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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Plan A for the White House is walking into the UN climate summit in Glasgow with a huge new emissions-cutting law from Congress. Plan B is more complicated.

The big picture: It's anyone's guess whether Democrats' reconciliation plan will pass before the summit starts at the end of the month, and if so, whether huge climate investments will be intact.

  • The same goes for the bipartisan infrastructure plan, which has smaller, but still significant, climate measures.

Why it matters: As the window narrows fast to keep warming within the Paris Agreement targets, getting other nations on board with aggressive efforts is tougher if President Biden's legislative agenda is stuck.

What we're watching: What's plan B?

  • A White House aide said there's "a number of paths to meeting our emission goals and targets," adding the agenda "doesn’t hinge on reconciliation or the infrastructure package alone."
  • Biden's pledge under the Paris Agreement is a 50%-52% cut in U.S. emissions below 2005 levels by 2030.

Here's how the White House, if needed, will likely argue its pledge has teeth without Congress:

  • Regulations: EPA recently completed rules to phase down the use of powerful greenhouse gases called hydrofluorocarbons. And many other regulations are in the offing around vehicle emissions, methane, appliances and more.
  • Breadth: Beyond binding rules, Biden officials this year have rolled out an array of programs. Think new targets and approvals for offshore wind development and reviving the Energy Department's loan guarantee program, to name just two.
  • Persuasion: The administration has been pushing the private sector and other nations on several fronts with domestic and global emissions ramifications, such as banks' sustainable lending practices. For instance, it has lined up pledges to ramp up electric sales and, per Bloomberg, is crafting a new heavy industry coalition.

The intrigue: We're watching for new moves before the summit. A strategy document on meeting the 2030 target is expected this year at some point. There's also the possibility of a congressional deal during the two-week summit.

  • And who knows, maybe a wild card's in the offing. Some legislators and activists want the White House to declare a climate "emergency" that frees up new federal powers.

Reality check: Executive moves are not a substitute for the scope of measures in the Democrats' plans, such as hundreds of billions in new clean power and EV incentives and major new finance for utilities to get greener.

The bottom line: Tufts University climate expert Rachel Kyte tells the New York Times that if the bills don't pass, the U.S. will roll into the Glasgow summit with "fine words" but "not much else."

  • Kyte, dean of the Fletcher School and a UN adviser, doesn't mince words about the fallout at the summit if the legislation flops: "The whole world is watching."

Go deeper

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Oct 22, 2021 - Energy & Environment

The new offshore wind seascape

Photo illustration: Axios Visuals. David Hardy. Photo: Courtesy of Ørsted Offshore North America

Global offshore wind heavyweight Ørsted already sees a regulatory sea-change under President Biden, but also says Congress has an important role to play.

Why it matters: A number of companies are planning to build what will be the first large-scale U.S. offshore projects.

Fossil fuel executives to testify at "landmark" hearing focused on climate disinformation

An oil flare at a BP plant in Whiting, Indiana. Photo: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform announced on Friday it will hold a "landmark" hearing next week with fossil fuel executives focused on the industry's role in spreading climate disinformation.

Why it matters: This is the first time oil company CEOs, and the head of their main trade group, will testify under oath about their knowledge of the link between burning fossil fuels and climate change, per Axios' Andrew Freedman.

Mike Allen, author of AM
1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Fauci fires back at Rand Paul for slam on tonight's "Axios on HBO"

Responding to charges by Sen. Rand Paul on Sunday's "Axios on HBO," NIAID director Anthony Fauci told "ABC This Week" that it's "molecularly impossible" for U.S.-funded bat virus research in China to have produced COVID-19.

Why it matters: The issue 0f Wuhan research was reignited on the right last week with a National Institutes of Health letter to Congress disclosing more about the research.