The president’s massive social services and infrastructure package is under consideration by Congress. The problem is Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia.
Not only is West Virginia a coal-producing state but Mr. Manchin owns two coal companies. Although in a blind trust operated by his son, it is clear that coal companies make money when they sell coal.
But coal is a serious polluter, possibly the worst among fossil fuels. Any serious attempt to reduce the impact of climate change will replace coal with at least natural gas — available in abundance and emitting almost 50 percent less CO2 according to the US Energy Information Administration.
Republicans — many of whom deny global warming following Trump’s lead — adamantly oppose the plan en bloc, so Senator Manchin’s vote is crucial. For the moment then, the fate of the planet lies in the hands of one man because, quite simply, if the US backs off, China will be relieved of pressure — also Russia which has an abundance of fossil fuels.
Hence the importance of the COP26 climate summit scheduled for October 31 – November 2 in Glasgow. Originally planned for 2020, the meeting was postponed to 2021 due to the pandemic. The town is preparing for an influx of 25,000 people as lobbyists, conference attendees and demonstrators arrive.
It is an interesting meeting, liked by some to a teacher requiring a class to prepare and bring term papers. The 200 countries represented will be bringing their plans to meet the goals of the Paris accords. These require the signatories to commit to enhance ambitions every five years — thus 2020 postponed to 2021 — under the so-called ‘ratchet mechanism’. The Paris Accords aimed to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius and to aim for 1.5 degrees Celsius.
As often, people leak documents to help their agenda. This time a huge leak shows how important fossil fuel using and producing countries are attempting to modify a crucial scientific report. Oil producer Saudi Arabia, coal producer Australia and heavy user Japan are among those questioning a rapid change from fossil fuels. Saudi Arabia for one also lobbied previously in 2015 with some success.
This time the lobbying effort consists of more than 32,000 submissions (by governments, corporations and other interested parties) to the team of scientists preparing scientific reports designed to coalesce the best science on tackling global warming. One can imagine the headache for the scientists, who for the most part have a regular job, often as professors. Produced as “assessment reports” by IPCC (the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) these represent a consensus of the views of different governments, and are used by them to decide what action will be needed.
The many bodies involved, the complicated murky politics and the enormous pressure from different parties all point to the crucial fact that billions of dollars are involved now in today’s dollars versus promises of a better and distant future. We can only hope we have decision makers with foresight, and leaders without Trumpian climate change ignorance and excess.