President Joe Biden has his work cut out for him when it comes to climate change when he assumes office on Jan. 20.
The world has less than 10 years to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, overhaul the global economy, and reverse biodiversity decline as part of the United Nations’ Global Goals.
As the largest historic emitter of greenhouse gas emissions, it is important for the US to take a leading role in this effort. The outgoing Trump administration stalled global progress by exiting the Paris climate agreement, ending key environmental regulations, and casting doubt on the science surrounding climate change.
Biden has already said he will prioritize the issue.
“Climate change is the existential threat to humanity,” the former vice president said in an interview with Pod Save America. “Unchecked, it is going to actually bake this planet. This is not hyperbole. It’s real. And we have a moral obligation.”
According to a new New York Times report, there is a lot the Biden administration can do to kick-start climate action.
Action Needed on an International Level
At the top of the list is (1) the Paris climate agreement. Biden can formally rejoin the global pact that faced a crisis of legitimacy when the Trump administration announced it was withdrawing from it in 2017. By renewing the US’s commitment to the pact, the Biden administration can signal to other countries that the US will support their efforts and invest in global mitigation and adaptation efforts. The president can also call on countries to join the US in increasing their climate commitments.
“I will put us back in the business of leading the world on climate change,” Biden said in a speech earlier this year. “And I will challenge everyone to up the ante on their climate commitments.”
The Biden team has promised to (2) convene world leaders to generate momentum on climate efforts in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. Countries around the world are drafting and implementing plans for green economic recoveries following the pandemic that would prioritize renewable sources of energy, improve the energy efficiency of homes, and transition workers in the fossil fuel industry to more sustainable sectors.
There are other ways the Biden administration can support global efforts around climate change. Biden has said he will (3) recommit to the UN’s Green Climate Fund, which will ensure that low-income countries that are highly vulnerable to climate shocks can adapt their infrastructure.
His administration can also also (4) work with international financial institutions to help low- and middle-income countries offload and restructure debt loads in the aftermath of COVID-19. Global Citizen has called for the wholesale reduction and elimination of sovereign debt obligations so that countries’ climate plans aren’t constrained in their COVID-19 recovery plans. Being freed of debt would allow countries to better invest in green economic recoveries.
The scientific consensus for climate action is unequivocal, but the political consensus has always wavered. By (5) becoming an outspoken champion for climate change, (6) deferring to scientists, and (7) elevating activists, Biden can spur other world leaders to more boldly join the effort to save the planet for future generations.
Action Needed on a Domestic Level
The Biden administration can take various climate actions on the domestic front within the first 100 days of his administration. Initially, the administration can focus on (8) reinstating dozens of climate regulations that were rolled back by the outgoing administration.
Biden can (9) appoint someone with scientific expertise to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, who can bring these regulations back to life and then work on crafting new ones that will both fight climate change and protect the environment.
The federal government has a budget of nearly $4.9 trillion. The president can (10) sign executive orders stipulating that the US must spend this money in ways that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. All federal agencies, for example, can be instructed to look for ways to reduce emissions, and federally-supported construction projects can be subjected to rigorous climate standards.
The most immediate ways the Biden administration can reduce emissions would be to (11) cap methane limits for new fossil fuel projects, (12) resurrect the Clean Power Plan, (13) reinstate fuel efficiency standards for cars, (14) restore efforts to improve the efficiency of buildings, and (15) forbid new oil drilling projects in offshore areas, according to the New York Times.
Biden can also follow through on his promise to (16) sign executive orders protecting 30% of US waters and land by 2030, a massive undertaking that would put the US in line with the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused historic disruptions to the US economy. In the months ahead, the Biden administration can (17) champion a green economic recovery that puts the US on the road toward achieving UN Global Goal 13: Climate Action.
A just recovery plan would first and foremost invest in communities that have been most heavily impacted by the virus, and those that are vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Further, this plan would put people back to work in renewable economic sectors and mobilize resources in ways that could accelerate the global transition to clean energy sources.
Acting decisively on climate change is one way that Biden plans to bring the country together.
“The unrelenting impact of climate change affects every single one of us,” Biden said in a recent speech. “But too often the brunt falls disproportionately on communities of color, exacerbating the need for environmental justice.”
“These are the interlocking crises of our time,” he added. “It requires action, not denial. It requires leadership, not scapegoating. It requires a president to meet the threshold duty of the office — to care for everyone. To defend us from every attack — seen and unseen. Always and without exception. Every time.”