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COP26: Biden lands in Europe ahead of climate summit

President Joe Biden has arrived in Europe ahead of next week’s key UN climate summit, with his signature climate policy yet to pass through the US Congress.

The president’s $1.75 trillion (£1.2tn) Build Back Better social welfare package includes more than $500bn of spending on green policies.

Before leaving Washington, Mr Biden described the measures as historic.

But differences among Democrats mean it is unlikely to pass before the summit.

“It’s a framework that will create millions of jobs, grow the economy, invest in our nation and our people, turn the climate crisis into an opportunity,” Mr Biden said in a TV address from the White House.

The president heads for the COP26 global climate summit in Scotland on Sunday, but his first stop was the Vatican where he has been meeting the Pope after arriving in the early hours of Friday. He will also attend the G20 summit of major economies in Rome.

His Build Back Better legislation covers a wide range of extra funding for health and child care, education and clean energy reforms.

The green spending would seek to dramatically slash US greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, provide new tax breaks for electric vehicles and roll out installation of solar panels on American homes.

The president had hoped to have the package passed in time for COP26 which begins in Glasgow on Monday.

The package is linked in Congress to a separate infrastructure bill worth $1.2tn.

The bill has passed through the evenly split Senate, but some left-wing Democrats want changes to Build Back Better before agreeing to pass the infrastructure legislation through the House of Representatives and say both bills must be voted on at the same time. Mr Biden’s fellow Democrats abandoned plans for a vote on Thursday.

The president implored Democrats during a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill to support his legislative plans, saying he wanted to prove that US democracy still works.

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Biden’s bill: close, but not yet over the line

By Anthony Zurcher, BBC News, Rome

Joe Biden delayed his departure for Europe in hopes of pulling a legislative rabbit out of his hat. What he got was a “framework” and a promise of votes to come.

When he arrived in Rome in the middle of the night, it was becoming increasingly clear that the president wouldn’t have anything concrete to present to his fellow world leaders – particularly on climate action.

What he can say is that substantive legislation is getting closer to the finish line.

The infrastructure bill, which is only one House of Representatives vote away from becoming law, has significant investment in green energy programmes. The social spending legislative framework agreed upon on Wednesday, while stripped of its most effective measures to combat US carbon emissions, has $555bn more in environmental spending.

That is an enormous financial commitment that Biden can tout here and at the climate conference in Glasgow.

For the moment, however, it is just a legislative promise backed by press statements and bullet-point outlines. While it appears the Democrats are starting to coalesce around legislation, nothing is final until a bill sits on Biden’s desk, ready for his signature.

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Left-wing Senator Bernie Sanders said Build Back Better was “probably the most consequential bill since the 1960s”, but added that there were some major gaps in it.

The left of the party is unhappy because the plan does not include paid family leave, free community college, a large healthcare expansion, a tax on billionaires or lower prescription drug prices.

COP26 climate summit – The basics

  • Climate change is one of the world’s most pressing problems. Governments must promise more ambitious cuts in warming gases if we are to prevent greater global temperature rises.
  • The summit in Glasgow is where change could happen. You need to watch for the promises made by the world’s biggest polluters, like the US and China, and whether poorer countries are getting the support they need.
  • All our lives will change. Decisions made here could impact our jobs, how we heat our homes, what we eat and how we travel.

The original price tag for the proposal was $3.5tn, but it has been cut in half at the insistence of two centrist Democratic senators who could doom the bill in the Senate.

The objections by Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have infuriated the left of the party.

On Thursday Mr Manchin and Ms Sinema issued lukewarm statements that still declined to back the president’s stripped-down bill.

The House will not vote on the infrastructure bill until next week at the earliest. Mr Biden is due back in Washington on Wednesday.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Mr Biden can still try legislative arm-twisting by phone from Rome.

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