The end result of US midterm elections there will be deep climate consequences – but America’s emissions ambitions probably won’t be at stake. Instead, people living in the world’s poorer nations will pay the price for the way the US votes.
This may seem illogical. Republicans — suspiciously committed to cutting emissions and eager to extract more planet-warming oil and natural gas — are favored to take at least one of the legislative chambers, though it could still be days before the final outcome is certain. And it seems likely that the new Republican committee chairs will try to roll back or delay President Joe Biden’s climate goals through hearings and investigations that pursue parts of the Democratic agenda, including billions of dollars in clean energy investments in the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).
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But even if the GOP manages to take both houses, they are unlikely to be able to roll back progress completely. They won’t be able to repeal the IRA without overcoming a brutal presidential veto, and they may not have much appetite to do so anyway. The attacks on the climate bill were noticeably absent from the party’s campaign ads. And, as in the case of Republicans’ failed bid to repeal the Affordable Care Act under President Donald Trump, voters in GOP-controlled states are benefiting from liberal policies. Rural GOP strongholds are primed for solar and wind energy development, while southern states like Alabama and Tennessee are slated for more investment as green manufacturing hubs. A green investment it’s also just good business – even if Republicans don’t care about emissions, many other countries do. They’re either going to get batteries and wind turbines and solar panels here, or they’re going to go shopping in China or Europe—and the Republicans sure don’t want that.
What may depend more on the midterm elections is the amount of funding the US sends to poorer nations to help them adapt to climate change and reduce emissions. President Biden has pledged to provide $11 billion in climate aid each year through 2024, but to do so, the administration will need to get the money through congressional budget negotiations before the end of the legislative session. Such climate finance is a crucial hurdle in the ongoing COP27 international climate talks in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, with rich industrialized nations still failing to deliver the $100 billion in annual climate finance they pledged in 2009. ‘US credibility on the line’ , says Alden Meyer, an analyst at the environmental think tank E3G.
Democrats will need 10 Republican votes to push budget legislation through the Senate anyway, so the process will come down to budget trade. But continued control of the chambers could give Democrats a little more leverage in negotiations and thwart Republican efforts to cut funding next legislative session. As John Kerry, the US climate envoy, said panel discussion in Egypt on Tuesday, a Republican victory could all but crush Biden’s climate-help efforts: “If what I think is going to happen in today’s election happens and the House goes away, you won’t see these money.”
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