Biden signs flurry of executive orders on nature conservation and fossil fuels

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

In a statement released late on Wednesday (27 January), the White House revealed that Biden’s latest executive orders detail commitments to take a “whole-of-government approach to the climate crisis” and “restore scientific integrity to federal decision-making”.

Biden has established a White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy – a central team tasked with coordinating climate policy across all sectors and states. He has also set up a National Climate Task Force, comprising of professionals from 21 agencies and departments. Additionally, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) has been re-established after it was disbanded under the Trump administration. The Council provides scientific and technical advice to inform public policy on topics including energy and the environment.

More specifically, the latest declarations include time-bound, numerical targets on low-carbon energy and nature-based climate solutions.

On the former, the orders reiterate the need for the energy sector to lead the US’s transition to net-zero by 2050. To achieve this aim, the documents state, significant levels of decarbonisation will need to be delivered by 2035. Biden last week moved to reverse a relaxation on methane pollution limits for existing oil and gas projects that were introduced by Trump and ban new oil and gas permits on public land, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. These decisions have been built upon with the creation of a Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities and Economic Revitalization, to be co-chaired by senior climate and economic advisors. The Group will help deliver an accelerated fossil fuel phase-out in a socially just manner.

Biden has notably committed to doubling renewable energy generation from the offshore wind sector by 2030. On the campaign trail, his campaign for a just transition away from fossil fuels was met with backlash from the oil and gas lobby.

On nature, Biden has signed a so-called “30×30” commitment to protect 30% of lands and waters by 2030. This commitment is consistent with the headline requirement of the UN’s Leaders Pledge for Nature – a precursor to the organisation’s ‘Paris-Agreement-style’ deal designed to avert Earth’s sixth mass extinction. Some 14% of lands in the US are currently classed as protected.

Green groups have praised Biden for acknowledging the need to deliver positive outcomes for the environment, economy and for communities in tandem, in the wake of Covid-19. The US has recorded more than 420,000 Covid-19 deaths and, in December 2020, the national unemployment rate hit a record high of 14.7%.

“This bold, ‘whole of government’ approach not only tackles the climate crisis head on, but recognises this challenge can be addressed by investing in the West’s greatest asset—its people,” said Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, executive director at environmental law and advocacy group the Western Environmental Law Centre.

Sarah George

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