The election of Joe Biden sparked a global wave of optimism that the climate crisis would finally be dealt with decisively. But the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last week to reduce America’s ability to reduce emissions from global warming has proved the final blow to Biden’s faltering effort on climate, which is now largely in danger of collapse. to go.
The Supreme Court’s ruling that the U.S. government could not use its existing powers to phase out coal-fired power generation without “clear congressional approval” quickly bounced around the world among those now accustomed to watching the America’s seemingly endless stumbling blocks in tackling global warming.
The decision “goes against established science and undermines the US commitment to keep global temperatures below 1.5 degrees Celsius,” said Saleemul Huq, director of the International Center for Climate Change and Development in Bangladesh. , citing the internationally agreed goal of limiting global warming before it becomes truly catastrophic, manifesting itself in more severe heatwaves, floods, droughts and civil unrest.
“The people who will pay the price for this are the most vulnerable communities in the world’s most vulnerable developing countries,” added Huq.
The “incredibly undemocratic Scotus ruling” indicates that “relapse is now the dominant trend in the climate space,” said Yamide Dagnet, director of climate justice at Open Society Foundations and former climate negotiator for the UK and the European Union. António Guterres, the United Nations secretary-general who has called new fossil fuel infrastructure “moral and economic madness,” said through a spokesman that the ruling was a “setback” at a time when countries were on the wrong track. averting an impending climate breakdown.
In the 6-3 ruling, supported by the right-wing majority of judges, the Supreme Court did not completely invalidate the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ability to regulate emissions from coal-fired power plants. But it joined the Republican-led states in stating that the administration could not make broad plans to shift electricity generation away from coal because of the vague “key questions doctrine” that requires Congress to explicitly decide major changes. in the US economy.
“The court appoints itself, rather than Congress or the expert bureau, the decision-maker on climate policy,” Judge Elena Kagan wrote in an unusually blunt dissent. “I can’t think of many things more terrifying.”
Al Gore, the former US vice president, said the ruling was the result of “decades of influence and coordination by the fossil fuel lobby and its allies to slow, hinder and dismantle progress towards climate solutions.”
For Biden, who called the ruling “devastating,” the court’s decision is just the final crushing shock of what was billed as a “climate presidency” when he was elevated to the White House.
Historic legislation to promote clean energy has stalled in Congress, largely as a result of the opposition of Joe Manchin, a centrist Democrat who owns a coal trading company, and is dangerously close to not being resurrected in time for the midterm elections later this year, in which Democrats are expected to lose their tenuous hold on Congress. The US, almost unique among the major democracies, still has no national climate or energy policies.
Biden’s pledge to end oil and gas drilling on public land has gone unfulfilled, while Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sent gasoline prices soaring, prompting the president to urge oil companies to ramp up production. disgust of climate activists.
The president has vowed that the US will cut its emissions in half by 2030, but this goal, and America’s dwindling international credibility on climate change, will be lost without both Congressional legislation and strong executive action. Both factors remain highly uncertain, with the Supreme Court ruling severely limiting the latter option. Gina McCarthy, the White House’s chief climate adviser, has admitted that the government will have to get “creative” in cutting emissions.
“Congress acting on climate was important before this decision, now it is even more important,” said John Larsen, partner at Rhodium Group, a climate and energy analysis organization. According to Rhodium, the Supreme Court ruling is not deadly to U.S. climate goals, but there are still 1.7 billion to 2.3 billion tons of greenhouse gases that must be prevented on top of current policies to meet the 2030 target.
“The EPA still has authority, although it’s more limited than it was, so they need to get moving and enact some rules because there isn’t a lot of time left,” Larsen said.
“It is very possible that the US will meet its emissions target, but we only have eight years until 2030. The ball has to start rolling very quickly, very quickly, if we are to get there. Everyone really needs to get up and start delivering.”