COP26: America’s role in the fight against climate change

After years of absence from the global community in the fight against climate change, US president Joe Biden and other prominent American political figures ushered the country back into the fight. 

The US recommitted itself to the Paris Agreement early on in Biden’s administration, while now at COP26, the president wants the US to lead the way forward to reducing greenhouse gas emissions through new coalitions and partnerships. The presence of the US at the COP26 global climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland was seen as a huge morale boost to the global fight against climate change. 

We take a look at the impact America had on the climate conference, both internationally and domestically. 

US and China joint pledge bolsters COP26 outcomes

A surprise joint pledge by the world’s two biggest emitters is said to have given delegates and the summit a “psychological lift”. 

“Together we set out our support for a successful COP26, including certain elements which will promote ambition,” US climate envoy John Kerry said about the deal between Washington and Beijing. “Every step matters right now and we have a long journey ahead of us.”

Image credit: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

The statement announces a commitment by the US and China to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 to restrict global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. While the statement announces nothing new or daring, it provided a boost of hope that COP26 will be regarded as a success. 

The two biggest economies and GHG emitters have been noticeably missed on other major agreements made by their counterparts. As Reuters reported, the US and China refused to sign an agreement to end sales of new petrol-powered vehicles by 2040. 

Biden: The US will lead by example

President Joe Biden re-ushered the United States into the global cause against climate change while also announcing new action plans and new partnerships to help the world deliver on its pledges. 

Biden said that his administration will “demonstrate to the world that the United States is not only back at the table but hopefully leading by the power of our example. 

“Within the growing catastrophe, I believe there is an incredible opportunity,” he added. “Not just for the United States, but for all of us. We’re standing at an inflection point of world history. We have the ability to invest in ourselves and build an equitable clean energy future, and, in the process, create millions of good-paying jobs and opportunities around the world.”

One way in which Biden pledged to have the US lead by example is to reduce the country’s methane emissions by 30 percent by 2030. Through the US Methane Emissions Reduction Plan, Biden’s Administration will target the oil and gas, agriculture, landfills, and other hard-to-abate sectors such as energy, industry, and transportation and have them reduce their methane emissions through bespoke action plans per sector. 

Read our summary of Biden’s visit to COP26 

Obama: All of us have sacrifices to make

Former president Barack Obama addressed delegates in Glasgow, saying wealthy nations  have an added burden to help poorer nations more vulnerable to the “oncoming” climate crisis. He also urged young people to stay “angry about the climate.” 

“All of us have a part to play,” Obama said, “all of us have work to do. All of us have sacrifices to make. But those of us who live in big, wealthy nations, those of us who help to precipitate the problem, we have an added burden to make sure we are working with, and helping and assisting those who are less responsible and less able but more vulnerable to this oncoming crisis.”

The 44th president of the United States called on young people to “stay angry” in the fight against climate change, urging them to apply political pressure to make a change. He did also warn them that they should expect to accept compromises along the way. 

Obama said the world is “nowhere near where we need to be” to avoid a future climate catastrophe.

Pelosi: America is back in the climate fight

US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was a key speaker during the climate conference’s “Gender, Science & Innovation” day on November 9. 

Pelosi spoke on issues of gender inequality as it relates to the effects of climate change while also commenting on how Biden’s $1 trillion infrastructure bill can address climate and gender inequality issues. 

“Eighty percent of people displaced in climate change globally are women,” she said.  “Addressing the rapidly changing climate is a matter of justice and equality, with the most vulnerable most affected – including indigenous communities, less developed countries and our focus, today and every day, on women.”

Pelosi added that the bipartisan infrastructure plan will advance the country’s mission to clean up every sector of the economy. Women will have a big part to play in that mission, she said.

Pelosi continued:

This [bipartisan infrastructure bill] recognizes the interconnectedness of climate change and gender justice and enables women and girls to lead a just transition to a clean energy economy of the future. 

Our legislation advances our mission to decarbonize and realign every sector of the economy.  It is a model of collaboration that brings together public, private and non-profit sectors to seal the – scale the solutions necessary for achieving net-zero pollution globally. 

These bills are far-reaching in scale and scope, ensuring that the design, manufacturing, financing and deployment of our economy, our future economy is cleaner and greener.  That means hundreds of billions of dollars for clean energy tax credits, resilience, environmental justice and state, local, regional-led climate solutions, where women play a key role. 

US Climate Alliance: New action plan to achieve climate goals faster

A coalition of state governors gathered in Glasgow to highlight new impact actions plans to lower emissions in their states. 

Jay Inslee (Washington), Kate Brown (Oregon), Dave Ige (Hawaii), and JB Pritzker (Illinois) spoke at a COP26 press conference to highlight the work of the US Climate Alliance and its commitment to pursue the 1.5 degrees Celsius warming limit, help the US achieve nationally-determined contributions (NDC), and the Alliance’s own 2030 and 2050 climate goals.  

“The U.S. Climate Alliance is a bipartisan coalition of U.S. governors leading states that collectively represent 62% of U.S. GDP, 56% of the U.S. population, and 43% of U.S. emissions,” according to the Alliance’s website.

The Alliance advanced eight priority policy areas with more than 40 specific action plans that will “accelerate greenhouse gas emission reductions, complement and spur federal efforts, and drive the sort of tangible, impactful implementation and results needed to make the U.S. climate targets a reality.”

The eight policy areas and some of the key action plans include (excerpts taken from US Climate Alliance plan):

  • Power: Decarbonize the electricity grid, establish interim targets, and identify opportunities to better align planning and procurement processes for generation, distribution, and transmission resources with the Alliance’s collective climate goals. 
  • Buildings: Eliminate emissions from buildings, including supporting the development and adoption of zero-emissions building codes.
  • Industry: Eliminate GHG emissions from the industrial sector and its supply chains and promote the growth of a strong, domestic clean manufacturing economy.
  • Transportation: Decarbonize the transportation sector by reducing vehicle miles traveled and increase access to and the affordability of zero-emission vehicles, clean fuels, and multi-modal options.
  • Just transition and equity: develop climate and clean energy solutions for frontline communities; provide training, facilitation, and funding that bolsters capacity and fosters leadership; and direct significant expenditures to create environmental and economic benefits for vulnerable and overburdened populations and grow family-sustaining jobs.
  • Resilience: Integrate physical climate risk and prioritize climate adaptation and equity in state planning and decision making to help communities prevent, reduce, withstand, and recover from climate-related impacts and disasters.
  • Natural and working lands: Scale best practices for land management, restoration, and conservation to contribute to emission reductions and carbon sequestration at the scale needed for deep decarbonization.
  • Social cost of greenhouse gases: Consider societal and environmental impacts of GHG emissions and climate change, including the social cost of greenhouse gases and guidance from the federal government’s Interagency Working Group on the Social Cost of Greenhouse Gases and the academic and scientific communities.

Secure your business energy with Northern Gas and Power Americas

Much has been expected from all nations participating in COP26. The US’ active involvement in the climate summit and their pledges and (re)commitments to keeping global warming at bay have been welcomed by the international community. 

Many of the pledges and policies that will come out of COP26 will affect businesses in America. Plans such as the US’ methane reduction strategy will have major implications for businesses across many sectors, particularly energy, agriculture, and oil. Those in the shipping, steel, and trucking sectors should look now to make their supply chains green. 

We offer world-class procurement and energy management services to businesses across the country. We want to help you transition smoothly and fruitfully to the new energy future. 

Contact us today.

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