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John Kerry’s most urgent task as international envoy for climate change, experts have said, will be restoring America’s credibility as a reliable partner. But credibility comes at a price. In this case, at least $2 billion.
That’s the amount still unfulfilled from the $3 billion pledge that President Barack Obama made in 2015 to the Green Climate Fund, a United Nations program to help poorer countries address climate change, after President Trump halted payments in 2017.
Mr. Biden in his climate plan specifically pledged to “recommit the United States to the Green Climate Fund” and fulfill that promise. But it’s not something voters heard about much on the campaign trail. It also was absent from a speech by Mr. Kerry on Tuesday in Wilmington, Del., when he said the United States would “immediately, again, work with friends and partners” to meet the challenge of climate change.
In terms of domestic politics, the low-key approach makes sense. Proclaiming an intention to send money overseas isn’t popular in the best of economic times, much less when the economy is reeling from a pandemic and Congress continues to debate giving more money to struggling Americans.
Nicolas Loris, an energy economist at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said winning Senate approval for the money would be “a slog.”
“I think you’ll have a ‘spend it here’ faction, Mr. Loris said. “Without a Republican as the president, some members are going to all of a sudden care about being fiscally responsible again.”
That doesn’t change the fact that the United States and other wealthy industrialized countries that grew their economies by burning fossil fuels are the most responsible for the planet-warming emissions currently in the atmosphere (though major economies like China and Brazil are fast catching up). And, that the world’s poorest countries, which have polluted the least, are suffering some of the worst consequences today.
Ian Fry, a senior lecturer at Australian National University who spent more than 20 years as the chief climate negotiator for Tuvalu, an island which could be devastated by sea level rise, told me the United States “has a responsibility as a polluter, under the ‘polluter pays’ principle,” to help poorer countries.
And Saleem Huq, director of the International Center for Climate Change and Development in Bangladesh, said the Green Climate Fund should be only the beginning.
Developing countries most vulnerable to climate change have long sought a form of damage payments from richer countries, an idea that the United States strongly opposed when Mr. Kerry led the State Department under Mr. Obama. That opposition was made clear by the United States in negotiations for the 2015 Paris accord on climate change.
Mr. Huq said Mr. Kerry would be welcomed “with open arms and huge relief” by vulnerable nations. But he said that, with climate disasters becomig more of a daily reality for poor nations, the United States opposition to compensation is untenable.
“The position he took in Paris on refusing to acknowledge it will have to change,” Mr. Huq said.
Jamal Brown, a spokesman for the president-elect’s transition team, said in a statement that Mr. Biden would “ensure the U.S. meets its climate finance pledge through multilateral and bilateral mechanisms, and Secretary Kerry’s historic appointment as our nation’s first-ever Special Presidential Envoy for Climate demonstrates that we will go much further in our efforts to address this global emergency.”
Choose your heating strategy
As I stare down the barrel of my first Wisconsin winter, I’ve been wondering what’s the most climate-friendly way to stay warm. So, I called the experts.
For advice on home heating, I reached out to Jin Wen, a professor at Drexel University who studies energy efficiency. She said the answer depends largely on where you’re getting your power.
In houses with electric heat, for example, it’s generally more efficient to lower the thermostat and use a space heater in the room where you’re spending most of your time. If you’ve got a gas furnace, it’s more complicated. You should consider your furnace’s efficiency (check its rating), your home’s size and your space heater’s electricity source.
If you have a high-efficiency heat pump, it’s not complicated at all: You should rely on that.
Then, there’s the question of outdoor heat. As long as the pandemic sticks around, we’re not supposed to gather indoors, right?
Many people have purchased fire pits and patio heaters so they can see family and friends while sticking to safety guidelines. But aren’t they awful for the environment?
According to Rob Bailis, a senior scientist at the United States branch of the Stockholm Environment Institute, maybe not as bad as you think, at least when it comes to your individual carbon footprint.
Forests absorb and store planet-warming carbon dioxide. When we burn wood, that carbon dioxide is released back into the atmosphere. But, in the United States, we’re generally gaining more forest than we’re losing. So, the net climate harm from back yard fire pits might be less than you imagine.
For patio heaters, the energy source is key. Unless your electricity comes from renewable sources, propane is probably your best bet.
For more details, you can read our article here.
E.P.A. chief calls off a last-minute trip
Andrew Wheeler, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, has called off a trip to Taiwan in December that had drawn criticism because of the expense and because agency leaders are supposed to be preparing for a presidential transition.
Mr. Wheeler and his delegation of nine people would have been required to fly by charter plane to avoid Taiwan’s strict quarantine requirements. Documents viewed by The New York Times, which first reported the trip, show that the flight alone would have cost taxpayers a minimum of $250,000 in addition to the $45,000 budgeted for three days in Taiwan at a time when Mr. Wheeler no longer represented the future of United States environmental policy.
“Due to pressing domestic priorities at home, Administrator Wheeler’s visit to Taiwan has been postponed,” James Hewitt, a spokesman for agency, said in a statement.
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