President Biden’s Climate Plans

By: Jeffrey Xiang — Editor-in-Chief

President Biden’s first day executive actions included rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement, commencing a review of prior rollbacks of environmental standards, and revoking the permits for the Keystone XL Pipeline, setting a tone for his plans for a complete overhaul of US climate policy.

As a major part of global climate policy, the Paris Climate Agreement was voted on in 2015 in an attempt to limit global warming to at least 2℃ and preferably 1.5℃. Each of the 200 countries who signed on were asked to set emission targets. However, former President Trump withdrew the United States from the Agreement, citing negative economic effects of cutting carbon emissions. In a complete reversal of policy, Biden commenced the 30-day formal re-entry process upon being inaugurated.

Dr. John Mathiason, a Cornell University Professor of International Affairs and the Deputy Director of the Division for the Advancement of Women for the UN, says that Biden’s actions are a big step forward for our nation’s climate policy and for the global fight against climate change, especially given that the US has historically emitted the largest amount of greenhouse gases.

“Rejoining the Paris Agreement is essential since climate change can only be solved if all of the main emissions producers are on-board, both politically and financially,” said Mathiason.

In an article published by the BBC, former EU Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard agreed that this was an important event, saying that “there is a real possibility of having a real restart of the whole global climate agenda now.”

In confronting Trump’s relaxing of environmental regulations and approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, Biden has demonstrated on the world’s stage the US’s new commitments to environmental policy.

Mathiason adds that these policies along with Biden’s future plans should be used to improve the Paris Agreement.

“The Paris Agreement targets are already insufficient and need to be resolved. The US should become a leader in revising them to be effective, using its own new policies as an argument,” said Mathiason.

In his article published by The Hill, Paul Bodnar, the former White House Climate Lead in the Obama National Security Council and current managing director for the Rocky Mountain Institute, agrees that specific subnational policies can be used to assist the Paris Agreement. 

“This partnership between federal and non-federal entities should also extend to the international stage. Showcasing states and cities in our new 2030 national climate target under the Paris Agreement presents an opportunity to encourage similar approaches in other countries,” said Bodnar.

Since his first day in office, Biden has doubled down on his goals of completely carbon-free energy by 2035 and net-zero emissions by 2050.

Biden has announced that federal agencies will eliminate all fossil fuel subsidies and that every federal infrastructure investment will aim to reduce climate pollution. Additionally, according to a White House fact sheet, “a National Climate Task Force, assembling leaders from across 21 federal agencies and departments [has been created] to enable a whole-of-government approach to combating the climate crisis.” 

Bodnar agrees that that cohesive, comprehensive approach is necessary. “Analysis by America’s Pledge, which assesses U.S. climate action and its impacts, examined potential emissions reductions under a realistic set of political and legal conditions. It found that only an ‘all-in’ climate strategy—comprehensive federal climate action built on top of and complementing action at all other levels of government and society—can align the United States with science-based targets and avoid the worst impacts of climate change,” he wrote.

When considered as a whole, Cornell Professor Emeritus Daniel P. Loucks says that Biden’s approach gives him hope that the United States can work towards an effective “all-in” strategy.

“In general Biden’s actions so far make me optimistic that just maybe we will become a leading example of what other developed countries should be doing and thinking about to preserve what we can of our environment before too much climate damage occurs – and at the same time improving our infrastructure and creating jobs that relate to transitioning to a more renewable energy sector and cleaner air and water,” said Loucks.

“It’s refreshing after the past four years of taking the opposite path,” he added.

While Biden has passed many executive actions, radical legislation may still be difficult to enact, especially given the 50-50 split in the Senate. 

However, the difficulties lie not just with politicians but also with citizens refusing to adopt aggressive legislation to stop climate change, says Mathiason.

“The main problem is that a large segment of one party is opposed to legislation because they feel it might affect their constituencies.  They need to be shown and convinced that the negative effects are very short-term and the positive effects of the legislation are largely mid- to long-term,” said Mathiason. 

“They also need to be shown that it is good policy to enact them now, but it is important to include some elements to mitigate the short-term negatives,” he added.

Those economic negatives often revolve around jobs. In an interview with the Washington Post, Adams County Commissioner Ty Pell discussed the ramifications of the replacement of 2 coal-fired power plants and the 500 jobs they provided with solar farms that require far fewer employees.

“We’re all for renewables and stuff like that, but at the end of the day, people have to make a living,” said Pell.

Anthony Leiserowitz, senior research scientist and director of the Yale Program on Climate Communication, agreed that jobs will be a major issue during an interview with CNBC.

“Americans don’t want to leave these communities behind. Americans have big hearts on this. But how do we do it? It doesn’t just mean unemployment benefits and making coal workers wind technicians. That most likely won’t be most of them, and they also don’t want to leave West Virginia, or Texas or Oklahoma. They have generations invested. We need to bring the opportunity to them,” he said.

However, while there will be many difficulties, Bodnar believes that America has the potential to confront those issues.

“Making up for four years of lost time will not be an easy task for the Biden administration. But by harnessing the full power of American society and government at all levels, we can show the world what true climate leadership looks like. Nothing less will be required to meet the greatest challenge of our time,” he said.

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