Biden returns US to Paris Agreement as part of climate policy overhaul

In one of his first acts after being sworn in as the 46th President of the United States of America, Joe Biden moved to readmit the US back into the Paris Agreement, claiming that tackling the climate crisis, racial inequality and current coronavirus pandemic were the "gravest responsibilities" that countries face.

Biden returns US to Paris Agreement as part of climate policy overhaul

The Biden Administration is expected to reverse more than 100 climate-related policies introduced by Trump

Wednesday evening saw Joe Biden sworn in as the 46th US President, following months of political unrest, an ongoing impeachment case against former President Donald Trump and the despondent scenes following the storming of the Capitol.

However, just hours after being sworn in, President Biden moved to reinstate the US back into the Paris Agreement. The US officially departed the global agreement to combat the climate crisis under the Trump administration, but Biden confirmed the US will be back at the table for climate negotiations, following a 30-day notice period.

It is one of 15 major executive orders that Biden carried out in his first few hours as President, kickstarting a massive overhaul that will undo many policies put in place by the former Trump administration. Biden is seeking to address the coronavirus pandemic, racial inequality and climate change through these executive orders.

Biden is expected to block the Keystone XL pipeline, for example. The project, which would transfer oil from Canada to the US, has been hotly contested by green groups. It has also been reported that oil and gas drilling at to national monuments in Utah will be vetoed by Biden.

During his inauguration speech, Biden spoke of the need for unity to address key issues that have destabilised and fractured US politics.

“Folks, this is a time of testing,” Biden said, as transcribed by the Washington Post. “We face an attack on our democracy and on truth, a raging virus, growing inequity, the sting of systemic racism, a climate in crisis, America’s role in the world. Any one of these will be enough to challenge us in profound ways. But the fact is, we face them all at once, presenting this nation with one of the gravest responsibilities we’ve had. Now we’re going to be tested. Are we going to step up? All of us? It’s time for boldness, for there is so much to do. And this is certain, I promise you: We will be judged, you and I, by how we resolve these cascading crises of our era.

“The cry for survival comes from the planet itself, a cry that can’t be any more desperate or any more clear. And now a rise of political extremism, white supremacy, domestic terrorism that we must confront and we will defeat. America has been tested and we’ve come out stronger for it. We will repair our alliances and engage with the world once again. Not to meet yesterday’s challenges, but today’s and tomorrow’s challenges. And we’ll lead, not merely by the example of our power, but by the power of our example.”

What can the Biden Administration do for climate action?

Four years under Trump has seen the US renegade on key global climate commitments, while also whitewashing mentions of climate change and stripping back existing national environmental legislation.

In fact, research from Columbia University has found that the Trump Administration has overseen the rollback of more than 160 regulations related to environmental protection. These range from product standards for energy efficiency to car fuel and methane emissions.

Biden’s top climate advisor Gina McCarthy noted that the new administration will reverse “more than 100” climate-related policies introduced by Trump.

It is a refreshing notion for green groups that Biden is willing to push climate legislation to new heights in the US. He is expected to convene an international summit on decarbonisation at some point this year, and has already hinted at a net-zero emissions goal for the US.

Carbon Brief states that more than 60% of global carbon emissions will be covered by a net-zero ambition because of Biden’s climate commitments. 

Analysis from the UN Environment Programme estimates that global emissions would need to fall by 7.6% every year this decade, in order to put the planet on the 1.5C trajectory – in comparison, Covid-19 is expected to see the level of emissions for 2020 fall by 8%. With the US accounting for 14% of global emissions, the world’s largest economy will be a key driver in striving to reach these levels of decarbonisation. 

One of the key voting points for Biden during his election campaign was a promise to ignite a green revolution in the US, under the mantra of a Green New Deal. Biden claims that his climate action plan could enable the world’s largest economy to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. The $2trn (£1.6trn) plan would see the US run on zero-carbon electricity by 2035, further scaling back the influence of the coal industry. Even under Trump, reports suggest that there are now 5,000 fewer coal sector jobs compared to when he was elected. Transport and the built environment would also be overhauled to align with a net-zero commitment.

However, despite the Democrats claiming control of the House, the party couldn’t quite overturn a Republican majority on the Senate, which is split 50/50. As such, major sweeping policy frameworks, such as the Green New Deal, are likely to be met with resistance. With senators appointed into six-year terms, the Democrats would have to wait two years just for one-third of the Senate to be up for re-election. 

Biden will still be able to champion climate action through financial support for his green revolution, provided he can include it in future budgets and key infrastructure bills. The fact that many US cities and regions are championing their own net-zero commitments will also boost green policy in the US.

The UK’s COP26 President Alok Sharma, welcomed Biden’s inauguration, saying he “looked forward to working with our US partners on the road to COP26”.

Matt Mace

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