9 min read

Wake Up To Politics - November 17, 2021

Wake Up To Politics: Will the Glasgow climate pact work?
Wake Up To Politics - November 17, 2021

by Gabe Fleisher

Good morning! It’s Wednesday, November 17, 2021. Election Day 2022 is 356 days away. Election Day 2024 is 1,084 days away.

If there’s one topic I’d like to be giving more coverage to in this newsletter, it’s climate change. Amid covering the daily churn of national politics, it can be hard to step back and focus on the changes happening to our planet and what they mean — but that only makes it an even more critically important story to devote time to.

That’s why I’m so glad WUTP’s global contributor, Miles Hession, is covering the recent climate summit in Glasgow this week. Below, please find Miles’ analysis of the new climate agreement that came out of the summit. I think Miles chose an interesting and informative angle from which to look at the new agreement — through the lens of two other climate pacts from recent decades, only one of which is now seen as a success.

Here’s Miles on what you should know about those two previous agreements, and how the Glasgow pact matches up...

Will the Glasgow climate pact curb emissions — or is it doomed for failure?

By Wake Up To Politics global contributor Miles Hession.

Now that delegates have flown out of Glasgow with a newly agreed upon international climate agreement in hand, the legacy of this latest iteration of the United Nations Climate Change Conference — known as the COP26 summit — is just beginning to to crystalize.

COP26 was the largest climate summit in history and was attended by thousands of climate activists as well as politicians, artists, celebrities, and reporters. While the size of the event was certainly historic, questions continue to loom as to the efficacy of the summit and the agreements that emerged from it. International environmental agreements (IEAs) often fail to reach their goals due to difficulties found in enforcement and maintaining or adjusting environmental targets as the environment changes.

The goals of the Glasgow climate pact are simultaneously ambitious and tepid. The Glasgow pact was the first to explicitly call for the phasing-out of fossil fuels, but the language was softened before the end of the summit to include exceptions. The goal to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius globally, rather than 2 degrees Celsius as outlined by the 2015 Paris agreement, made its way into the text, but estimates say it is unlikely the new target will actually be met based on the current pledges countries have made.

The pact also established rules for international carbon markets, but still lacks a direct enforcement mechanism that would encourage participation in the new markets.

Leaders applaud Alok Sharma, who presided over the the COP26 summit in Glasgow. (Tim Hammond / No 10 Downing Street)

While the goalposts for the Glasgow pact and other agreements that emerged from COP26 are far into the future — some as late as 2070two examples from the recent past are helpful to project whether the new pledges might be successful.

One of the most successful IEAs in history was the Montreal Protocol, a 1987 treaty that targeted substances responsible for degradation of the ozone layer. The Montreal agreement outlined a rapid phasing-out of the ozone depleting substances (ODS), and was extremely successful in the reduction of such emissions.

A key tenet underscored in the protocol, and reflected in further IEAs, was the idea of “common but differentiated responsibility,” the concept that all nations should work together to mitigate global warming — but that some have contributed more to the warming, and therefore must take on a greater role in combating it. The agreement remedied this by providing transfers from a multilateral fund that gave funds to developing nations to reduce their ODS output without a large financial burden.

Like the Montreal pact, the Glasgow agreement also acknowledged these varying degrees of responsibility — but it did not provide any sort of financial incentive to follow reductions of greenhouse gas emissions. The Montreal agreement was also made stronger because of the nature of the problem it addressed: with a focus on a specific type of emissions, it was easy to ensure adherence to the protocol with transfers. The Glasgow summit’s target — climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions — is much broader, and therefore harder to mitigate.

A “family photo” of some of the world leaders who were in attendance at the Glasgow summit. (Andrew Parsons / No 10 Downing Street)

The Glasgow agreement is not the first IEA to attempt to mitigate the effects of greenhouse gas emissions. The Kyoto Protocol of 1997 outlined two different stages of greenhouse gas abatement and also adopted similar principles of responsibility to previous IEAs.

Widely regarded as unsuccessful, the Kyoto framework was largely abandoned after the adoption of the Paris agreement in 2015. What accounts for the shortcomings of the protocol is a common aspect of many IEAs: the free-rider problem. While there is an enforcement and punishment aspect of the Kyoto agreement if a country fails to meet its emission goal, there’s no mechanism in place that prevents withdrawal from the agreement, which is how Canada ended up exiting the deal in 2011.

This meant that only some countries were bearing the brunt of making changes to their emissions levels, while other countries simply continued emitting greenhouse gases as before. Additionally, major polluters like the U.S. never ratified the agreement in the first place, a major hurdle to the deal’s success.

A recent climate protest at the White House. (Victoria Pickering)

The Glasgow pact seems poised to suffer from similar free-rider problems. Rather than doling out any punishment, the Glasgow agreement builds on the Paris agreement’s framework of establishing group negotiations for national emission goals, creating a social pressure on countries to follow their plans and to create more robust goals. After the planned withdrawal from the Paris agreement under former President Donald Trump, though, the social enforcement of these goals seems to clearly depend on the disposition of national leaders.

There were many historic elements of the Glasgow pact, and its very creation signaled a growing willingness on the part of many countries to combat climate change, but — as the impacts of climate change continue to worsen — it remains to be seen which path the agreement will follow: that of the Montreal Protocol, its more successful predecessor, or the doomed accord from Kyoto.

What else you should know

→ More climate news. The Glasgow pact is the international community’s latest attempt to wrestle with climate change; meanwhile, in the United States, lawmakers are currently considering President Biden’s “Build Back Better” package, which would be the most expansive climate legislation passed in U.S. history.

House leaders are still aiming for a “Build Back Better” vote later this week: the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is now expected to release a “score” of the legislation by Friday, which some House moderates have pushed for before casting votes on the measure. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said Wednesday that he plans to place the package on the Senate floor before Christmas, although centrist Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) told reporters that he has “a lot of concerns” about that timeline.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration submitted new treaty language for Senate approval this week that targets hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), an especially powerful class of greenhouse gases. The treaty, which has support in both parties, is an update to the aforementioned Montreal Protocol.

Also, the bipartisan infrastructure package Biden signed on Monday also includes some climate provisions. Here’s a breakdown of the climate-related investments in the new legislation.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi applauds for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer at the White House on Monday. (Gabe Fleisher / Wake Up To Politics)

→ A few Covid developments. Pfizer asked the FDA on Tuesday for emergency authorization of its Covid-19 antiviral pill, known as Paxlovid. Clinical trials of the treatment found that it could reduce hospitalizations or deaths from Covid-19 by up to 89 percent among high-risk patients.

Also on Tuesday, the Washington Post reported that the Biden administration plans to purchase 10 million courses of Paxlovid, a $5 billion investment in the treatment. Pfizer also announced a deal to allow the pills to be made and sold inexpensively in 95 developing nations.

Plus, the FDA is expected to authorize the Pfizer booster shot for all American adults later this week. These new developments in the pandemic come as Covid cases begin to rise once again across the country.

→ Another House retirement. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) announced Tuesday that she plans to retire from Congress in 2022 after serving seven terms. Speier, a close ally of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), is the latest senior Democrat to announce plans to step down next year, a sign that many House Democrats believe they will be in the minority after the midterm elections.

A Washington Post/ABC poll released on Sunday found that Republican have a 10-point advantage when registered voters are asked which party’s congressional candidate they plan to support next year, the GOP’s largest edge in the generic ballot question in the survey’s four decades of asking it.

Policy Roundup: Global

Here are some more global headlines from Miles to know this week:

  • As Iran resumes production of advanced nuclear parts, the country appears united with China and Russia ahead of its upcoming nuclear talks with the West.
  • Emmanuel Macron, the president of France, has changed the colors of the French flag in a nod to the French Revolution and Macron’s nationalist posturing ahead of presidential elections.
  • Clashes on the border between Belarus and Poland have broken out as migrants are weaponized and the European Union introduces new sanctions on Belarus.
  • President Biden and Xi Jinping, the president of China, had a virtual summit on Monday where tensions rose about Taiwan’s sovereignty.
  • Muammar Gaddafi’s son Sai al-Islam announced he is running for president of Libya.
President Biden met with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday. (Paul Kagame)


All times Eastern.

→ President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will receive their daily intelligence briefing 10 a.m. Biden will then travel to Detroit, Michigan, to continue promoting the bipartisan infrastructure package. At 3:05 p.m., he will visit General Motors’ Factory ZERO electric vehicle assembly plant in Detroit. At 4:30 p.m., he will deliver remarks on the new infrastructure law’s investment in electric vehicle charging stations. The president will then return to Washington.

  • First Lady Jill Biden will deliver remarks at 10:45 a.m. to a meeting of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes Veteran Employment Advisory Council. At 3 p.m., she will visit a pediatric COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Washington, D.C., to continue promoting vaccines for 5- to 11-year-olds.
  • White House Deputy Press Secretary Chris Meagher will hold a press gaggle aboard Air Force One during the flight to Detroit.
  • The White House COVID-19 Response Team will hold their weekly press briefing providing an update on the pandemic response at 11 a.m. Participants will include Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical adviser to the president; Dr. Vivek Murthy, the surgeon general; Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director; and Jeff Zients, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator.

→ The Senate will convene at 9:30 a.m. and resume consideration of Brian Nelson’s nomination to be Under Secretary of the treasury for Terrorism and Financial Crimes. At around 10 a.m., the chamber will hold a cloture vote to advance Nelson’s nomination, followed by a cloture vote to advance H.R. 4350, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2022.

The NDAA is an annual package that sets the funding levels and policies of the Department of Defense. This year’s bill, which is being considered later than usual, may include three high-profile additions: the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act, a bill aimed at boosting U.S. competitiveness with China, a measure that would repeal the still-active 2002 authorization for use of military force (AUMF) against Iraq, and a provision that would require women to register for the military draft.

→ The House will convene at 10 a.m. The chamber is scheduled to vote today on H.Res. 789, a resolution that would censure Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) and strip him of his committee assignments, in response to his now-deleted Twitter post sharing an altered animated video that depicting him killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY).

The censure resolution is expected to pass with unanimous support from Democrats, as well as the backing of a few Republicans, such as Reps. Liz Cheney (R-WY) and Adam Kinzinger (R-IL). If it does, Gosar will be the first lawmaker to be censured since Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) in 2010. When a lawmaker is censured, they are required to stand in the well of the House as the resolution describing their misdeeds is read aloud.

Later, the House is slated to vote under “suspension of the rules” on two pieces of legislation postponed from earlier in the week:

  • H.R. 3730, to amend establish an Advisory Committee on United States Outlying Areas and Freely Associated States within the Department of Veterans Affairs Act
  • H.R. 5574, the TRANSLATE Act

→ The Supreme Court is not in session today.