Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and dozens of members of Congress will converge on Glasgow this week, as COP26 enters its final few days, without any prospect of the US passing key climate-focused legislation before it ends.
The senior US politicians will fly to Scotland following a frantic few days on Capitol Hill, where US President Joe Biden managed to get his signature infrastructure bill through Congress, though without any of the major climate initiatives he had promised.
Many of those have instead been placed into a second piece of legislation, the fate of which remains uncertain as moderate Democrats continue to hold out for more information on how it will be paid for.
With days left until the end of the summit, climate activists have expressed disappointment about the lack of firm US commitments. But they are hoping the presence of so many members of Congress in Glasgow will give them a chance to press the case for passing Biden’s $1.75tn social security package, which includes around $550bn of environmental provisions.
Ramon Cruz, the president of the Sierra Club, an environmental organisation, told the Financial Times: “What happened this week in Congress is not ideal . . . The infrastructure package is not enough, it is not sufficient.”
“But we know that this is not the end of the road and we have to pass the legislation that could transform lives. Build Back Better [the social security bill] is such a transformational legislation.”
Biden has promised to put tackling climate change at the heart of his domestic agenda, and attended the Glasgow summit in person last week. But his administration disappointed many attendees when it refused to sign up to a pledge to phase out coal power, joining China and India in opting out of the 40-nation agreement.
The White House on Sunday insisted it remained committed to the climate agenda, pointing out the range of measures in the Build Back Better bill.
They include $300bn to induce energy companies to build clean power and build charging infrastructure for electric vehicles, $29bn to help finance zero-emission technologies and $19bn in tax rebates to encourage households and factories to install clean technologies such as rooftop solar panels.
After protracted negotiations in Congress, however, the bill does not contain headline-grabbing initiatives such as a carbon tax or a clean energy standard to force power companies to move away from fossil fuels.
Ron Klain, the White House chief of staff, told CBS News on Sunday: “The Build Back Better plan that we’ve been talking about has the largest investment in American history to get us to a clean energy economy.”
Ed Markey, the Democratic senator from Massachusetts, said on Saturday the bill would “unleash a revolution for clean energy”.
Klain and Biden both promised over the weekend that the legislation would pass, having secured an agreement from moderate Democrats that they would vote on it during the week beginning November 15.
But those moderates are refusing to guarantee they will vote in favour, saying they want to see an analysis by the Congressional Budget Office on how the bill would affect the US deficit before making a final decision.
Josh Gottheimer, one of the leading moderate Democrats in the House of Representatives, said on Sunday: “We just want to make sure we get that data, and that we’re able to align it with what we had received already [from the Treasury and the White House].”
Additional reporting by Leslie Hook
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