War and politics complicate the efforts of the two biggest polluters in history — the United States and Europe — to slow global warming, just as scientists warn of mounting dangers.
On Tuesday night, President Biden barely mentioned his climate goals in his State of the Union address, despite promises to make climate an issue driving his presidency. European politicians have their own problem: they are struggling to get out of one of the Kremlin’s most powerful economic weapons: the export of fossil fuels, on which Europe depends for heat and electricity.
Oil and gas prices are rising worldwide. That’s a boon to those who win and sell the products that cause deadly heat waves, wildfires and sea level rise. And it is driving new demand for more drilling in the United States, which is already one of the world’s largest producers of oil and gas.
The developments come just days after an exhaustive United Nations report calling on world leaders to drastically cut emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases that are dangerously heating the planet. Failure, they said, is facing a harrowing future where the rate of global warming exceeds humanity’s adaptability.
In Washington, Biden’s ambitious climate legislation has been blocked by unanimous Republican opposition and a senator from his own party, Joe Manchin, who represents the coal-producing state of West Virginia and has strong support from the fossil fuel industry. The Supreme Court could further narrow down Mr Biden’s ambitions in a case that began this week that could limit the federal government’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
In his State of the Union address — traditionally considered a president’s best chance of getting the nation around an agenda — Mr. Biden mentioned climate in the context of his proposals to create jobs through roads, airports and other crucial repair infrastructure. “We will do everything we can to withstand the devastating effects of the climate crisis,” he said.
But soaring gas prices pose a risk to Democrats in the run-up to the midterm elections, and his comments were also intended to mitigate that. He said he would release oil reserves — worth 30 million barrels — to keep prices low for Americans. “We’ll be fine,” he said.
Energy experts said Mr Biden missed an opportunity to link the war in Ukraine with the need to end economic dependence on fossil fuels more quickly. Paul Bledsoe, a strategic advisor to the Progressive Policy Institute, a Washington-based think tank.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has brought world leaders to a new, difficult crossroads. The European Union is feeling the consequences most acutely.
Russia supplies nearly 40 percent of the gas Europeans use for heat and electricity. By exposing the massive influence Russia has had with its energy exports, the conflict in Ukraine is forcing European leaders to make some pressing choices: Should it build new fossil fuel infrastructure so it can power the Russian Federation? can replace fuel with liquefied natural gas from elsewhere, mainly the United States? Or should we get rid of fossil fuels faster?
Next week, the world will get its first glimpse of Europe’s leanings as officials in Brussels will announce a new energy strategy aimed at ridding the continent of Russian gas.
A draft of the report, reviewed by DailyExpertNews, suggests the new strategy will propose to accelerate energy efficiency measures and renewable energy installations. It considers imports of liquefied natural gas, or LNG, from the United States and elsewhere as a short-term measure to offset Russian pipeline gas.
“This war will somehow have profound implications for our own energy system,” Kadri Simson, the European Union’s energy commissioner, told reporters this week after an emergency meeting with energy ministers from the 27-member bloc.
Analysts have said European countries could quickly reduce gas dependence with energy efficiency measures and ramping up investment in renewable energy, already in line with Europe’s ambition to stop pumping by the middle of the century. of additional greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The conflict in Ukraine could partly accelerate that. It could also lead to what Lisa Fischer, who follows energy policy at E3G, a research group, called “a tectonic shift” — using renewable energies rather than sufficient gas storage to achieve energy security.
John Kerry, Mr Biden’s special envoy on climate change, emphasized that in an interview this week, he said Mr Putin has “weaponized” fossil fuels, particularly gas.
“It’s related, and people should see it that way. Energy is a big part of the geopolitics of what the options are,” said Mr Kerry. “Energy is an important weapon in this battle, and if there were much less reliance on gas, there would be a different set of games.”
The United States, for its part, has increased LNG exports to Europe to counter the decline in Russian pipeline gas. By the end of this year, the United States will have the largest LNG export capacity in the world.
The current sanctions countries have imposed on Russia do not directly target the oil and gas sector, but the invasion of Ukraine is expected to disrupt supply routes and has raised fears that Russia could curtail supplies.
In the United States, Republicans have said the Russian invasion of Ukraine underscores the need to aggressively drill for more oil and gas in the United States to provide Europe with an alternative. North Dakota Republican Senator Kevin Cramer called Mr. Biden’s opening of the strategic reservation Tuesday “a thimble in the ocean.”
White House officials said Mr. Biden intertwined climate change and clean energy during his speech. He noted that Ford and GM are investing billions of dollars in building electric vehicles, creating millions of manufacturing jobs in the United States. He also noted that funding from the infrastructure package will build a national network of 500,000 charging points for electric vehicles.
But climate change policy is at a critical juncture in the Biden administration. The president’s main legislative agenda, which he called the Build Back Better Act, is dead. Democrats still hope to pass about $500 billion in clean energy tax incentives that were part of the package, but the ability to do so is diminishing. If that investment falls through and the Supreme Court also curtails the government’s ability to regulate emissions, Biden’s goal of roughly halving emissions in the United States from 2005 levels would be essentially unattainable.
Government officials insisted that Russia’s war on Ukraine has not pushed climate change off the agenda. They noted that Mr. Biden has emphasized climate change in virtually every federal agency, and has made strides with major clean energy deployments, including a record-breaking offshore wind auction last week that raised more than $4 billion.
In a statement, Vedant Patel, a White House spokesperson, said: “In President Biden’s first State of the Union address, he called on Congress to work out a legislative agenda for clean energy and climate action that has overwhelming support. of the American people.”