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Climate Change

Rivian electric vehicles

The Biden administration, to its credit, never misses a chance to emphasize the importance of dealing with climate change. President Joe Biden calls it an "existential" threat to humanity. John Kerry, his special envoy on the issue, said in April: "That means life and death. And the question is, are we behaving as if it is? And the answer is no."

That was certainly true under former President Donald Trump, who championed coal, abandoned the 2015 Paris agreement on climate, and dismissed global warming as a hoax. Biden has brought a badly needed shift on policy. But his policies sometimes are at war with his rhetoric.

One crucial part of his agenda is speeding the transition from gasoline-powered vehicles to electric ones. Cars and light trucks account for 16 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and Biden wants half of all autos sold in this country to be electric or plug-in hybrids by 2030. That transition would significantly reduce carbon output.

But let's not get the idea that the administration is laser-focused on whatever it takes to curb climate change. Its enthusiasm for electric vehicles, it turns out, is not unlimited. In Biden's eyes, some electric vehicles are good and some are bad, and the difference has nothing to do with greenhouse gases.

The social spending and climate package recently approved by the House of Representatives would encourage Americans to buy electric vehicles by providing a tax credit of as much as $12,500 for each purchase, an increase over the existing $7,500 credit. That indirect subsidy is needed because these cars generally cost more to purchase than comparable conventional cars.

But Biden and his congressional allies are not enamored of all electric vehicles. They want to restrict the full tax break to those cars that are built by union workers in the United States and have batteries built by union workers in the United States. Buyers of other vehicles would get only a $7,500 credit — a $5,000 penalty.

That penalty would apply to almost all of the 50 electric vehicles currently sold here, including every model made by Tesla, the Ford Mustang Mach-E, the Nissan Leaf, the Rivian pickup, the Hyundai Ioniq, and more. The only exceptions are two Chevy Bolt models. It would also harm workers in U.S. plants operated by foreign automakers, which are nonunion and produce nearly half of all the vehicles sold here.

The discrimination is a giant favor to the United Auto Workers, a stalwart of the Democratic Party that has been weathering a major corruption scandal. "The union has stressed to the Biden administration that the country shouldn't sacrifice union jobs to meet its climate goals," reported The Wall Street Journal. A White House spokesman insisted that "jobs taking on the climate crisis must also be jobs that build the middle class."

There are some obvious flaws in the administration's logic. One is that given the monumental size of the battle against climate change, it is imperative to enlist every automaker, including nonunion ones.

To exclude nearly all electric cars from the full tax credit will make the national transition away from gas-powered vehicles — a hugely formidable undertaking under the best of circumstances — slower and more expensive. It's exactly the wrong strategy if you place a supreme priority on saving the planet from excessively high temperatures.

The UAW has repeatedly lost elections allowing workers at foreign-owned plants to decide whether to sign up with the union. Limiting the tax credit will hurt those workers. It will also encourage automakers to build electric cars abroad, where they can achieve lower labor costs — enough, perhaps, to overcome the tax disadvantage.

It will also be a boon to the internal combustion engine. As Jeffrey Schott, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, told me, "If you raise the cost of electric vehicles too much, people will buy gas-powered cars."

The Trump administration refused to require any sacrifice from fossil fuel companies and their employees merely to avert the worst-case climate scenario. The Biden administration is willing to act against climate change, but it too insists on protecting certain groups at the expense of the broad American public — and all humanity.

Denying the full tax credit to the vast majority of electric vehicles will mean more carbon emissions and warming of the planet. But hey — it's not like this is a matter of life and death, right?

Follow Steve Chapman on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13. To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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British COP26 president Alok Sharma apologized tearfully at the conference closing

Glasgow (AFP) - Nearly 200 nations came together Saturday on a global deal to combat climate change after two weeks of painful negotiation, but fell short of what science says is needed to contain dangerous temperature rises.

Rich countries stood accused of failing at the COP26 summit in Glasgow to deliver much-needed finance to vulnerable states at risk of drought, rising seas, fire, and storms.

Britain's COP26 president Alok Sharma rounded up the marathon negotiations telling delegates: "It is now decision time. And the choices you are set to make are vitally important."

But China and India insisted that language on fossil fuels be weakened in the final summit decision text.

As the final deal was clinched, a tearful Sharma said, "I apologize for the way this process has unfolded. I am deeply sorry," before banging down his gavel.

Delegates entered the talks charged with keeping the 2015 Paris Agreement goal of limiting temperature rises to 1.5-2C degrees within reach.

They were also tasked with finding the funding for nations most at risk of climate-related droughts, floods and storms supercharged by rising seas.

Observers said the agreement fell far short of what is needed to avert dangerous warming and help countries adapt or recoup damages from the disasters already unfurling globally.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, reacting to the outcome, welcomed the deal, but stressed it was "not enough."

"We are still knocking on the door of climate catastrophe," he added.

Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg said the talks had achieved nothing but "blah, blah, blah," echoing earlier comments.

Laurence Tubiana, the architect of the Paris deal, told AFP that "COP has failed to provide immediate assistance for people suffering now."

Survival

The final text urged nations to accelerate efforts to "phase down" unfiltered coal and "phase out" inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.

Large emitters China and India had opposed the mention of the polluting fuels, and the language in the final text was significantly more nuanced than earlier drafts.

The deal also called on all countries to accelerate their emissions cuts by submitting new national plans by 2022, three years earlier than agreed in Paris.

But after resistance from rich nations led by the United States and EU, the text omitted any reference to a specific finance facility for the loss and damage climate change has already caused in the developing world.

It instead only promised future "dialogue" on the subject.

"For some loss and damage may be the beginning of conversation and dialogue," said Shauna Aminath, the Maldives environment minister. "But for us this is a matter of survival."

Although host Britain said it wanted COP26 to keep the 1.5C temperature cap in reach, a UN scientific assessment last week said countries' latest climate plans put Earth on course to heat 2.7C.

The text noted "with deep regret" that wealthy nations had also failed to stump up a separate annual sum of $100 billion they promised over a decade ago. It urged countries to pay up "urgently and through 2025".

It also promised to double finance to help developing countries adapt to rising temperatures by the same date.

1.5C On Life Support

But developing nations said it was unfair for the summit to produce an unbalanced agreement heavily weighted toward "mitigation" -- how economies can ditch fossil fuels and reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

They wanted specific instruction on how they can meet the bill of decarbonising while also adapting to the natural disasters supercharged by global warming.

"We were told that COP26 was the last best chance to keep 1.5C alive but it's been placed on life support," Amanda Mukwashi, CEO of Christian Aid.

"Rich nations have kicked the can down the road and with it the promise of the urgent climate action people on the frontline of this crisis need."

The two weeks in Glasgow saw a number of high-profile announcements from world leaders, such as a commitment to slash methane emissions by 30 percent by 2030.

It also witnessed mass protests against what activists said was a dangerous lack of urgency.

Teresa Anderson, climate policy coordinator at ActionAid International, said COP26 was "an insult to the millions of people whose lives are being torn apart by the climate crisis."