Climate optimism

Climate optimism: The IRA was signed less than two weeks after Beijing suspended its cooperation with the U.S. on climate change.

A clean energy arms race between the U.S. and China — the world’s two superpowers and largest greenhouse gas emitters — has been the dream of climate advocates for decades.

The Inflation Reduction Act that President Joe Biden signed on Tuesday will pour $369 billion into clean energy and help to build a domestic clean tech manufacturing sector designed to displace China as the key supplier of critical equipment for solar, wind, and batteries.

It also spurred hopes that U.S. economic competition might succeed where the diplomacy of Biden’s climate envoy John Kerry has largely failed — by extracting new commitments from Beijing to reduce China’s greenhouse gas output.

Climate experts experience an odd sensation after the Manchin budget deal: optimism

“What this does is the show to the Chinese that the U.S. is actually going to be real in this game and not just going to talk about it, and I think that’s a benefit to everyone,” said Jake Schmidt, senior strategic director of international climate with the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental research and advocacy group. “The planet will benefit from that healthy competition.”

The IRA was signed less than two weeks after Beijing suspended its cooperation with the U.S. on climate change — a dialogue that had been fostered by Kerry and viewed as an oasis of partnership amid the broader strategic hostility — in protest at the visit of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan.

With that, the pairing that made the Paris Agreement possible and in more recent times helped ease an agreement at last year’s climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, was severed.

These two developments, according to present and former diplomats and climate experts, signal an end to any hope that the U.S. might influence Beijing through appeals based on mutual responsibility. Rather, competition is in vogue.

Meet a scientist who’s optimistic about climate change

Now the U.S. is putting unprecedented money behind its wager that it can beat China in the marketplace while seeding a domestic clean energy base of its own. The $369 billion in incentives to sprout battery and electric car makers, electric appliance manufacturers and other clean industries more than quadruple the next-biggest U.S. green investment, the $90 billion from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Collectively, national plans submitted under the Paris climate pact to cut emissions are not enough to keep the world from warming more than 2 degrees Celsius, the line that scientists warn would bring catastrophic change. China and the U.S. — together responsible for around 38 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions — will largely dictate how fast the planet heats up.

Climate experts experience an odd sensation after the Manchin budget deal: optimism

Kerry has spent much of the past 18 months holding closed talks with Chinese officials, cajoling, bargaining, and pressuring Beijing to raise its climate goals.

China had rebuffed Kerry’s entreaties by pointing out that the U.S. might have set tough targets, but it wasn’t doing much to meet them. During regular knowledge-sharing sessions with EU counterparts, Beijing’s diplomats have smugly asserted that they have nothing to learn from the Americans when it comes to overhauling a fossil fuel economy.

But now, Kerry’s sales pitch is “tremendously bolstered” by the Inflation Reduction Act, said Todd Stern, who led U.S. climate negotiations under the Obama administration.

Climate Catastrophe Is Coming. But It’s Not the End of the Story.

Biden’s signature on the biggest climate spending package in U.S. history was barely dry when his climate envoy was tweeting that the IRA “puts America on track to achieve our climate goals and encourage others in the world to increase their efforts.”

The massive investment returns credibility to the United States’ badly battered international reputation after years of federal inaction and former President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, said, Stern.

“The before and after, there is no comparison,” he said, adding that Kerry’s position “would have been pretty damn weak without it.” China’s questions about U.S. delivery are “not believable at this point,” he said.

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