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As Biden preps for U.N. summit, how much credibility does he have on climate?


All right. Let's dig in now to the implications for President Biden's ambitious climate agenda with Carroll Muffett. He is president and CEO of the Center for International Environmental Law, a nonprofit organization that works on environmental law. Now as Deirdre just reported, this framework, Carroll, contains more than $500 billion in spending on the climate. Is it being targeted in the right ways?

CARROLL MUFFETT: I think that's a really critical question. The overall target announced in the framework of reducing emissions by half in the coming decade is the direction we needed to be - need to be heading. There are positive measures in the framework - home energy tax credits, investments in renewable energy, you know, steps towards delivering on the commitment to environmental justice through the Justice40 initiative. But there are also really significant unknowns - how much of the money that is invested in ostensibly clean energy is going directly into renewable energy technologies we know works, and how much is going into billions of dollars of new subsidies into carbon capture and storage and other false solutions that just prop up the fossil fuel industry? And I think that's a really critical question because there's one thing that we know is not in there, and that's any reference to oil, gas or other fossil fuels, including any commitment to end the subsidies that are propping up those industries and fueling the climate crisis.

MARTINEZ: So for you, the number 550 billion is not so much the number as much as where it all goes?

MUFFETT: Yeah. I think the devil is really in the details. Five-hundred and fifty billion dollars is a big number. But if that number is going into renewable energy, it generates one set of outcomes. If it's going into false solutions and propping up fossil fuels, it's not really contributing to climate solutions; it's advancing the climate crisis.

MARTINEZ: One of the things that has been a criticism of climate change policy is that there is not a lot of stick a lot of times to it. And as our climate team points out, no stick in this framework to encourage a faster shift to clean energy, just a lot of carrot. So does that make the measures really, in your view, totally toothless?

MUFFETT: I think that what it does is - you know, there are pull mechanisms here that encourage people to invest in things, but that's only an encouragement. And in the absence of the stick on the other side - in the absence of regulatory tools that we know really drive change, it's only half a solution.

MARTINEZ: There has to be a vote on this, Carroll. How does this - what we have now - help or hurt the president's sales pitch as he goes to Europe?

MUFFETT: I think the world is waiting for the U.S. to come back to the international climate space in a meaningful way. I think that if the president comes forward with - you know, and if the president comes forward with a package that actually has meaningful commitments to real climate solutions in it, I think the world will welcome that and respond. I think if what's in the details of this package is actually just more investments in propping up dirty industries, I think the world will see through that, and I think delivering higher ambition becomes progressively harder.

MARTINEZ: Is the buy-in, though, Carroll - if he gets the buy-in from Congress, can he take that to Europe to say, look; let's get buy-in on your end?

MUFFETT: I think if he has buy-in from Congress - you know, you have to understand that the world has watched the U.S. make commitment after commitment for decades and fail to deliver. So yes, buy-in from Congress is going to be a valuable tool. But again, it depends on what that buy-in is to and whether that buy-in is to real solutions.

MARTINEZ: All right. That's Carroll Muffett, president and CEO of the Center for International Environmental Law. Carroll, thank you.

MUFFETT: Thanks very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.