The U.S leaves the Paris agreement for 77 days – What Biden’s victory means for the environment.
On the 5th of November 2020, the United States officially left the Paris Agreement. Joe Biden immediately tweeted his intention to return to the agreement as soon as possible meaning the US would have left the Paris Agreement for a grand total of 77 days. The world now waits to see how Joe Biden’s presidency might pull the U.S back from a path that disregarded the environment and denied climate change.
Trump’s legacy on the environment
Citing an ‘anti-growth’ agenda, the Trump administration rejected and challenged many of Obama’s policies that required businesses to improve their environmental impact.
This included EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) regulations on toxic air pollution, revoking flood standards for development, and an executive order to increase logging by 30%. The rolling back of environmental policies was justified as enabling direct or indirect benefits to the economy. Some agreed with this balance between the environment and the economy yet many others, including environmental scientists, did not.
The Paris Agreement – the aim for zero carbon
The primary goal of the Paris Agreements is to keep the average global temperature well below 2C above pre-industry levels. It is a landmark agreement, recognised by nearly every nation, that aims to strengthen the global response to Climate Change by reducing emissions. When Trump announced his withdrawal from the agreement in June 2017 it sent shockwaves across the international community. It also raised multiple concerns including whether other countries might follow suit and ‘slow-down’ their efforts. With the US placing 2nd in the world for emitting emissions per capita, concern rested heavily on how its withdrawal could impact the goal itself.
What Biden plans to do – what does this change?
Biden has immediately vowed to return the US to the Paris agreement, something that would take only 1 month to initiate. The US return to the international fold means some key progress can be made. Notably, the US would join Japan, the EU and the UK in its commitment to reaching carbon net-zero by 2050. Biden wants to achieve this by encouraging advances in green technology, spending heavily on upgrading buildings and investing in electric vehicles. With the US accounting for a high percentage of global emissions, its adherence to the goal of carbon net-zero would have a significant and positive impact.
A US commitment to the Paris agreement also holds diplomatic weight, potentially influencing other countries to raise their standards of zero-emissions targets. Within the International sphere, its return is broadly seen as a positive move. Not just because of its political weight as a ‘big player’ but also because it signals a stronger global accord to tackling climate change, an accord that may have felt fragile over the last 4 years.
Struggles in the Senate
However certain challenges remain for the Biden administration. The Republican party currently has a majority in the US Senate, although this may yet change to give Democrats more control. However, it is still unlikely that an ambitious spending plan on green policies will pass smoothly through Congress.
It remains to be seen how easily and quickly Biden can enact environmental policies, yet with a growing minority of Republicans as well as young people deeply concerned with the environment, the prospect of success seems more in reach than before,
The Guardian, (12th November 2020) The Guardian view on Biden and the climate crisis: fight for net-zero, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/nov/12/the-guardian-view-on-biden-and-the-climate-crisis-fight-for-net-zero
M, McGarth,. (10th November 2020) Joe Biden: How the president-elect plans to tackle climate change https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-54858638
M, McGarth, (4th November 2020) Climate change: the US formally withdraws from Paris agreement https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-54797743
D, Dune, (5th November 2020) What would a Biden victory mean for the climate crisis? https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/biden-climate-change-plan-paris-b1614408.html
Biden Harris (2020) The Biden Plan to build modern, sustainable infrastructure and an equitable clean energy future, https://joebiden.com/clean-energy/#
World Population Review (2020) CO2 Emissions by Country 2020, https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/co2-emissions-by-country