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The Climate 202

COP26 is underway. Here's what to know.

The Climate 202

Good morning! The Climate 202 is coming to you from Glasgow, Scotland, where we're covering COP26, the U.N. climate conference. 

✈ White House national climate adviser Gina McCarthy was on the same flight from Washington as your Climate 202 host. McCarthy flew business class, unlike former Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt, and she was spotted with Maggie Thomas, chief of staff of the White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy.

Here's what to know about the crucial U.N. climate conference

Thousands of diplomats, journalists and activists are descending on Glasgow for COP26, which formally began Sunday. Around 25,000 international guests are expected to attend the summit, making it one of the largest events the United Kingdom has ever hosted.

Whether you're attending in person or watching from afar, we've compiled some key updates on the conference that may be the world's last best chance to stave off climate catastrophe.

The U.S. is ‘back at the table’

Under former president Donald Trump, who called global warming a “hoax” and withdrew the United States from the Paris agreement, America largely abandoned a leadership role on climate on the world stage. 

That was evident at the 2018 U.N. climate summit in Katowice, Poland, where Trump administration officials touted the benefits of coal, prompting laughter and protests.

A lot has changed since then. President Biden has promised a whole-of-government approach to addressing the climate crisis, and he is sending 13 Cabinet members and top officials to Glasgow.

  • The Biden administration also plans to launch the U.S. Center at COP26 on Monday, a physical space in the conference venue where the U.S. will host events and panels, according to a schedule from the State Department. The U.S. Center was not a feature of previous climate talks under Trump.
  • “The United States is back at the table,” McCarthy told reporters on a call Sunday. “We're back hoping to rally the world to tackle the climate crisis, and we're going to bring back jobs and economic prosperity to our workers and our families in the United States.”
The G-20 summit also focused on climate issues

Biden was in Rome over the weekend for the G-20 summit, where Group of 20 leaders, representing the world’s largest economies, devoted the second day of the two-day conference to climate change, The Washington Post's Chico Harlan, Annie Linskey and Seung Min Kim reported.

  • Notably, the G-20 leaders agreed to stop funding coal-fired power plants abroad by the end of the year. They also affirmed the need to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels.
  • For the first time, the United States and the European Union also agreed to “discourage trade in high-carbon steel and aluminum” and to ensure their domestic policies encourage those sectors to decarbonize, according to a White House news release.
  • Still, experts on climate policy said more work needs to be done. Claire Fyson, who co-heads the policy team at Climate Analytics in Berlin, called the G-20 deal “the bare minimum.”
Jay Inslee plans to tout subnational climate action

Inslee, governor of Washington state and former 2020 presidential candidate, told the Climate 202 that he plans to highlight state-level efforts to address climate change when he attends COP26.

“No matter what happens with the federal government, our local governments are going to move and carry the ball. And that's the message we will be addressing with the world,” said Inslee, who is slated to speak on a Nov. 7 panel in Glasgow alongside other Democratic governors, including Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and California Gov. Jerry Brown.

Inslee also noted that while Congress dropped a Clean Electricity Performance Program (CEPP) from its massive social spending bill, more than two dozen states have adopted clean electricity standards in recent years, including Washington. 

“We wish that the president had been able to be successful on the clean electrical grid standard because it is such an effective tool,” he said. “But as I've indicated, states can adopt that, and we have already.”

Glasgow has ‘Greta mania’

While youth climate activist Greta Thunberg was not officially invited to COP26, she is making her presence known at the summit, The Post's Karla Adam reported

When the Swedish teenager arrived at Glasgow Central Station on Saturday, she was quickly surrounded by about 100 people, including throngs of paparazzi. Police officers helped escort her through the crowds, and Scotland’s Sunday Mail newspaper dubbed the scene “Greta mania.”

In an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Marr that aired Sunday, Thunberg warned that COP26 could exacerbate the dual inequities of climate change and the coronavirus pandemic. She noted that many people from the global south could not attend COP26 due to lack of access to vaccines and travel and accommodation costs.

“It’s not fair, when, for example, one country sends lots and lots of delegates, and then another country is very underrepresented,” she said. “That already creates an imbalance, and climate justice is at the very heart of this crisis.”

Commitments at COP26

Top British diplomat calls on countries to quit coal

Before jetting off to Glasgow, your Climate 202 host sat down with Karen Pierce, British ambassador to the United States, at the British Embassy in Washington.

As the United Kingdom prepared to co-host COP26 with Italy, Pierce said more countries must commit to transitioning away from coal at the conference, even as energy prices soar.

“We hope there might be more commitments about moving off coal. But obviously at the moment, the energy situation across the world is a tricky one,” she said, adding that it was “very welcome” when Chinese President Xi Jinping announced that China would no longer finance coal projects overseas. 

There is one wrinkle to Pierce calling on other countries to ditch coal: The United Kingdom is considering opening its first new deep coal mine in 30 years, the Associated Press reported.

When asked about the proposed coal mine, Pierce said that “overall, the track record on coal for Britain is pretty impressive. … And I don't think the construction of this new coal facility, which is all about the energy supply shortage that we're seeing at the moment, will actually dent the trajectory of that.”

Coal has indeed represented a smaller and smaller percentage of the United Kingdom's electricity generation over the last three decades, according to the International Energy Agency.

Separately, Mike Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor and founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies, will announce a new effort to phase out coal power on Monday. 

Bloomberg, who now serves as special climate envoy for U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, will unveil a campaign to close a quarter of the world's 2,445 existing coal plants and all 519 proposed coal plants by 2025.

Climate in the courts

The Supreme Court will hear a case that could threaten Biden’s climate agenda

The court on Friday agreed to hear a case on the EPA’s authority to limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, granting a request from the coal industry and Republican-led states, The Post’s Robert Barnes and Dino Grandoni reported. The case has the potential to curtail the EPA’s power and could deal a major blow to Biden’s climate ambitions.

“This is the equivalent of an earthquake around the country for those who care deeply about the climate issue,” said Richard Lazarus, a professor of environmental law at Harvard.

Nineteen Republican-led states are seeking to prevent Biden’s EPA from issuing the type of sweeping emissions controls that were proposed by the Obama administration.

The Supreme Court put former president Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan on hold in 2016, and it was never implemented. The Trump administration’s attempt to repeal and replace the plan was rejected by a federal appeals court in Washington.

The GOP-led states took issue with that subsequent lower-court decision. The Biden administration, for its part, has said Supreme Court intervention is premature. 

Biden’s solicitor general, Elizabeth B. Prelogar, told the justices that they should wait to clarify EPA’s authority until they “can review a concrete and considered EPA rule, rather than speculate as to the regulatory approaches the agency might take.”

Agency alert

The Bureau of Land Management works to rebuild

Biden is planning to bring the BLM headquarters back to D.C. roughly two years after the Trump administration decided relocate the agency headquarters to Grand Junction, Colo., triggering an exodus of employees. But the loss of 287 employees who quit or retired rather than relocate to Colorado — nearly 90 percent of those ordered to move out West —  is still felt keenly by an agency at the center of Biden’s climate plans, The Post’s Joshua Partlow reported.

Among the employees who left were wildlife biologists, foresters, fisheries experts and other specialists who might have played a key role in Biden’s efforts to curb oil and gas drilling and conserve 30 percent of U.S. lands and waters by 2030. The ranks of the BLM remain depleted: The headquarters staff is 30 percent smaller than it was when the Trump administration began its reorganization, and dozens of vacancies remain unfilled.

Climate solutions

Dana Tizya-Tramm is leading his First Nation’s fight against climate change

The Post’s Tik Root tells the story of Dana Tizya-Tramm, the youngest chief in the history of the Vuntut Gwitchin who rose from the depths of addiction and personal trauma to lead the First Nation’s fight against climate change. The Vuntut Gwitchin became one of the first Indigenous peoples in Canada to declare a climate emergency and are now looking to preserve their way of life in the Arctic, while providing a model for others to follow.

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