3 July 2022

Global Briefing: Biden pushes for climate spending boost after securing bipartisan infrastructure deal

Global Briefing: Biden pushes for climate spending boost after securing bipartisan infrastructure deal

Biden warns he won’t approve infrastructure deal without beefed up climate spending bill

The White House yesterday announced that it has secured a bipartisan Senate deal in support of a $953bn infrastructure bill, containing a host of new clean infrastructure and R&D provisions. But with the bill having significantly scaled back the Biden administration’s climate spending plans, both the President and Congressional Democrat leaders stressed that they would not back the new infrastructure bill unless the Senate also passes a budget reconciliation containing more ambitious climate spending plans.

Analysts said the new infrastructure bill negotiated with moderate Democrat and Republicans was dominanted by “traditional” infrastructure, such as new roads, bridges, broadband, and water projects. However, it also includes multi-billion dollar support for a range of clean infrastructure projects, including power grid, carbon capture, hydrogen, battery manufacturing, direct air carbon capture, electric vehicle (EV), and climate resilience initiatives.

The White House said the bipartisan proposal was a “critical step in implementing President Biden’s Build Back Better vision”. “The Plan makes transformational and historic investments in clean transportation infrastructure, clean water infrastructure, universal broadband infrastructure, clean power infrastructure, remediation of legacy pollution, and resilience to the changing climate,” it added. “Cumulatively across these areas, the Framework invests two-thirds of the resources that the President proposed in his American Jobs Plan.”

The promise of new spending was broadly welcomed by environmental groups, but campaigners also noted that the proposed funding fell well short of that originally proposed by the Biden administration. For example, the bipartisan plan proposes a $7.5bn investment in EV infrastructure and a further $7.5bn investment in electric buses and transit, but the president’s original American Jobs Plan had proposed spending $174bn to turbocharge America’s EV market, including a goal to deliver a national network of 500,000 electric vehicle chargers by 2030. 

As such, Biden immediately moved to assure ‘climate hawks’ in the Democrat caucus that he would not sign the bipartisan bill without the passage of an additional spending bill passed through reconciliation that is expected to include significantly more climate-focused spending.

Analysts noted that the spending bill that is working its way through the reconciliation process was likely to include a raft of measures to help decarbonise electricity, accelerate the transition to EVs, expand energy efficiency programmes, and mobilise investment in green manufacturing industries.

Bills can pass through reconciliation with a Senate majority of 50 plus one, meaning attention will now turn to the handful of “moderate” Democrats that have previously been accused of seeking to water down Biden’s climate agenda. 

 

US-China solar trade war escalates

The trade row between the US and China over alleged human rights infractions in China’s solar PV supply chain escalated yesterday, with the Chinese government hitting back at moves by the Biden administration to block the import of some Chinese solar products.

On Thursday, the White House said the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection had issued a “withhold release order” on silica-based products produced by Hoshine Silicon Industry Co. Ltd. and its subsidiaries. The US government said the move was prompted by information “reasonably indicating” the company, which is based in China’s Xinjiang region, had engaged in forced labour practices. It is the latest in a series of allegations of human rights abuses in the region, arising from the Chinese government’s crackdown on the Uyghur ethnic minority.

However, a Chinese government spokesperson immediately hit back at the move, arguing that “the US uses human rights as a disguise to do all it could to cripple the industrial development in Xinjiang”.

In a post on Twitter, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian denied the allegations of forced labour practices, insisting the US was engaged in an attempt to damage China’s economic prospects. “They don’t care about facts, or truth or the wellbeing of the people in Xinjiang, what they’re really after is to seek forced poverty and forced unemployment to mess up Xinjiang and contain China’s development,” Zhao said

 

Reports: International airline industry weighs up 2050 net zero goal

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is set to become the latest global trade body to back a net zero emissions target, according to Bloomberg reports this week.

The news agency reported that the group will propose eliminating carbon emissions on a net basis by 2050, asking its members around the world to adpot the target at its annual meeting in Boston in October, which comes just weeks ahead of the COP26 Climate Summit in Glasgow.

“I’m very confident that the industry will align with the changed goals,” the group’s director-general Willie Walsh told Bloomberg. “But we do have to go through the formal process.”

 

MEPs approve new EU Climate Law

MEPs voted overwhelmingly in favour of the EU’s new Climate Law this week, approving a legislative package that would significantly strengthen the bloc’s emissions reduction targets for the next decade.

The European Parliament voted by 442 votes to 203 in favour of the new targets, which increase the EU’s 2030 emissions reductions target from 40 per cent to at least 55 per cent against 1990 levels. When the contribution from new carbon sinks is taken into account the target could be strengthened further to a 57 per cent.

 

New plans revealed for European sleeper train network

A new French start-up called Midnight Trains has announced plans for a major network of overnight services to run out of Paris from 2024, in a bid to tap into growing demand for low carbon travel.

According to the Guardian, the company is working on plans for “hotels on rails”, which would provide sleeper trains between Paris and 12 other European destinations, including cities in Spain, Portugal, Italy, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, and Scotland.

The company said its vision was to compete with the budget airline industry, which is facing mounting criticism over its environmental footprint. Last year, as part of conditions attached to covid bailout packages, the French government announced a ban on the shortest short haul routes in a bid to encourage more people to travel by train. However, attempts to encourage more travellers to switch to train for longer journeys that take upwards of five hours have been stymied by relatively high ticket costs and the scaling back of Europe’s network of sleeper trains, a trend Midnight Trains is now hoping to reverse.

 

UAE mulls adoption of OPEC’s first net zero target

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is considering become the first member of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to adopt a net zero emissions goal ahead of this year’s crucial COP26 Climate Summit in Glasgow.

According to Bloomberg reports, the country is actively considering adopting a decarbonisation target in line with the Paris Agreement’s goal of keeping temperatures below 1.5C, which could be announced at the COP26 Summit in November. 

The move would make the UAE the first petrostate to adopt such a target and would therefore crank up pressure on other major oil producers to come forward with more ambitious decarbonisation plans. It would also likely strengthen the UAE’s bid to host the COP28 Summit in 2023 and provide a major boost to the country’s plans to establish it as a clean tech hub for the Gulf region.

However, the target would not necessarily result in the country curtailing its oil production in the near term, as the target would cover its domestic emissions rather than those associated with its exports.

 

Controversial Brazilian Environment Minister quits

Brazil’s environment minister Ricardo Salles quit this week, after federal police raids targeted the minister and other officials alleged to have allowed illegal wood exports.

“I understand that Brazil throughout this year and next on the international stage and also in the national agenda needs to have a strong union of interests,” Salles told reporters in Brasília on Wednesday. “So that this can be done in the most serene manner possible, I submitted my resignation.”

The scandal is a further blow to Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro who is under mounting pressure from the US and EU, as well as a raft of western companies, to enhance protection of the Amazon rainforest following a surge in logging activity under his administration.

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