US President Joe Biden announced on Wednesday a suite of executive actions he'll sign over the coming weeks that are aimed at tackling climate change, in response to rapidly escalating climate impacts across the country and breakdowns in legislative talks for long-awaited environmental policy.
Biden spoke under the sweltering sun in front of Brayton Point Power Station, an old coal power plant in Somerset, Massachusetts, that has since been converted into a factory to support offshore wind manufacturing.
He described the range of executive actions that will unleash billions in federal investment to bolster infrastructure from climate risks in vulnerable areas, lower cooling costs for communities affected by extreme heat, expand offshore wind opportunities, and develop workplace safety standards for dealing with higher temperatures.
“This Congress, notwithstanding the leadership of the men and women that are here today, has failed in its duty,” Biden said. “So let me be clear: Climate change is an emergency. And in the coming weeks, I’m going to use the power I have as president to turn these words into formal, official government actions for the appropriate proclamations, executive orders, and regulatory power that the president possesses.
“Again, it sounds like hyperbole, [but] our children and grandchildren are counting on us,” he continued. “If we don’t keep it below 1.5 degrees centigrade, we lose it all. You don’t get to turn it around. And the world is counting on us.”
My message today is loud and clear: Since Congress is not acting on the climate emergency, I will.— President Biden (@POTUS) July 20, 2022
And in the coming weeks my Administration will begin to announce executive actions to combat this emergency.
Even though the president called climate change an “emergency” and that he "will look at it that way," he stopped short of officially declaring a climate emergency under the National Emergency Act (NEA). This would have set the stage for much bolder climate actions, according to an open letter to President Biden signed by Sens. Jeff Merkley, Bernie Sanders, Edward Markey, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Sheldon Whitehouse, Brian Schatz, Martin Heinrich, and Alex Padilla.
“Declaring the climate crisis a national emergency under the NEA would unlock powers to rebuild a better economy with significant, concrete actions,” the senators wrote.
“Under the NEA, you could redirect spending to build out renewable energy systems on military bases, implement large-scale clean transportation solutions, and finance distributed energy projects to boost climate resiliency. All of these actions would employ Americans in new and emerging industries while securing American leadership in global markets.”
The letter calls on Biden to direct federal agencies to take new actions to limit emissions, promote renewable energy, and invest in a cleaner planet.
In his speech on Wednesday, Biden emphasized the necessity of transforming the workforce to shift away from pollution-heavy industries toward renewable energy and conservation. This would generate millions of jobs over the next several years, he said.
Biden also discussed the environmental threats facing the country.
In recent months, the US has witnessed extreme weather events and natural disasters. National parks have faced devastating droughts, fires, and flooding events. More than 100 million Americans currently face extreme heat warnings. Crucial sources of water have dried up.
"The reason these heat waves are happening is because of the climate crisis, and the connection is clearer than ever between fossil fuel companies, their obscene profits, government inaction, and the drastic impact being felt by millions,” May Boeve, executive director of 350.org, said in a statement. “This is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to extreme and unpredictable weather events, which are contributing to inflation by raising food prices, weakening our economy, wrecking the country and ruining the planet.
"This is not about a few random events, this is about regular extreme occurrences and life-threatening impacts, which are growing worse every year,” she said. “We need to future-proof our workplaces and homes, and adjust our laws to adapt to this new, hotter reality in order to support those already suffering from the impacts of extreme weather.”
It’s not just the US; brutal heat waves are overwhelming parts of Europe, after having scorched parts of India and Pakistan in May and June. Forest fires are proliferating, sea levels are rising, and extreme weather events are becoming the norm.
Globally, more than 2,200 governments have declared climate emergencies in an estimated 39 countries, according to Climate Emergency Declaration and Mobilization in Action (CEDAMIA).
Scientists warn that these developments are just a glimpse of the future that awaits humanity unless urgent action is taken to phase out fossil fuels and extractive industries and invest in a just transition.
That’s why the Biden administration is acting with a new sense of urgency, unable to wait any longer for Congress to deliver on basic climate pledges. The new executive actions could help the Biden administration follow through on its pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030 compared to 2005 levels, as well as power the federal government with 100% clean energy by 2050.
But Congressional passage of the climate provisions of the budget reconciliation bill remains necessary, and formally declaring a climate emergency would enable Biden to take bolder action. The more the US delays, the worse the harms will be for people in the country and worldwide.
Take action now by signing our petition to urge President Biden to declare a climate emergency.