As millions of people on three continents baked in heat waves supercharged by climate change this week, one American politician, an ardent champion of the fossil fuel industry, doused any hopes of immediate climate action in Washington.
That politician is Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, a state of 1.8 million people. As my colleagues Emily Cochrane and Lisa Friedman reported late Thursday evening from Washington, Manchin said he would not support his fellow Democrats’ proposals to fund climate or energy programs. Party leaders had been negotiating with Manchin for the better part of 18 months. They had steadily whittled down their climate ambitions in order to win his support. He still didn’t agree.
It follows a Supreme Court decision that curbed the federal government’s authority to tackle emissions from power plants.
Taken together, the implications for the world’s 7 billion people are huge. Here are the key takeaways:
Manchin used his outsized leverage.
With the Senate evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, Manchin is hugely influential. He has been a holdout on several key climate proposals, like helping Americans pay for electric vehicles.
It’s not entirely surprising. Manchin’s family has long made a lot of money from the coal business, as my colleagues have documented. He has also taken more money from the oil and gas industry than any other senator.
Whether Manchin’s influence will last past the Congressional elections in November is anyone’s guess. He would lose his pivotal role if either Republicans or Democrats increase their numbers in either house.
Republicans have been solidly against climate legislation. Never mind that a majority of Americans, in poll after poll, want the government to do more to address the risks.
It’s a defeat for global efforts to slow down climate change.
The United States is the largest emitter of planet-warming greenhouse gases in history. Its per capita emissions remain by far the highest in the world.
Without swift emissions reductions by the United States, it seems virtually impossible for the world to limit the rise of global average temperatures. Failure to pass climate legislation takes away diplomatic leverage to press other countries to take climate action of their own.
That includes China, which currently produces the largest share of global emissions, as well as big emerging economies like Brazil, India and South Africa, whose emissions are growing.
“Manchin’s rejection and the recent Supreme Court ruling dealt a heavy blow to U.S. climate credibility,” said Li Shuo, the Beijing-based senior policy adviser for Greenpeace East Asia. It underlines what many people abroad accept as a given, Li said: That “the biggest historical emitter can hardly fulfill its climate promises.”
The United States, central to rallying countries around the 2015 Paris Agreement, has been an unreliable partner.
The Paris accord is designed to let every country set its own climate action targets every five years and, then, exert diplomatic peer pressure on one another to do more. Donald J. Trump pulled the United States out of the agreement altogether. President Biden rejoined and set new, ambitious targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by half by 2030, compared with 2005 levels. That’s less ambitious than European and British targets, both of which are enshrined in law.
For the United States, there is no way to meet these targets without far-reaching climate legislation. At the moment, the United States is not on track to meet even its original pledge, according to an analysis this week by the Rhodium Group.
It could sideline the United States at international talks and give other countries more leverage.
It leaves little for John F. Kerry, the Biden administration’s climate envoy, to show the rest of the world when he attends the next global climate talks in Egypt in November. It makes a mockery of the “America is back” rhetoric presented at last year’s climate talks.
“This will dismay American allies and diminish further U.S. influence over what happens in the energy economy across the rest of the world,” said Joss Garman, a director at the European Climate Foundation. “Whilst this is undoubtedly a major setback for international efforts to reach climate safety, with oil and gas prices so high and clean energy getting so cheap by comparison, the transition is sure to continue apace albeit now with China and Europe more likely to seize the jobs and industrial benefits of this across key markets.”
It’s a political defeat for the White House.
Manchin’s rejection of the climate plan makes it all but impossible for the president to enact climate legislation, which he promised to do when he was elected. “Things look bleak,” my colleague Lisa Friedman explained to me. The Biden administration can still advance some regulations that it slow-walked so as not to upset Manchin during delicate negotiations, she said. They include regulations on methane and mercury. They would not necessarily need legislative approval. “So if the administration wants to move forward with some aggressive regulations it can, but it will have a lot to do in just over two years,” Lisa said.
Also, Biden could not be in a worse place, literally. When the news broke, the president was on his way to Saudi Arabia, a petrostate, in a bid to bring down world oil prices.
We’re working on more coverage, including what might come next for climate action. Stay tuned here.
Essential news from The Times
Depleting a rainforest for fuel: Nearly 90 percent of Congolese use charcoal or firewood for cooking. It’s speeding deforestation in an area that rivals the Amazon in importance.
Crypto emissions: The largest Bitcoin miners in the U.S. could use nearly as much power as all the homes in Houston. Democrats say they should be required to report their energy use.
A record pace for E.V. sales: Electric vehicles accounted for 5.6 percent of all car sales in recent months, twice the share from a year ago. Demand is running well beyond supply.
How to save ancient trees: Strategies used by officials at Yosemite to save Giant Sequoias from wildfires include setting up sprinklers to water them and covering them with foam.
Unhappy Russian allies: Efforts by Russia to dodge sanctions and find new buyers for its oil have forced its allies Venezuela and Iran to discount their crude.
An unprecedented heat warning: In a first, the British weather services have put parts of the country under a red alert for heat.
Hold the mustard: A perfect storm of climate change, war and supply chain problems has caused a shortage of the seeds needed to make Dijon. It’s caused deep disquiet in France.
Tell us about your bills from a hurricane or flood
As we explore how extreme weather and the climate crisis are affecting Americans, you can help us by detailing what you’ve faced in home repairs and other costs.
Before you go: New life for old coal plants
Coal-fired power stations, once a huge source of greenhouse gases, are being retired across the United States. But they still have a useful feature: They’re wired to the electricity grid. New renewable power ventures like wind and solar farms are staring to take advantage of that infrastructure to save lots of time and money.
Thanks for reading. We’ll be back on Tuesday.
Manuela Andreoni, Claire O’Neill and Douglas Alteen contributed to Climate Forward.
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