Dec 21, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Visualizing the climate stakes of Build Back Better's downfall

Future U.S. greenhouse gas emissions under existing policies and Build Back Better
Data: REPEAT Project; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

A report from the Princeton-led REPEAT Project examines the scope of Democratic energy legislation in the Build Back Better Act that's on the brink of collapse.

By the numbers: The analysis projects the impact of the more than $300 billion in expanded tax incentives for deploying low-emissions tech, and other climate-related provisions that push the total even higher.

Why it matters: They would put the U.S almost on pace to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50% below 2005 levels by 2030.

  • That's President Biden's commitment under the Paris Agreement aimed at preventing some of the worst effects of global warming.
  • But existing policy (which in the chart includes the recent bipartisan infrastructure law) doesn't create those near-term cuts.

The big picture: The REPEAT analysis is among several — like this via the World Resources Institute — that see the legislation giving the U.S. a quick and hard shove toward its 2030 goal and Biden's midcentury net-zero target.

The nonpartisan think tank Resources For the Future estimates that under existing policies, U.S. economy-wide emissions only get about halfway toward the 2030 target.

Climate scientists say steeper cuts are needed, pointing to a year filled with unprecedented extreme weather events that are likely to worsen as warming continues.

What they're saying: "Without such policies [in the legislation], we estimate the United States will fall 1.3 billion tons (CO2-equivalent) short of the nation's 2030 climate commitment, a yawning gap that is unlikely to be bridged by executive action or state policy alone," said Princeton's Jesse Jenkins.

Jenkins, who leads the REPEAT effort, also argues the bill would provide an economic boost and actually counter inflationary trends in energy.

Catch up fast: The $1.75 trillion social spending and climate legislation is on ice at best now that Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has announced his opposition, citing concerns about costs, inflation, and more.

  • But there are discussions underway to see if Democrats can salvage something acceptable to Manchin, who has deep disagreements with Democratic leaders over the structure.
  • The Washington Post, which has details on Manchin's goals on child and health provisions, also notes he might back "scaled back" versions of the energy provisions.
  • For instance, he sees the electric vehicle subsidies as too expansive, and separately his statement expresses concern about transforming electricity systems "faster than technology or the markets allow."

The intrigue: The dispute between the White House and Manchin that has dealt a potentially fatal blow to the legislation is rippling through markets.

The share prices of many electric vehicle companies fell Monday, the first trading day since Manchin's Sunday morning announcement.

"That was a reaction to the uncertainty," Edmunds analyst Jessica Caldwell tells Axios.

The global fallout

On the international front, keep an eye on what Build Back Better's demise — if it's indeed dead — means for Biden administration efforts to convince China to act more aggressively on climate, Ben writes.

What they're saying: "The U.S. won’t be able to deliver its climate target without the BBB...but at the same time it expects others to ramp up their ambition. How much longer could that game be sustained?," Li Shuo, a China expert with Greenpeace, said in an email exchange.

"I am afraid when all sides exhaust what’s domestically possible, what’s left at the international level is just a war of words," he adds.

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