Global Implications of the U.S. Supreme Court Decision on Climate Change

In June 2022, the United States Supreme Court dealt a substantial blow to the power of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate carbon emissions. In light of the EPA’s ruling on climate change, it’s worth asking whether this is really the first time America’s climate leadership has been questioned or whether it’s just the latest in a lasting decline.

What did SCOTUS comment on?

In a 6-3 vote, U.S. Supreme Court justices (SCOTUS) ruled the agency was not authorized to take action on climate change without specific authorization from Congress . The case is a clear sign of the US Supreme Court’s growing hostility to climate change regulation and some commentators have suggested it signals the start of a decline in US leadership on global climate issues.

The question brought to the judges’ attention was whether the country’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) could regulate coal-fired power plants, which are the second largest source of carbon emissions in the USA. The Obama administration had set carbon limits on a state-by-state basis with the aim of encouraging less reliance on coal and instead pushing towards alternative energy sources. Although this action was blocked by the courts, the program achieved some of its objectives simply because coal became increasingly expensive compared to alternative energy sources.

The Supreme Court, however, has now ruled that the EPA – as well as other regulators in the United States – are unable to consider or adopt rules that would be considered transformative for the economy. unless Congress specifically authorizes such actions against a designated issue, such as climate change. But the dysfunction of the US legislature over the past few decades means such approvals are extremely unlikely.

The most obvious consequence of West Virginia vs. EPA decision is that it is much more difficult for the United States to achieve the goals set for the Paris Agreement. The Biden administration is committed to achieving 100% clean electricity by 2035 and meeting the United States’ goal under the Paris Agreement to reduce its emissions by 50% to 52% by 2030. In making this commitment, the United States attempted to put in place targets ambitious but achievable and to help other countries set similar goals. targets. However, the outlook now looks bleak.

With the political landscape now much more difficult, it looks like the country will have to look for opportunities abroad. For example, the United States has an opportunity to act in the global financial sector by encouraging green investments and requiring disclosure of climate risks.

While the consequences of this decision on the country’s climate agenda may be clearer, it is worth considering its global implications.

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Is this the end of American climate leadership?

The idea of ​​US climate leadership on the world stage has always been fragile. In 1997, the world came crashing down when the country withdrew from the Kyoto Protocols. In an attempt to appease the country, new standards have been set in a revised agreement – the Paris Agreement – which essentially eliminated all emissions reductions or legally binding targets. However, in 2020 former President Donald Trump pulled out of the deal. Despite join him immediately after Biden’s electionmany environmentalists doubt that the country’s representatives will now engage productively in global climate negotiations.

Rich, polluting countries such as the United States have continually stagnated in providing climate finance and support to other countries, especially those in the Global South. More than a decade ago, a commitment was made to mobilizes 100 billion dollars a year in climate finance by 2020; yet to be achieved, the goal is still only a tiny fraction of the money needed to combat the consequences of climate change.

To suggest that the EPA’s decision is the first time the United States has abdicated its role on the world stage would be to ignore historical data in which the United States has always been among the biggest blockers of progress on global climate change. . For meaningful action to happen, perhaps it is time for the world to look beyond the United States.

Can the United States still regulate emissions?

The SCOTUS ruling should not be used as an excuse to further delay the global climate agenda. Although the Supreme Court has suggested that the EPA cannot make “generational” power changes, the agency has the ability to take further action. The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) provides more than enough leeway for further regulation of carbon dioxide emissions. Introduced in 1976 and amended in 2016, the law gives the EPA the authority to impose reporting, record keeping, and testing requirements as well as restrictions related to chemical substances and/or mixtures.

The law has already been used to restrict harmful chemicals such as lead in paint and polychlorinated biphenyls. By classifying carbon dioxide as a harmful substance, the EPA could regain regulatory power over emissions that circumvents the court ruling. Some activists suggested that this would not only allow carbon levies or manage carbon legacies, but it would also allow the United States – one of the world’s largest markets – to apply these measures to imports as well.

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Teresa H. Sadler