President Joe Biden is flying to Egypt to take a victory lap on climate change — but he’s facing continued grumbling about U.S. stinginess and the impending reality of weakened political power at home.

The White House hopes people at the U.N. climate summit in Sharm El-Sheikh will focus on Biden’s accomplishments, including signing the United States’ biggest-ever climate bill and reversing the outright fossil-fuel cheerleading of the Trump era. His visit on Friday also rides the wave of Democrats’ surprising success in Tuesday’s midterm elections, an outcome that left many U.S. allies relieved.

But Republicans are still expected to take control of the House, and possibly the Senate, once the vote-counting is done. That could stop Biden from delivering what delegates and activists at the COP27 conference most demand: hundreds of billions of dollars in compensation to lower-income nations facing catastrophe because of the industrialized world’s role in warming the globe.

Other potential mood spoilers for Biden’s appearance include food and water shortages that have left conference attendees cranky, human rights and privacy violations by the Egyptian government, and fresh scientific evidence that all this climate diplomacy is failing to prevent catastrophic rises in temperatures.

Biden’s achievements in reversing years of U.S. climate paralysis are still worth celebrating, administration officials attending the conference said — adding that the president also plans to urge other nations to redouble their efforts to slash their greenhouse gas output.


“There were a lot of folks, you guys included, looking at us and saying, ‘Could he deliver on the legislative initiatives that he had put forward?’” White House national climate adviser Ali Zaidi told POLITICO. “He'll speak to his values. He'll speak to his optimism. He'll speak to the fact that the decisive decade is about delivery. And Joe Biden's delivering results.”

Even some longtime skeptics of the U.S. acknowledge Biden has led an about-face for a nation that for years served as a key obstacle to global climate progress.

“I have seen it always as a country that has undermined the global rules for climate change and has shirked responsibility,” said Sunita Narain, a prominent Indian environmentalist and self-proclaimed U.S. critic. Yet she acknowledged that “what President Biden did last year was tremendous. He did walk the talk.”

The U.S. still isn’t doing remotely enough, though, on helping lower-income countries with their own struggles to prevent and adjust to climate change, as even some Biden allies acknowledged. A proposal by White House climate envoy John Kerry to drum up private climate financing for developing nations fell flat with a number of delegates this week, including German officials.

“Money is going to talk the loudest” with countries in need, U.S. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) acknowledged during a call with reporters. “We have to be their partners, not just part of the problem.”

Biden's claims to global climate leadership also depend on getting negotiations back on track with China, the world’s top current producer of greenhouse gas pollution. He will meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday at the G20 meeting in Bali, Indonesia, with climate watchers hoping a thaw might also smooth discussions between the two rival countries back in Sharm El-Sheikh.

Taking the summit stage on Friday, after other world leaders have departed Egypt, means Biden won’t have to share the spotlight. Senior Biden administration officials said the president will tout his many wins, including this year’s climate bill, along with the first Senate ratification of a climate treaty in 30 years, and passage of hundreds of billions of dollars in infrastructure spending to steel the country against climate change.

Future climate victories will come harder if Republicans win even partial control of Congress, as seems likely. That’s especially true for delivering money to help developing nations transition off fossil fuels and deal with the effects of climate change, the key impasse in global climate discourse.

One question that world leaders, diplomats and activists want Biden to answer is how he will deal with a divided government.

“What has been a bit [of a] disappointment to some — to many, actually — in the climate change space has been the inability of the U.S. government to come forward with more financing,” said Patricia Espinosa, who until July was the executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. “It would be good that he can explain a bit the difficulties that his government faces in order to play an even more important role in this space.”

U.S. officials have flitted around Sharm El-Sheikh making various announcements showing the Biden administration’s commitment to climate change. Kerry has been at the center of the U.S. presence, where he has sounded a more conciliatory note on the United States’ need to address the moral burden of its past greenhouse gas emissions.

But Kerry also has cautioned that partners must be realistic about what is possible in the U.S. political system, saying “you’re not going to see that money” for lower-income countries if Republicans retake part of Congress.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi used her own appearance at the summit on Thursday to express hopes that the chamber’s looming GOP majority “will take responsibility” for approving international climate aid, despite the virulent opposition that many conservative Republicans have voiced to U.S. efforts to counter global warming.

It’s the type of dynamic that has people from some countries thinking not much has changed.



Some have also noted that the $370 billion in climate and green-energy spending in Biden's signature legislation is aimed overwhelmingly at meeting domestic needs, besides including protectionist “Made in America” provisions that have inspired unhappiness from European allies.

“The question of what the U.S. is capable of and what it isn’t is quite a political one,” said Iskander Erzini Vernoit, a former climate negotiator for Morocco who is director of the Imal Initiative for Climate and Development, a think tank based in Rabat. He added that "the U.S. is able to conjure up money for what it wants to, but in the context of climate it is not finding the same resources available for developing countries.”

GOP lawmakers have typically rejected large sums for international climate spending, putting them at odds with Biden’s goal to drum up $11.4 billion by 2024 — a quadrupling of levels from President Barack Obama’s second term.

Kerry has instead tried to frame the U.S. contribution to finance as using the influence of the world’s largest economy to orient its private sector toward investing in clean energy.

On Wednesday, Kerry floated a plan to bring more private clean energy investment to developing nations. People from developing countries slammed the concept of relying on carbon credits, which critics contend allow companies to claim benefits for clean-energy projects that already would have occurred. Even some climate finance experts said Kerry’s proposal could cause confusion in the markets.

There is no substituting for the public dollars the U.S. has consistently failed to send to developing nations, especially given the size of its economy and its unmatched historical carbon emissions, critics of the U.S. stance said.

“We can keep doing this tango and we can keep dancing around what is the real question here — or President Biden can address the huge trust deficit that exists between the already-rich and the emerging countries,” Narain said.

Yet Kerry has repeatedly said that public spending alone cannot drive the trillions of dollars in investments needed to keep temperatures from exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-1850s levels — the level that scientists have called critical to avoiding catastrophic rises in sea levels, storms, droughts and other calamities. An assessment unveiled Thursday at the conference said the world is on track for 2.7 degrees Celsius of warming by the end of the century.

Even a best-case scenario, in which countries fully implement all their ambitious carbon reduction pledges, would bring 1.8 degrees of warming, the Climate Action Tracker reported.


“I would say everybody agrees with the starting premise that we need to do a lot more,” said one Biden administration official, who asked for anonymity because the person is not authorized to speak with reporters.

Administration officials have said the president views climate change in moral terms, and that the U.S. is open to discussing compensation to climate-vulnerable nations. Espinosa, the former U.N. climate official, called it a “big step forward" that the conference agenda includes a discussion of loss and damage, as the concept is known among summit attendees. That success is partly due to the U.S. willingness to engage, she said.

But the Biden administration has been caught trying to have it both ways: open to dialogue, but not committing to any particular outcome.

“The problem for developed countries is they don’t have a moral high ground to stand on,” said Joe Thwaites, international climate finance advocate at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Adding to the pressure on the U.S. is the fact that some governments — Denmark and Scotland, for example — have pledged money for loss and damage. Even China said it could support such funding, though it was vague on what that meant.

“We are absolutely committed to engaging constructively on this issue and understand the depth of what climate-vulnerable countries are facing here,” a senior Biden administration official told reporters during a recent call outlining Biden’s trip. “Some of the reaction is we’re not yet at a point where there’s something we’re agreeing to or disagreeing to. There are a lot of different ideas being floated around.”

Biden also needs to address the United States' fractious relationship with China, including unhappiness with Beijing's human rights and trade practices. Unlike Biden, Xi's government has refused to silo climate talks from those broader tensions.

Xi cut off climate dialogue with the U.S. in August after Pelosi visited Taiwan. Kerry has said he has exchanged messages with his Chinese counterpart, Xie Zhenhua, in hopes of restarting conversations.

Karl Mathiesen contributed to this report.

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