This year, the United States played a lead role in crafting agreements to which the vast majority of the planets nations signed on. The first set a global minimum tax on corporate profits of 15 percent, as a way to keep many of the worlds largest firms from assigning their profits to the relative handful of nations with little or no corporate taxes. Ireland, Luxembourg, and various Caribbean mini-states had for years provided havens to the Apples of this world, depriving every other nation of the taxes that Apple et al. would otherwise pay them for the profits they made in those countries.
Also this year, the just-concluded COP26 conference in Glasgow met to address an even more fundamental concern, the escalating frying of Planet Earth. On this, as a host of Prospect writers have noted, not much really got done, other than a pledge to continue considering what the world could do. Wealthier countries did pledge some assistance to those less wealthy, but when it came to developing standards comparable to the threat, to deciding how to view nuclear power, and to a host of other key issues, no accord was reached.
One obvious reason for the difference between our nations two global forays is that an overwhelming number of nations stood to benefit from wiping out the tax havens that cost them needed revenues, and from no longer having to wage a race to the bottom of tax rates in order to attract corporate investment. Whereas, when it came to agreeing to serious decarbonization standards, the clout of the fossil fuel industry, combined with elected officials fear of inconveniencing and perhaps inflicting higher costs and job loss on their electorates, effectively cowed Glasgows visitors.
Another key difference was the role of the U.S. government. Led by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, the worlds dominant financial power, home by far to more globetrotting corporations than any other nation, was pushing to limit the games global capital plays. In essence, the U.S., under President Bidens leadership, provided not just a prod but a shield to other nations, lest their own transnationals raise a stink. Without American leadership on this measure, its adoption would have been unimaginable.
On the other hand, the U.S. has long sounded an uncertain trumpet on aggressive (i.e., adequate) climate change legislation. This was not a cause on which the U.S. could take the lead, though the rest of the world (with the exception of Saudi Arabia and kindred states) surely welcomed Americas return to the ranks of the climate-concerned, after four years of Donald Trumps climate denial (Biden having thereby cleared the worlds lowest bar). But Biden knew that he couldnt bring Congress very far along on this issue. For Republicans, the mere recognition of climate changes existence is one of those PC things to be weaponized against the Democrats. Moreover, absent Joe Manchins cooperation, Biden couldnt even get the Democrats to enact sanctions for continued reliance on fossil fuels. At Glasgow, Manchins fossil-fuel-philia could not be overcome. Had the home of Exxon, Chevron, and Texas endorsed stricter standards, the U.S. might have been able to play a role more comparable to the role it had played on taxes, but such was not to be the case.
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What the worlds nations at Glasgow did commit to was to make some necessary but way insufficient reforms, and to continue to ponder the more fundamental concerns. A little Good, more than a little (given the escalating pace of climate change) Bad, and, really, more Huh? than Meh.