November 2, 2021
The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26, is underway right now in Glasgow, Scotland. It began on Sunday, October 31, and will last until Friday, November 12. (COP stands for “Conference of the Parties” and this is the 26th meeting. The “parties” are the countries that signed the 1994 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.)
President Joe Biden spent Monday and Tuesday at COP26, where he tried to demonstrate that the United States is once again taking up global leadership. Biden emphasized his Build Back Better bill, which invests $555 billion in the clean economy. It lays the groundwork for the U.S. to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50–52% below 2005 levels by 2030 as it creates new jobs.
Today, the administration announced that the U.S. will cut methane coming from oil and gas rigs and that 105 countries have committed to reduce methane emissions 30% by 2030. Meanwhile, leaders at COP26 promised to protect the forests that absorb carbon dioxide, pledging to end deforestation by 2030.
At COP26, Biden worked to reclaim the nation’s leadership role in the world after four years in which the Trump administration rejected cooperation with our traditional allies. In 2015, at COP21, the representatives of 195 countries met in Paris and agreed to increase investments in renewable energy and limit the greenhouse gases that are heating the globe. They pledged to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The U.S. became a signatory to the agreement in June 2016, and then-president Barack Obama joined the agreement by executive order in September 2016.
On June 1, 2017, five months after he took office, then-president Trump announced the U.S. was withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, saying that it would hurt the U.S. economy. The move was not popular: 59% of Americans opposed the withdrawal while only 28% supported it. The withdrawal took effect on November 4, 2020, the day after the 2020 election that put Biden in the White House. The very first day of his term, Biden led the U.S. back into the Paris Agreement, and he is now using the need for international action on climate change to indicate that America is back. "We'll demonstrate to the world the United States is not only back at the table but hopefully leading by the power of our example," he said.
He repeatedly noted that China and Russia, both of which have ambitions for global power, did not send their leaders. “We showed up. We showed up,” Biden told reporters. “The fact that China is trying to assert, understandably, a new role in the world as a world leader, not showing up? Huh. The single most important thing that’s gotten the attention of the world is climate.” He called it “a big mistake” for Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin not to show up at COP26. “They’ve lost their ability to influence people around the world,” he said.
Biden wants to demonstrate that democracy works. Representative Ro Khanna (D-CA) chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Environment, told Katie Rogers of the New York Times that Biden told him: “when he meets with foreign leaders, they tout the benefits of autocracy and authoritarianism. He wants to be able to show that democracies can govern and do big things, and do big things with the appropriate speed.”
Global approval of U.S. leadership has jumped from 30% under the former president to 49% during the Biden administration, but foreign leaders are wary of U.S. promises. Biden had hoped to show up in Glasgow with his Build Back Better measure, with its funding to address climate change, a law…or at least virtually certain to become one. Instead, the Democrats are still wrangling over it, while Republicans are refusing to participate at all.
Even more unnerving for foreign allies is that, as the Trump administration illustrated, anything Biden does can be undone the next time a Republican is in office. And, as the party slides further and further to the right, the disemboweling of Biden’s actions on climate change seems increasingly likely. On Friday, the Supreme Court, with the three new justices on it added by Trump, announced it would review whether the Environmental Protection Agency can regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
Of even more concern are the ongoing attacks on our democracy. Former Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen told Annie Linskey of the Washington Post: “After four years with Trump, the world is very, very curious whether this is a lasting new direction of American politics or we could risk a return to Trumpism in 2024…. It will be an uphill effort for Biden to convince his allies and partners that he has changed American attitudes profoundly.” Rasmussen told Linskey that world leaders were watching tonight’s election in Virginia’s governor’s race and would see Democrat Terry McAuliffe’s loss as a warning sign. “It would add to some skepticism in Europe that the declaration that ‘America is back’ is only temporary,” he said.
In that election, Republican Glenn Youngkin presented himself as a more genteel version of Trump, railing against mask mandates, school closings, and especially Critical Race Theory (CRT). Tonight, he won, largely thanks to the votes of non-college-educated white voters, 76% of whom backed him rather than McAuliffe.
Youngkin’s victory is not particularly surprising—Virginia almost always elects a governor from the party not in the White House—and his margin was tight indeed, but Rasmussen was right to predict that the victory of a Trumpian campaign featuring culture wars, even as news continues to drop about the events of January 6, is worrisome. Not surprisingly, Trump has already taken credit for Youngkin’s victory.
And yet, there is no clear pattern emerging from the elections. In local elections in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Connecticut, anti-mask, anti-CRT candidates lost across the board—but they won in Texas and Colorado. In New Jersey’s governor’s race, which is so close it has not been called yet, the central issue was not CRT but property taxes, which appears to have helped the Republican candidate significantly…but in Colorado, voters rejected a referendum on lowering property taxes.
One result we can say with assurance is historic is that, for the first time in 199 years, Boston voters have chosen a mayor who is not a white man. They have elected progressive former city councilor Michelle Wu, a graduate of Harvard University and Harvard Law School. Black, Latino, and Asian residents now make up more than half of Boston’s population, and voters saw Wu as a move into the future.
Ryan Matsumoto @ryanmatsumoto1The @DecisionDeskHQ vote count now has Democrat Phil Murphy ahead in New Jersey. Philip Murphy (D) - 49.63% Jack Ciattarelli (R) - 49.62% Looks like they have the Bergen and Burlington County absentees added to the count, with NYT doesn't have yet. https://t.co/m3z4jTzX5m
Jacob Rubashkin @JacobRubashkinI mentioned this on the live blog but the fact that Phil Murphy is hanging on for dear life in New Jersey seems to indicate that Democrats' problems are not localized to Virginia or Terry McAuliffe. Ciattarelli ran on property taxes, not Critical Race Theory. https://t.co/FvG1GhU0cd