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere and dangerous for global warming. While methane can come from a variety of sources, such as agriculture and landfills, environmentalists see regulating the oil and gas sector as the first place to start, by keeping the gas in the ground.  Yet the natural gas industry seemed to get a pass at the summit — most leaders sidestepped methane and natural gas entirely in their speeches and announcements. Surprisingly, it was Russian President Vladimir Putin who drew the most attention to methane but stopped short of offering concrete commitments to halt plans to build natural gas pipelines.  The United States and Russia are the two largest natural gas producing nations in the world.  Putin would love to take over the first spot from the United States but not at the risk of losing his own revenue generation.  Joe Biden knows that if he targets natural gas production extensively in the United States, that he risks losing extensive political power within the states and considerable overseas leverage.  Biden cannot cut both coal and natural gas simultaneously.  The Keystone Pipe XL decision only affects solidly Republican states.  Coal reduction and natural gas reduction affects both Republican and Democratic swing states. 

            A senior state department official who prefers to remain anonymous described John Kerry as the worst Secretary of State amongst the last five.  That official said that John Kerry could not spell China if Kerry were spotted both an I and N.  With regards to climate, Kerry and Biden trust an untrustworthy China.  At the Paris Climate Accord in 2015, China and Russia agreed to cut emissions and provide funding.  Neither have contributed and neither has the United States contributed the amount it promised.  No nation has.  Not only has the United States committed itself to contributing part of $100 billion annually toward Paris Accord initiatives, but it has now committed to paying $1 billion to countries who do not deforest. 

After the American Rescue Plan, Hawaii is still $880 million short in revenue.  Hawaii could use the $1 billion being paid to non-deforesting countries best.  If Biden is serious about cutting American emissions, give the money to the states.  Give it to Hawaii and put solar panels on every house for free.  Reduce Hawaii’s 62 percent fossil fuel dependency to generate the state’s electricity.  If Biden reduces 14 percent of the Earth’s carbon emissions by making the United States entirely dependent on clean, renewable energy, the rest of the largest economies and military nations will follow suit.  Our competitors will not want the United States to get too far ahead.  They will pivot and follow so as not to get too far behind or to become dependent on us.  Spend the money on Hawaii and spend it on the states. 

Saying that unionized coal and petroleum workers, who have spent lifetimes and careers becoming masters in their professions, can easily get office jobs is easier to say that do.  These workers will have significant pay and livelihood deductions.  They will start over from the bottom.  If you want to spend that money, spend it to give legacy tenured energy workers new skills that won’t make their incomes and life styles be less than what they are now.  Maybe the oil pipeline welder in Wyoming can be an undersea welder on an aquaculture farm in Hawaii?  Maybe the valve fitter in Oklahoma, can be a valve fitter for a Hawaiian sea farm?

There are also two others issues that Biden is not addressing.  Climate reinforcement and carbon gas removal.  Climate reinforcement believes that the world temperature will continue to rise no matter what we do to reduce emissions now.  The Arctic is thawing and releasing natural emissions that far exceed artificial emissions.  These natural emissions will continue and drive-up global temperatures.  Which leads me to my next point – carbon emissions already in the atmosphere need to be removed.  This is where Bill Gates’ carbon removal technologies come into play on a vast scale.  Biden and Kerry believe that the private sector is key to climate change; however, Biden is raising the corporate tax rate from 21 percent to 28 percent and more tax hikes are expected.  The private sector will have less money to freely spend in pursuit of climate change technologies and related jobs unless of course that money comes from the U.S. government through a painfully slow government bureaucracy. If Biden truly wants to effect climate change: (1) focus solely on reducing American emissions; (2) make the carbon emission targets law; (3) keep the corporate tax rates low; (4) give the money meant for other countries to the states; and (5) assist effected workers losing their legacy energy jobs get other professions where incomes and livelihoods are not reduced or lost.  If America becomes the world’s clean, renewable energy leaders, our competitors will not wait until 2060 to follow.  They will follow now and this will reduce China 28 percent emissions sooner.