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White House national climate advisor on COP26: 'We will be there to accelerate action'

·4-min read

President Joe Biden heads to the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow this weekend, armed with the country’s most aggressive targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions and limit global warming to avert a full blown climate crisis.

Failure to reach an agreement on his domestic climate agenda risks weakening the president’s hand in global climate discussions.

With a key climate provision all but dead amid opposition from West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, and disagreements over how to pay for a near $2 trillion social and climate spending bill, the White House played down expectations Tuesday, saying a deal was not necessary to ensure success at COP26.

“I believe that whether there is a deal this week or whether the negotiations continue, there will be a lot of energy and enthusiasm for the effort the president is undertaking right now to make bold, far-reaching investments that will deliver on his commitments, both with respect to climate and with respect to economic growth in the United States,” said National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.

White House National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy said "the key deliverable" in Glasgow remains a commitment by nations to take action that limits temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2050, a target climate scientists say is necessary to stave off the worst impacts of climate change.

Speaking at Yahoo Finance’s All Markets Summit earlier this week, McCarthy insisted the president’s stated goal to slash 2005 level carbon emissions in half by 2030, remains intact heading into the conference.

“Discussions are continuing. They're accelerating. We are very hopeful that this will pass. And we're going to keep pushing until we get the kind of investments that match our ambition,” McCarthy said.

Getting other countries to match the same ambitions may be a tougher challenge.

A UNEP Emissions Gap Report released Tuesday, showed that updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) or commitments by countries to reduce national emissions would only lead to a 7.5% cut in annual greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. The UN has said a 55% reduction is needed to say within the 1.5 degree Celsius target.

"Less than one week before COP26 in Glasgow, we are still on track for climate catastrophe", said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. "As the title of this year’s report puts it: 'The heat is on'. And as the contents of the report show — the leadership we need is off. Far off."

Efforts to negotiate an updated agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), have been complicated by the absence of two key leaders: Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

As the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, China has pledged to become carbon-neutral by 2060 and stop increasing emissions before 2030. But, it has yet to submit a new climate target, and have provided few details so far on how it plans to reach its ultimate goal.

“You're absolutely right that both China and Russia are key players in this. But don't give up. I know that there is an opportunity here and that they may attend,” McCarthy said. “ Even if they don't, I think they know there's going to be a lot of decisions made that are going to be important to them in their countries.”

The U.S. will look to show its commitment in numbers, by sending 13 cabinet members and senior administration officials, including McCarthy.

Ahead of the gathering in Glasgow, the U.S. signed a joint pledge with the European Union and dozens of other countries to reduce methane emissions, the second largest driver of greenhouse gas emissions, by 30% by 2030.

Biden has also vowed to double U.S. climate finance contribution to $11.4 billion a year by 2024, to narrow the global funding gap to help poorer countries transition to green energy and adapt to impacts of climate change.

If approved by Congress, that would make the U.S. the single biggest benefactor of a $100 billion fund that has yet to be fulfilled, six years after the 2015 Paris Agreement.

“We will be there to accelerate action. We will be there to talk about the urgency of now. We think they will want to be there to ensure that their countries are counted in this effort,” McCarthy said. “We will not get there without every country, and we fully expect that the work that Secretary John Kerry has been making to reach out with these countries will pay off big time.”

Akiko Fujita is an anchor and reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @AkikoFujita

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