Biden Enlists Business World in Effort Against Climate Change

On the second day of the White House virtual summit to tackle the environmental crisis, business leaders including Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg take center stage.,

LiveUpdated April 23, 2021, 6:23 a.m. ETApril 23, 2021, 6:23 a.m. ET

On the second day of the White House virtual summit to tackle the environmental crisis, business leaders including Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg take center stage.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, whose agency is planning to reinstate tougher fuel economy standards on passenger vehicles, will speak on Day 2 of the climate change summit.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, whose agency is planning to reinstate tougher fuel economy standards on passenger vehicles, will speak on Day 2 of the climate change summit.Credit…Drew Angerer/Getty Images

After President Biden kicked off the first day of his climate change summit by declaring that the United States would cut its global warming emissions at least in half by the end of the decade, Day 2 of the virtual gathering on Friday will in large part focus on what it would take for America to meet that target.

In short, it would take a substantial overhaul of current domestic policies, according to energy experts, who argue that the country would need to virtually eliminate its use of coal for electricity and replace millions of gasoline-powered cars with electric vehicles.

So it is no surprise that the scheduled speakers on Friday include Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Energy Secretary Jennifer M. Granholm — each of whom head up cabinet agencies that will be critical in pushing through efforts by the executive branch to get the nation closer to those benchmarks.

Mr. Buttigieg is likely to highlight his agency’s plans to reinstate tough fuel economy standards on passenger vehicles, the nation’s largest source of greenhouse pollution. After the Trump administration rolled back those standards last year, domestic tailpipe pollution of greenhouse gases was projected to soar. Mr. Buttigieg, working jointly with the Environmental Protection Agency, is expected to propose new regulations by July that would tamp down that pollution and force automakers to invest heavily in building and selling electric vehicles.

On Thursday, the Transportation Department took a step toward that end, formally proposing to withdraw a Trump administration rule that would have blocked California and other states from setting state-level tailpipe emissions standards that were tougher than federal standards. The move sets the stage for the Biden administration to model new, nationwide auto pollution rules after tough standards already in place in California.

Ms. Granholm is likely to speak to the role that her agency will play in researching and financing cutting-edge new renewable energy technologies. Mr. Biden’s $2.3 trillion infrastructure proposal envisions a major role for the Energy Department in jump-starting a next generation of vanguard wind, solar, and electric vehicle companies.

Mr. Biden is pushing his cabinet to enact other climate change policies, including rules limiting fossil fuel extraction on public lands and new financial regulations intended to curb investment in heavily polluting industries.

But even factoring in all those efforts, much of Mr. Biden’s promise to halve the country’s emissions remains wrapped up in the infrastructure plan, which includes the money and the policies to draw down carbon pollution, but has not yet been translated into legislation, much less found support from a divided Congress.

The second and final day of the summit will also stress the role of the private sector in helping the world address climate change, with speakers including Bill Gates, the Microsoft co-founder, who is appearing as the leader of Breakthrough Energy, an investment fund that supports projects to reduce carbon emissions.

“This is a moral imperative, an economic imperative,” Mr. Biden said on Thursday. “A moment of peril, but also a moment of extraordinary possibilities.”

President Biden during the virtual climate summit on Thursday.
President Biden during the virtual climate summit on Thursday.Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times

The final day of President Biden’s virtual climate summit is set to begin on Friday at 8 a.m., with a host of business leaders like Bill Gates and Michael R. Bloomberg scheduled to speak.

Here is a rundown of the biggest names and the topics they plan to address.

Energy Secretary Jennifer M. Granholm, Commerce Secretary Gina M. Raimondo and John Kerry, Mr. Biden’s climate envoy, will kick off the morning with a discussion on the importance of technological innovation in reducing carbon emissions. They’ll be joined by world leaders like Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and representatives from energy companies.

Later in the morning, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Katherine Tai, the U.S. trade representative, and Gina McCarthy, Mr. Biden’s top climate change adviser, will speak about the economic opportunities of climate action, with a focus on job creation. Top business executives and union leaders are expected to attend.

Mr. Gates, the Microsoft co-founder, will also speak as the leader of Breakthrough Energy, an investment fund that supports projects to reduce carbon emissions.

After the summit, senior Biden administration officials will attend a CNN town hall at 10 p.m. Eastern time to answer questions about how Mr. Biden plans to tackle climate policy. Mr. Kerry, Ms. McCarthy, Ms. Granholm and Michael S. Regan, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, are set to speak.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez of Spain, President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen of Denmark and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore are expected to attend on Friday. The White House invited 40 world leaders over the course of the two-day summit.

Several prominent American allies spoke at the summit on Thursday, including Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India.

Mr. Biden pledged that the United States would cut its emissions 50 percent to 52 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. His administration also vowed to substantially increase the amount of money the nation offers to developing countries to address climate change.

Other world leaders also committed to cut emissions. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada would reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent to 45 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, escalating its previous goal of a 30 percent reduction in the same time period. And Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga of Japan promised to cut emissions 46 percent below 2013 levels by the end of the decade.

Some leaders, like President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, made vague commitments. Mr. Putin vowed to “significantly reduce the net accumulated emissions in our country by 2050.” And President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil pledged to eliminate illegal deforestation by 2030, which was met with skepticism by those in the environmental community.

Neither China nor India made any new commitments. President Xi Jinping repeated China’s pledge to draw down carbon emissions to net zero by 2060 and Mr. Modi reiterated India’s promise to install 450 gigawatts of renewable energy capacity by 2030.

— Madeleine Ngo

Rick Spinrad in 2014 on a fishing research vessel docked in Newport, Ore.
Rick Spinrad in 2014 on a fishing research vessel docked in Newport, Ore.Credit…Justin Bailie

President Biden on Thursday announced he would nominate Rick Spinrad, a professor of oceanography at Oregon State University, to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the country’s premier climate science agency.

The announcement potentially marks a new chapter for NOAA, which was at times a source of tension for former President Donald J. Trump, who publicly sparred with the agency’s scientists and was unable to get any of his nominees to lead it confirmed by the Senate. NOAA has been without a Senate-confirmed leader for the longest period since it was created in 1970.

In 2019, Mick Mulvaney, who was Mr. Trump’s acting White House chief of staff at the time, pushed NOAA to disavow statements by its weather forecasters that contradicted what the president had said about the path of Hurricane Dorian. Last year, the administration removed NOAA’s chief scientist from his role and installed people who questioned the science of climate change in senior roles at the agency.

Dr. Spinrad is a former chief scientist at NOAA, where he also led the agency’s research office and the National Ocean Service. The timing of Mr. Biden’s announcement was notable — on Earth Day amid a two-day climate summit in which he committed the United States to cutting emissions by half by the end of the decade.

The selection of Dr. Spinrad drew quick praise from the scientific policy community Thursday evening.

“We commend the Biden administration for continuing to nominate credible and well-qualified candidates who understand the urgency of the climate crisis,” Sally Yozell, the director of the environmental security program at the Stimson Center, a Washington think tank, said in a statement.

Rear Adm. Jonathan White, the president and chief executive of the Consortium for Ocean Leadership, called Dr. Spinrad “an excellent choice for this important role.”

Representatives of the Taliban at a news conference in Moscow last month.
Representatives of the Taliban at a news conference in Moscow last month.Credit…Pool photo by Alexander Zemlianichenko

President Biden’s plan to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan has drawn sharp criticism that it could allow a takeover by the Taliban, with brutal consequences, particularly for the rights of women and girls.

In response, top Biden administration officials have offered a case for why the outcome may not be so dire: The Taliban, they say, might govern less harshly than feared after taking partial or full power — in order to win recognition and financial support from world powers.

That argument is among the most significant defenses against those who warn that the Taliban will seize control of Kabul and impose a brutal, premodern version of Islamic law.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken made the case on Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” saying that the Taliban must gain power through an organized political process and not through force “if it wants to be internationally recognized, if it doesn’t want to be a pariah,” he said.

On Wednesday, Mr. Blinken announced that the administration would work with Congress to expedite a commitment of $300 million in humanitarian assistance for Afghanistan, pledged last fall under the Trump administration.

“As the United States begins withdrawing our troops, we will use our civilian and economic assistance to advance a just and durable peace for Afghanistan and a brighter future for the Afghan people,” Mr. Blinken said in a statement.

Some U.S. officials and prominent experts call this “pariah” theory valid, saying Taliban leaders have a record of seeking international credibility, placing a high priority on the removal of sanctions against them.

To critics, however, such notions are tragically deluded, ignoring the Taliban’s fundamentalist ethos — and are thin cover for abandoning the country to a cruel fate.

Senator Tim Scott was chosen to deliver the G.O.P. rebuttal by the party's top leaders.
Senator Tim Scott was chosen to deliver the G.O.P. rebuttal by the party’s top leaders.Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, a leading Black conservative and rising Republican star, will deliver his party’s formal rebuttal to President Biden’s joint address to Congress next week.

Mr. Scott was chosen for the task by his party’s top congressional leaders, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, at a time when Republicans are seeking to expand their appeal to nonwhite groups that have traditionally voted Democratic. In a party still divided over the legacy of former President Donald J. Trump, Mr. Scott is also a rare figure able to unite competing factions.

“He is one of the most inspiring and unifying leaders in our nation,” Mr. McConnell said in a statement announcing the decision on Thursday. “As Senator Scott likes to say, he is living his mother’s American dream, and he has dedicated his career to creating more opportunity for our fellow citizens who need it most. Nobody is better at communicating why far-left policies fail working Americans.”

Mr. Biden is expected to use much of his address, his first before Congress since being inaugurated, to build public support for his multi-trillion-dollar jobs and infrastructure plans. Republicans fiercely oppose the proposals as too expensive and too intrusive, and it will be up to Mr. Scott to make their case.

In his own statement, Mr. Scott said he would deliver an “optimistic vision” for the country focused on economic growth and “empowering working families.”

The task is a notoriously difficult one, with a nationally televised format that often results in stilted remarks or memorable gaffes. But it has also helped build national prominence for up-and-coming politicians in both parties, including Mr. Biden when he still served in the Senate decades ago. (Mr. Scott also had a prime speaking slot during the Republican National Convention last year.)

The senator, 55, has a remarkable personal story. He was raised by a single mother in Charleston, S.C., and blazed a trail through state politics in a party where most of the other members are white. He first won a seat in the House amid the Tea Party wave of 2010 and was appointed to the Senate three years later.

His work in Congress has focused primarily on economic development and tax issues. His plan to create opportunity zones to incentivize companies to invest in economically distressed areas became a centerpiece of Republicans’ $1.5 trillion tax-cut bill.

Mr. Scott is arguably his party’s leading voice on matters of race. When the nation erupted in protest last summer after the murder of George Floyd, a Black man, by a white Minneapolis police officer, it was Mr. Scott who stepped in to write a Republican proposal to push the nation’s police forces to weed out the use of excessive force and racial profiling in their ranks.

Senate Democrats pushing for a more aggressive federal intervention killed the bill at the time. But as he prepares for his speech next Wednesday, Mr. Scott is among a bipartisan group of lawmakers who have recently revived talks over a policing bill and are hoping to steer Congress toward a compromise measure.

Mr. Scott said on Wednesday that the two parties were “on the verge” of a compromise, though major political and ideological hurdles remained.

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