Analysis: ‘Building back better’ limbo hangs over Biden’s climate leadership

  • Some $500 billion in funding blocked in US Congress
  • Congressman says failure of bill could hurt COP27 talks
  • The world must step up the pace of climate action – Kerry

WASHINGTON, Jan 31 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Failure to pass Joe Biden’s climate legislation through Congress could undermine Washington’s influence in the fight against global warming and open the door to China and other countries. other countries to back down, according to lawmakers and activists.

The White House is battling to save some $500 billion in climate finance measures contained in Biden’s “Build Back Better” spending bill at the start of another crucial year for international climate action.

“We basically promised the world that we were going to do it,” said U.S. Representative Jared Huffman of California. “If we go (to COP27) empty-handed, it’s potentially off for climate action,” referring to the UN talks due to be held in November.

Join now for FREE unlimited access to


Legislative wrangling is being closely watched by countries like China, currently the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, climate policy analysts said.

Washington’s failure to meet emissions reduction pledges and other promises in the legislation could affect Beijing’s climate action despite a bilateral agreement last year, they said.

“There will be a direct impact…on China’s appetite for embracing climate action,” said Li Shuo, senior global policy adviser at Greenpeace East Asia.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promised India will reach net zero emissions by 2070, but the country continues to intensely protect its coal industry.

The US stall highlights broader global cost challenges in tackling climate change, said Vaibhav Chaturvedi, a fellow at the Council on Energy, Environment and Water, a research group in New Delhi.

“This development would have significant negative implications on the availability of climate finance to promote renewable energy in the developing world,” he said.

Closer to home, U.S. trade cooperation with Canada that could help both countries develop their electric vehicle industries could also be affected, said Eddy Perez of Climate Action Network Canada, an advocacy coalition .

“The United States can’t go around the world telling others to step up their climate action if they… don’t clean up their homes first,” he said.


Shortly after being sworn in, Biden joined the 2015 Paris Agreement following the withdrawal led by his predecessor, Donald Trump, and launched numerous climate-related policies during his tenure for more than a year. year.

The White House has defended Biden’s record on climate change, underscoring his “whole of government” approach and highlighting measures such as building electric vehicle infrastructure and accelerating clean energy projects.

“The President has set an ambitious goal to reduce greenhouse gas pollution … by 50-52% by 2030, empowering the United States to create good jobs and improve public health … while rallying the world to make its own bold contributions,” an official said via email.

But negotiations in the U.S. Congress over the multibillion-dollar plan for clean energy investments and tax credits have stalled due to objections from U.S. Senator Joe Manchin III, a Democrat who represents West Virginia. rich in coal.

The midterm elections, scheduled for November, could bring new problems to Biden’s climate agenda, prompting Democrats to save as much as possible ahead of the election.

Republicans, who oppose his policies on global warming, appear poised to regain control of at least one chamber of Congress, political analysts say.

“This will really have a big impact on climate work internationally,” Isabella Lovin, Sweden’s former environment and climate minister, said at a recent event.

The administration said the stalled bill isn’t the only way to meet the president’s emissions targets, which experts say are needed to help limit global temperature rise to 1 .5 degrees Celsius maximum, the lower target of the Paris agreement.

Congress passed a $1 trillion-plus infrastructure package last year, which included funds for initiatives like electric vehicle charging stations, for example.

A State Department spokesperson said U.S. leadership had led to initiatives such as a global commitment to reduce methane emissions and the U.S.-China deal, and that the 2021 COP26 talks represented “the biggest increase in ambition in the history of the global fight against the climate”.

But independent analyzes have shown that it will likely take additional legislation from Congress, along with other actions from Biden, US states and the private sector, to meet the 2030 goal.


Criss-crossing the world to push for collective action, Biden’s special climate envoy John Kerry has called for faster emissions cuts since the COP26 talks in Glasgow.

“Bottom line: Glasgow was a huge step forward,” Kerry said at a World Economic Forum event this month. “But we also know that no one is moving fast enough. The world really needs to pick up the pace.”

While no one doubts Biden’s commitment to the issue, legislative gridlock is detrimental when time is of the essence, said Rachel Kyte, dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts University in Massachusetts.

“The failure to put an implementation plan in place around the ambition announced by the administration is hugely distracting,” Kyte said.

“It’s definitely sub-optimal if the greatest power in the world isn’t able to be on the front line, so to speak.”

Join now for FREE unlimited access to


Reporting by David Sherfinski @dsherfinski. Editing by Helen Popper and Laurie Goering. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which spans the lives of people around the world struggling to live freely or fairly. Visit

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.