Stockholm (NordSIP) – The denial of climate change by the 45th President of the USA was one of the headline policies of the Trump administration. His withdrawal from the Paris Agreement in 2017 was a watershed moment in the fight against climate change. For a moment, the world held its breath wondering whether the struggle against climate change would simply crumble in the absence of American leadership.
Four years on, as newly elected President Joe Biden signed an executive order returning the USA to the Paris Agreement, the announcement was met with hope but not euphoria. While those concerned by the potentially catastrophic effects of climate change breathe a sigh of relief, efforts to limit global warming did not collapse under the weight of American neglect. At this stage, the world seems to no longer look towards the USA for leadership on climate change mitigation, merely support. In this, President Joe Biden may surprise on the upside.
The Biden Climate Plan
As Trump’s attacks on American political institutions continued to capture the world’s attention over the last weeks of his presidency, it was easy to forget that the incoming president actually has a climate change plan. The “Biden Plan” – as the Democratic candidate called it at the first presidential debate, to distinguish it from Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez’s broader Green New Deal – is worth trillions of US Dollars in public and private spending over the next ten years. Although history suggests that electoral agendas often dissolve when they reach the legislative stage, “The Biden Plan for a Clean Energy Revolution and Environmental Justice” has the benefit of setting occasionally clear quantitative goals against which future performance may be assessed.
The plan’s headline goal is to ensure the US becomes “a 100% clean energy economy” with “net-zero emissions no later than 2050”. To this end, Biden committed to “demand that Congress enacts legislation in the first year of his presidency that: 1) establishes an enforcement mechanism that includes milestone targets no later than the end of his first term in 2025, 2) makes a historic investment in clean energy and climate research and innovation, 3) incentivizes the rapid deployment of clean energy innovations across the economy, especially in communities most impacted by climate change.”
Biden’s plan also accounts for “a federal investment of $1.7 trillion over the next ten years, leveraging additional private sector and state and local investments to total more than $5 trillion.” The funds are to be channeled towards infrastructure invest. “Every dollar spent toward rebuilding our roads, bridges, buildings, the electric grid, and our water infrastructure will be used to prevent, reduce, and withstand a changing climate.”
This expenditure “will be paid for by reversing the excesses of the Trump tax cuts for corporations, reducing incentives for tax havens, evasion, and outsourcing, ensuring corporations pay their fair share, closing other loopholes in our tax code that reward wealth not work, and ending subsidies for fossil fuels.”
On the regulatory side, Biden is more vague but promised to pass and enforce regulation ensuring “that communities across the country from Flint, Michigan to Harlan, Kentucky to the New Hampshire Seacoast have access to clean, safe drinking water.”
Promising Early Action
The first 48 hours of the Biden presidency have seen a flurry of executive actions to undo the most controversial of Trump’s policies. Not only has he rejoined the Paris Agreement, he has also issued another executive order on climate change demanding government agencies take stock of the damage done during the last four years.
The presidential edict also commands all government departments to “immediately review and, as appropriate and consistent with applicable law, take action to address the promulgation of Federal regulations and other actions during the last 4 years that conflict with these important national objectives, and to immediately commence work to confront the climate crisis.”
A Unique Opportunity
As Trump realised when he attempted to erase Obamacare, the nature of American politics is such that even a majority in all branches of government does not guarantee the implementation of a president’s agenda. Not all Democrats in the House of Representatives and in the Senate are necessarily as comfortable with the increased corporate taxes and public debt necessary to fund Biden’s Climate plan. However, Biden does hold all the cards in his hands. If a climate plan does not pass in the next two years, then when?
Image: Official portrait of United States Vice President Joe Biden in his West Wing Office at the White House, Jan. 10, 2013. (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)