The plan was for President Biden to mark America’s triumphant return to global climate leadership at the United Nations summit next week with a green energy deal in hand, raise his prestige on the world stage and maybe snag a photo with Greta Thunberg.
Instead, Mr. Biden faces the prospect of arriving at the U.N. Conference of the Parties, or COP26, in Glasgow, Scotland, with his climate agenda on increasingly shaky ground.
Hours before his Thursday flight to Europe, Mr. Biden scrambled to persuade House Democrats to back a slimmed-down $1.75 trillion “Build Back Better” framework. The plan included about $500 billion for climate priorities such as electric vehicles, rooftop solar tax credits and a Civilian Climate Corps.
“This framework also makes the most significant investment to deal with the climate crisis ever … beyond any other advanced nation in the world, over 1 billion metric tons of emissions reductions, at least 10 times bigger on climate than any bill that has ever passed before,” Mr. Biden said in a televised address.
Without a deal, Mr. Biden runs the risk of showing up in Glasgow empty-handed. That would raise serious doubts about the president’s ability to follow through on his vow to cut U.S. emissions 50% to 52% by 2030 and feed the narrative that the U.N. climate summit has become all talk and no action.
Steven Groves, a fellow of The Heritage Foundation’s Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, predicted that the administration would “go through Glasgow in a defensive crouch.”
“He’s going to go there and do some photo-ops, maybe dance with Greta Thunberg and get the hell out of Dodge, because what else is he bringing to the table there?” said Mr. Groves, who was chief of staff for Nikki Haley when she was U.S. ambassador to the U.N.
Connecting with Miss Thunberg may be tricky. She mocked world leaders, including Mr. Biden, at a pre-COP event last month in Milan by saying they offered nothing other than “blah, blah, blah.”
“Net zero, blah, blah, blah. Climate neutral, blah, blah, blah. This is all we hear from our so-called leaders: words, words that sound great, but so far has led to no action or hopes and dreams. Empty words and promises,” said the teenage Swedish activist.
Miss Thunberg does plan to travel to Glasgow, not to attend the climate summit but to lead a protest march.
Climate Depot publisher Marc Morano picked up on Miss Tunberg’s theme by dubbing the conference the “Blah Blah Blah UN COP26 climate summit.”
Even if congressional lawmakers reach a deal before his Monday appearance, Mr. Biden faces other headwinds.
After he pledged to halve U.S. emissions in less than a decade, fuel prices are soaring. A global energy crisis has stoked demand for coal and natural gas, prompting domestic pushback against his moves to curb fossil fuels by canceling the Keystone XL pipeline and limiting drilling on public lands.
Sen. John Barrasso, Wyoming Republican, said he thought Mr. Biden’s last-minute plea on Capitol Hill made him look “weak — the 98-pound weakling.”
“He’s off to Europe, to Glasgow, Scotland, to, I believe, wave the white flag of surrender of American energy dominance and wealth, to now an energy-dependent nation we’ve become and an energy-weak nation,” Mr. Barrasso said on Fox News. “It’s because of the policies of this administration.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned Democrats not to “embarrass” Mr. Biden before his overseas trip, said CNN’s Manu Raju, drawing hoots on social media.
John Podesta, founder and board chairman of the Center for American Progress, cheered the president’s bid for a deal.
“I applaud the administration and those in Congress who have worked tirelessly to get this done ahead of the global climate talks in Glasgow next week, as this sets the bar incredibly high,” Mr. Podesta said in a statement. “Today’s framework marks possibly the most important action yet for our planet and our future.”
They’ll always have Paris
At the heart of the climate summit is the 2015 Paris Agreement, which seeks to limit the rise in global temperatures by 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit over pre-industrial levels by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Mr. Biden reversed President Trump’s withdrawal of the U.S. from the accord. He calls climate change the “existential crisis of our time.”
More than 190 countries have signed the agreement. Six years later, however, most nations have not met their targets. Eight of the Group of 20 industrial and emerging-market nations, including China and Russia, are on track to emit more in 2030 than they did in 2010, according to the U.N. Emissions Gap Report released Tuesday.
Moreover, wealthy nations have yet to meet the $100 billion-per-year pledge intended to help developing countries transition to green energy in the name of fighting climate change.
Myron Ebell, director of the Competitive Enterprise Institute Center for Energy and Environment, noted that the Senate has not ratified the Paris Agreement. President Obama signed the accord as an executive order in 2016.
“President Biden and his team of Cabinet secretaries and top advisers are going to the U.N. climate conference in Glasgow with little to offer but hot air,” Mr. Ebell said. “Biden’s Paris climate treaty commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% has not been passed by Congress and has little public support.”
Neither Chinese President Xi Jinping nor Russian President Vladimir Putin is planning to attend COP26. Britain’s Queen Elizabeth has withdrawn from the conference on the advice of her doctor. Prince Charles will speak at the opening ceremony.
James Taylor, the president of the free market Heartland Institute, said Mr. Biden risks losing the respect of hard-liners like Mr. Xi and Mr. Putin by making climate his signature issue.
“The rest of the world, for all of the virtue signaling about climate change, they understand that there are much more important problems, and if the Biden administration and Joe Biden personally are going to be investing so much capital on this topic, it just takes away from the gravitas of the American presidency and Joe Biden,” Mr. Taylor said.
Meeting with world leaders at the climate summit offers Mr. Biden an opportunity to burnish his image after the botched U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan. Nile Gardiner, the director of The Heritage Foundation’s Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, said the pullout caused “tremendous tensions.”
“I think clearly this is a massive PR exercise for the United States because the Biden presidency has gone down in flames on the world stage in the last few months,” Mr. Gardiner said. “It’s been an absolutely catastrophic time in terms of the image on the United States on the world stage following the fall of Kabul and the fall of Afghanistan.”
He said the lack of unity among congressional Democrats and the anticipated backlash in the 2022 midterm elections have contributed to the opinion overseas that Mr. Biden is “de facto already a lame duck.”
“Biden may be promising the Earth at COP26, but he’s not necessarily going to be able to deliver anything at all,” Mr. Gardiner said.
COP26, which was postponed a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, is expected to draw 30,000 people during its run from Sunday through Nov. 12.