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News 21 January 2021

How the new US President plans to tackle the climate emergency

On 20 January 2021, Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States, with Kamala Harris making history as the nation’s first female vice-president. While the weeks leading up to the inauguration have been marred by restlessness and riots, Biden’s bold plans to tackle the climate emergency have nonetheless grabbed headlines.

The new president’s approach to climate change has been described as the most ambitious of any US president yet; he has promised that one of his first acts in office will be to recommit the US to the Paris Agreement, reversing the decision to remove America from the international accord.

We take a closer look at the Biden-Harris plan to tackle climate change which, if carried out, could turn out to be the most progressive climate strategy ever seen in the US.

Net zero by 2050

The cornerstone of Biden’s climate plan is to ensure the US achieves a 100% clean energy economy and net zero emissions by 2050. This includes a goal to produce carbon-free electricity by 2035, investing heavily in wind and solar energy to get the nation to net zero. More than 60 US utility companies have already set their own emission reduction goals, but this ambition will need to be supported by federal backing if the US is to reach zero emissions power generation within 15 years.

While he has yet to detail exactly how these landmark goals might be achieved, Biden’s climate proposal includes an injection of $2 trillion into clean energy to help the US shift to zero carbon electricity by 2035. Areas of investment are likely to include making energy efficiency improvements to buildings, expanding electric vehicle infrastructure, and offering financial incentives to consumers to purchase cleaner vehicles.

Other changes that will need to be implemented to reach net zero include:

  • ensuring that all US government installations, buildings and facilities are more energy efficient
  • helping consumers to save money and reduce emissions through new efficiency standards for appliances and buildings
  • using the federal government procurement system to drive towards 100% clean energy and zero emission vehicles
  • requiring public companies to disclose greenhouse gas emissions in their operations and supply chains

Recommit to the Paris Agreement

By November 2020, the outgoing  administration had dismantled several major climate policies and rolled back over 80 environmental rules governing clean air, water and wildlife, among others. Chief among these, however, was the decision to remove the US from the landmark Paris climate agreement, which aims to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Biden has confirmed that reversing the decision would be one of his first presidential acts, bringing the US back in line with global greenhouse gas emission reductions and setting a faster pace of change to tackle the climate emergency. Ensuring that the Paris agreement is implemented globally, and that countries meet their commitments, will be essential to protect our planet for future generations.

Take action against fossil fuels

Biden has said his administration will “take action against fossil fuel companies and other polluters who put profit over people” and knowingly cause harm to the environment. Subsidies for fossil fuels will be cut in the US and the money redirected to investment in clean energy infrastructure. The new president also plans to “secure a global commitment to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies” by the end of his first term, leading by example.

The new president’s early executive orders include one to cancel the Keystone XL oil pipeline permit, which he opposed in 2017 and pledged to cancel if he became president. The fourth phase of the mammoth pipeline project to transport oil from Alberta, Canada to Nebraska is facing legal challenges over environmental concerns.

It remains to be seen whether Biden’s bold plan to address the climate emergency will be enough to bring the US in line with global net zero targets by 2050. But his push to reposition the US as a leader in the international climate community, ahead of the critical UN COP26 climate summit hosted by the UK later this year, will be essential in the fight to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and tackle the climate emergency.

Last updated: 26 January 2021