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Monday, December 6, 2021

COP26: US senator blocking Joe Biden’s climate legislation poses threat to success of climate summit

Another day, another story suggesting COP26 is in trouble.

This time it is the embarrassing news that major sponsors of the crucial UN climate summit, including Sky (the owner of Sky News), have written to the UK government to raise concerns about how it is being organised.

But there is another much more acute issue emerging across the Atlantic. One that isn’t just embarrassing or inconvenient, but threatens the credibility of America and therefore the success of COP26.

A senator is blocking the progress of a multi-trillion dollar spending package through Congress.

Joe Manchin is a Democrat from West Virginia, a state that is historically heavily reliant on coal and the fossil fuel economy.

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He is staunchly opposed to the clean energy provision within the bill, and appears to be holding firm.

After some intensive political wrangling, the White House has admitted that the clean energy aspects of the bill are likely to be dropped.

Many have reacted with dismay at the idea that America, reinvented post-Donald Trump as a climate change warrior with the moral authority to marshal international consensus, should fail at such a crucial moment.

The clean energy aspect of the spending bill is not the only US climate change legislation in the works but it is by far the most important.

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This part of the law contains sweeping plans to electrify and decarbonise America by rewarding suppliers for switching to clean power sources and penalising them if they don’t.

Senator Manchin says he cannot support using taxpayer dollars to incentivise private companies to do what they are already starting to do without federal help.

But if he is successful in what appears to be a genuine attempt to block this section of the bill, his actions will have far reaching consequences.

In the first instance, America might struggle to hit its own carbon emission reduction targets.

But perhaps more importantly, a domestic political failure like this will put a huge dent in America’s moral authority just as it needs it most.

US Special Climate Envoy John Kerry is shuttling about the globe in a last ditch diplomatic push, exhorting nations like China, India and Russia to be more ambitious with their carbon reduction targets.

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He is also applying huge pressure to get the G20 nations who are meeting in Rome on the eve of COP26 to specifically agree to the phase-out of coal.

Senator Manchin and his supporters are representatives of an inconvenient truth, that US domestic politics dances to its own tune, sometimes at the expense of global progress.

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