Nov 1, 2021 - Podcasts

Unpacking the climate action in Glasgow

COP 26, the annual UN Climate Conference, began yesterday in Glasgow, Scotland. We got a preview of how things might go after the G20 Summit in Rome — and well, not great news. World leaders set a target of reaching carbon neutrality around mid-century. But they left Rome with few concrete targets or commitments on climate change.

  • Plus, President Biden’s approval rating hits a new low.
  • And, another terrible COVID milestone for the world.

Guests: Axios' Ben Geman and Mike Allen.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Alex Sugiura, Sabeena Singhani, and Lydia McMullen-Laird. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA BOODHOO: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Monday November 1st. I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s how we’re making you smarter today: President Biden’s approval rating hits a new low. Plus, 5 million covid deaths worldwide.

But first, today’s One Big Thing: unpacking the climate action in Glasgow.

The annual UN climate conference COP 26 began yesterday in Glasgow, Scotland. We got a preview of how things might go after a G-20 summit in Rome and well, not great news. World leaders set a target of reaching carbon neutrality around mid-century, but they left Rome with few concrete targets or commitments on climate change. Ben Geman is an Axios energy reporter and is joining us now from Glasgow. Hi Ben.

BEN GEMAN: Thanks for having me on.

NIALA: Ben, what clues did we get from Rome about how these next two weeks in Scotland are meant to go?

BEN: You know, I think the G-20 summit in Rome was a fairly powerful reminder that there is often a gulf between ambition and transforming ambition into action on the ground. So certainly we had the countries that were talking about the importance of battling climate change, there was no agreement on any type of date for ending use of coal fired power among G-20 nations. And coal of course is the most carbon intensive fuel. And there's really no path to our climate goals without eventually phasing out coal. So I think the G-20 was a perfect example of the fact that you have a lot of global commitment and ambition to tackling global warming and climate change. But when it comes down to what will individual countries do within their own borders, it gets a little bit more challenging.

NIALA: So what's the goal for the next two weeks? Is it to really hammer all of that out?

BEN: What this summit is aimed at doing is securing a level of commitment and pledges worldwide to the type of very steep and very sharp emissions cuts needed to sort of hold some of the biggest harms and impacts of global warming at bay. And so you're going to this sort of slogan, I suppose, of the organizers of the summit is keep 1.5 alive, that is to say, keep within reach don’t let slip away this idea that we should hold global temperature rise to no more than 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. Now that's a very long shot ambitious goal. And I think the window to do that is closing quickly, but every degree or every tenth of a degree matters. And so what you're going to be seeing here are efforts to secure the types of emissions cutting commitments, and the types of financial commitments that are going to be necessary to keep those targets within reach.

NIALA: And what type of progress is the U.S. expected to make? What kind of pledges is president Biden expected to commit?

BEN: So the U.S. has previously committed under the Biden administration to cutting its own domestic emissions by 50% or even a little over 50 by 2030. I think we can expect the Biden administration to be pulling out all the stops to show that it is going to do everything it can to make good on its domestic emissions cutting pledges, and do everything it can to help other countries access the resources and technologies needed to cut emissions themselves. The Biden administration can do plenty of things domestically, but at the end of the day, a huge amount rests on what happens in Congress. When you're looking at the ability of the White House to sort of breed life into its pledges. And of course that's a very fluid situation because we know that Democrats are trying to move this kind of thread the needle party line package within, you know, perhaps even the next few days. And so that's something that's going to be a very live issue, both on the ground here, but also on the ground in Washington, D.C.

NIALA: Ben Geman is one of a few folks that Axios who are in Scotland and going to be covering this for us for the next two weeks. He's also the author of the daily Axios generate newsletter.

Thanks Ben.

BEN: Thank you.

NIALA: We’ll be back in 15 seconds with Mike Allen on President Biden’s approval ratings.

[ad break]

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today. I'm Niala Boodhoo. We've just been talking about President Biden heading into the climate summit in Glasgow, one of the biggest tests of his agenda so far. But back home things aren't looking so good for president Biden. Gallup has his approval rating at 42%, that's the lowest October rating of any first term president since Dwight Eisenhower -- with the exception of former President Donald Trump, who was at 37%. Axios’ co-founder Mike Allen is here with why this matters. Good morning, Mike.

MIKE ALLEN: Good morning Niala.

NIALA: So people might think, oh, polling, why does it matter?

MIKE: Well, because President Biden is asking House members and Senators to do something hard. He's asking them to spend a record amount of money to fix the physical safety net of the country and improve the social safety net of the country. Gallup says a majority of Americans say government is trying to do too many things. and Niala, that's a flip from last year, the last year of President Trump's terms, then a majority said the government should be doing more to solve problems. This is the opposite of where President Biden wants public opinion to be moving.

NIALA: Is it clear then that his lack of approval is tied to this notion that he's trying to do too much? Or the government's trying to do too much?

MIKE: I mean, Niala we can overread things, but imagine you're President Biden in Europe or Scotland. And you're asking the House to take a very difficult vote. You're asking progressives to vote for much less than they wanted. You're asking Democrats in tough. Districts to vote for probably more than they might be comfortable with. You're doing all this on the Eve of the governor's race in Virginia, and you're doing all this right before people move their mindset to the midterm. So that's a lot. And that's why this is worrisome.

NIALA: And that's what I was going to ask. Is this too early to have significance for next year's midterm elections?

MIKE: Niala, it's never too early when you are in charge, when you're running the country or running the house or running the Senate, the mood music of the country matters hugely to you. And look at this NBC poll over the weekend, 71% of people say the country's headed in the wrong direction. That includes 70% of independents and even 48% of Democrats. Numbers like this are very worrisome if you are in the White House and even more so if you want it for four more years.

NIALA: Axios’ co-founder Mike Allen. Thanks Mike.

MIKE: Niala, have the best week.

NIALA: Here’s a few more stories we’re watching this Monday morning:

We’re reaching another grim Covid milestone this week - 5 million deaths worldwide since February 2020 and nearly a quarter billion cases. While deaths in the US are down 12% in the past week, other countries are still seeing a surge, as the World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at the World Health Summit recently -

DR. TEDROS ADHANOM GHEBREYSUS: With almost 50,000 deaths a week, the pandemic is far from over - and that’s just the reported deaths.

NIALA: We’ve also been watching two cases challenging a Texas law banning abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. The US Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in those cases brought by abortion providers and the Justice Department today. Next month, the court will hear another major abortion case challening Mississippi’s ban on abortion after 15 weeks.

And on Capitol Hill, Democratic lawmakers are aiming to hold a vote on the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill this week, which would pave the way for the $1.75 trillion social spending deal. Axios’ Hans Nichols writes that missing another vote deadline on these two spending plans could be a major risk for Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

And one more thing before we go today: November is National Novel Writing Month. Over the course of 30 days, participants aim to write 50,000 words of a novel. Since it started in 1999 hundreds of novels have been published, and last year more than half a million people participated. We’ll have a link to the challenge in our show notes - but today’s the perfect day to write those first words of your novel!

That’s all we’ve got for you today! You can reach our team at podcasts at axios dot com or reach out to me on twitter. You can also text me at (202) 918-4893.

I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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