What's Next For the American Climate Agenda?
Updated: Dec 1, 2020
On Saturday 7th November 2020, it was projected that Joseph R. Biden and Senator Kamala would become the next President and Vice President of the United States of America. It was a momentous day for us all, whether you’re in favour of Biden or not; and was celebrated the world over. We saw social media erupt in an explosion of memes and crowds singing the now infamous, “You About To Lose Your Job” by Eklectik as Donald Trump returned to the White House after a game of golf. On the whole, it was a day of celebration (for those fans of
democracy) but it has definitely left a lot of us thinking about what will come next and what this means for the planet...?
Under the Trump administration there were so many changes, including that of immigration laws, healthcare and environmental legislation. Shortly after his inauguration, Trump gave the go-ahead for the construction of several oil pipeline projects. During the previous administration, President Obama had taken a significant number of administrative steps to increase regulation and enforcement of environmental protections. These new regulations were met with objections by the Republican Congress and 4 years later, it appeared that Mr Trump was working to undo any positive changes that Obama has set in motion, including withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, agreed in December 2015, by former President Obama and other prominent world leaders.
America officially began their withdrawal from the Paris Agreement towards the end of Trump’s term with them making their final exit November 4th 2020, just one day after the election. This move is seen as a further blemish on the credibility of the current administration, alienating them in front of the world stage, as the only national government to turn their backs on global efforts against climate change and the reduction of greenhouse gases.
You may be sitting here thinking “What is the Paris Agreement anyway?!”. Well, this landmark environmental deal, agreed to by nearly every nation in 2015 addresses the ever growing issue of climate change. This agreement includes commitments from the higher polluting nations to cut their pollution and to further strengthen those commitments over time. There are a number of reasons why it is imperative that the U.S rejoin the agreement. For starters, nearly every country on the planet joined back in 2015, with the agreement breaking records by gaining 175 signatures in one day, with the U.S. paving the way in many respects, it cannot be seen to be pulling out of the race now. Biden’s plans to create jobs (discussed later) only solidifies the fact that being part of the Agreement will help the economy - with the U.S seeing a steep increase in the number of jobs in the solar industry as they seek alternatives to fossil fuels in renewable energy. Countries like China planned to spend more that $360 billion on renewable energy this year, meaning that they will be the dominant player in this sector and if the U.S wants to compete, they’ve got to be in it, to win it!
Prior to the announcement of the Democrat’s victory, Biden remarked that rejoining the Paris Agreement would be one of the first acts under his Presidency. He tweeted that “in exactly 77 days, a Biden administration will rejoin it”, giving those of us concerned with the climate crisis, a glimmer of hope. Some may say that his plans are a little average, but if enforced, will be the most dynamic climate strategy ever seen in the U.S.
Biden is pledging a Clean Energy Revolution, a structural plan that culminates in the United States becoming the world’s clean energy superpower. He believes that if as a nation they adopt a clean energy future, then the world has a greater chance of future generations surviving to experience our great planet. He plans to “lead by example” ensuring that the U.S meets their target og 100% clean energy economy and net-zero emissions no later than 2050. Biden also wants to challenge the rest of the world to step up to the plate not only rejoining the Paris Agreement but encouraging leaders worldwide to recommit to their domestic targets. He also plans to stand up to those polluters who abuse their power and harm those areas with a high population of people of colour or low income communities. Using the Flint water crisis in Michigan as an example, he pledges to direct the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to hold those in power accountable in anti-pollution cases and ensure clean drinking water for all.
The final point in Biden’s Climate Change policy is to work with the communities and workers in industrial towns and invest in their communities to create jobs. As many coal mines and power plant workers lose their jobs, the Biden administration is set to invest around $400 billion over 10 years to enable the U.S. to pursue new technological advances to create jobs and further reduce emissions.
We should note that the topic of climate change isn’t new to the President Elect; way back in 1986, he introduced one of the first-ever climate change bills into the U.S. Congress, subsequently championing the Tropical Forest Conservation Act in 1998, allowing foreign governments to make agreements with the U.S. known as a debt-for-nature swap - where one government exchanges debt relief for the conservation of their tropical forest spaces.
In comparison, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (or AOC, as she is commonly called) and Senator Ed Markey have co-sponsored a different viewpoint with an environmental proposal to fight inequity and challenge climate change. Similar to that of the President elect, the Green New Deal sets in motion a number of steps to make the U.S Carbon-neutral, but unlike Biden’s proposal, this aspires that the U.S have net zero carbon emissions in 10 years time. The plans have been hailed by some and ridiculed by others, but no matter which side of the fence you sit, you can recognise how ambitious this task really is and understand the urgency. The plans provide no policy information regarding reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but endorses inclusion with the point that all communities - including those from lower economic, indigenous, or communities with higher populations with people of colour and represented in the planning process and can therefore benefit from the proposed changes.
In the weeks since the announcement of the new presidency, there have been a number of discussions and rallies, with many environmental activist groups and climate protestors putting pressure on the newly elected Biden ahead of his inauguration in January, to show that even though they support his ideals, they intend to ensure that the work gets done.
There has been some scrutiny over some of the pre-appointment hires he has made of some of the key staff, who have connections to the oil and gas industry. AOC was seen marching alongside protestors outside the Democrat’s headquarters in Washington DC. AOC echoed protesters' cries by demanding “that the Biden administration, which I believe is decent and kind and honourable, keep their promise”.
Many see that having a President who understands the threat that climate change has to our existence is a huge opportunity and with a handful of nations announcing net zero emissions targets in recent weeks, all eyes are now on the U.S. Democrats have become more united in the fight against climate change and with politicians and leaders such as Congresswoman AOC and Mr Biden leading the movement, they can begin to make the changes that both plans have laid out. With the cost of renewables dropping dramatically, the U.S can create the jobs it so desperately needs in that sector, ensuring that not only the transition from fossil fuels to renewables is as smooth as possible but the U.S regains its position as a key competitor in the fight against climate change.
This article was first posted on Eco-Age 26/11/2020 Bianca Foley