President-elect’s dedication to the environment

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President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to re-join the Paris Agreement on his first day in office, just as Trump withdrew the US from it  on the day after his own election.  Declaring that climate change is  “the number one issue facing humanity,” Biden has promised $2 trillion towards implementing renewable energy infrastructure  throughout the country. His plans for net zero emissions by the mid century, with a 2035 deadline for  decarbonising the electricity grid, will mean a radical domestic environmental policy and will see the US become a leading example for  international climate action and  diplomacy.  

In the aftermath of the election buzz, Biden will inherit a number of hefty issues: from public health and racial justice matters, to huge unemployment and fears of a double-dip recession, the United States of America have never been less united. Perhaps Biden’s greatest challenge, however, is that of the climate crisis. He also faces a tough opposition if the Senate becomes GOP controlled and his  hopes of a sweeping agenda are dashed by political polarisation.  

Perhaps Biden’s greatest challenge is the climate crisis 

Biden’s domestic environmental policy aims, amongst other things, to create more energy efficient homes and buildings, resume electric vehicle tax credit, invest in 50,000 charging stations on highways, phase out fossil fuels, and promote the 2016 Kigali Accord which agreed to limit the use of hydrofluorocarbons, a pervasive greenhouse gas used in refrigerators and aerosols. The main contrast between Trump and Biden, as demonstrated by the final presidential debate, is that Trump believes an aggressive climate policy would forsake jobs and the economy whereas Biden sees a green new deal as an opportunity for millions of new jobs to be created and economic growth. 

Climate change is also a racial  justice issue and these policies need to be carefully constructed in such a way as to represent and support communities of colour,  who are often disproportionately affected by global warming.  On an international level, Biden will call for a worldwide ban on fossil fuel subsidies, address global shipping and aviation emissions and put pressure on countries like Australia to cooperate and take their share of responsibility, particularly when it comes to meeting carbon targets. He can use the chance to restore foreign alliances to inspire the largest contributing nations of the world to make ambitious pledges and to follow  through with their commitments. Although more directly part of his domestic policy, Biden’s intention of re-joining the Paris Agreement is hugely consequential for international climate action, which explains why it has scored the most headlines recently. With the US, China and EU (who be tween them produce roughly half of global emissions) all working  together, the shared goal of limiting global temperature rises to well below 2°C above pre-indus trial levels certainly looks more attainable. 

The main roadblock for Biden is of course the Senate, which, if it becomes Republican-dominated, could render Democratic efforts redundant. Whilst Biden can easily reinstate old laws, bringing new ones in is somewhat more challenging, and the most progressive strategies might be dismissed im mediately. However, the climate crisis was a voting issue this year for the first time in America’s election history, therefore the Senate will perhaps consider working together with the White House rather than forcing every motion to a grinding halt.  

Critics, some of whom even support him, have labelled Biden’s  plans as overly aggressive and unrealistic. By contrast, Greta Thunberg gave a scathing criticism of a different kind in an interview for the NY Times: “I’m not saying that  Joe Biden is good, or his policies are close to being good enough. They are not.” 

Whilst I believe Thunberg is correct in her assertion that  Biden’s policies are not enough to resolve the climate crisis, I also think that it is worth celebrating  such a climate victory, not only for America but also for the rest of  the world. It is not just in Biden’s hands to ensure a better environ mental future; we need to exert continuous democratic pressure on world leaders to act faster and with transparency. 

Image: USACE HQ via Creative Commons

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