by Jeevan Shemar
As a result of the 2020 presidential election¹ in the United States of America, Joe Biden was elected as the 46th President of the US². Owing to the position of the US as the world’s second biggest emitter of greenhouse gases³ and its status as the biggest economy in the world⁴, its approach to environmental policy will have significant implications in relation to the climate crisis⁵. Therefore, as head of government of the US⁶, Biden’s environmental policy platform, and the political reality of its implementation, will be important factors in determining how the climate crisis is tackled.
The Biden Plan for a Clean Energy Revolution and Environmental Justice:
In summary, Biden’s climate policy platform is mainly composed of The Biden Plan for a Clean Energy Revolution and Environmental Justice⁷. This policy programme consists of nine key elements⁸: taking immediate executive action, achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, investing in innovation, investing in infrastructure, creating jobs, holding polluters accountable, prioritising environmental justice, supporting communities through the transition to clean energy, engaging in international cooperation.
Immediate Executive Action:
Biden pledges that, as President, he will issue executive orders⁹ that impose methane¹⁰ (a greenhouse gas) pollution limits on oil and gas operations, that develop fuel economy standards¹¹, and that protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge¹² (a large area of land in Alaska that is inhabited by a variety of wildlife). Also, Biden proposes that his government will not allow new oil and gas leases to be granted over¹³ public lands and waters. This means that the practice of fracking¹⁴ (a method of underground drilling which is used to acquire oil and gas) will be restricted on federal land— though this will only have a limited effect¹⁵.
Net-Zero Emissions By 2050:
Biden pledges that, within his first year as President, he will work with the US Congress¹⁶ to enact legislation that sets a net-zero emissions target for the United States, to be achieved by the year 2050. This legislation would establish legally binding targets, one of which being entirely carbon-free US electricity production by the year 2035.
Investment In Innovation:
Biden pledges to invest $400 billion in clean energy and innovation, over the span of ten years. This involves establishing a research agency¹⁷ that focuses on developing environmentally clean technologies. He also proposes investing in energy and climate research, and demanding that Congress enact legislation that incentivises the usage of clean energy innovations in various sectors of the economy. These proposals are aimed at assisting the US to achieve his proposed target of net-zero emissions by 2050.
Investment In Infrastructure And Technology:
Biden intends to invest in climate change-resilient infrastructure, in order to facilitate the adoption of clean technologies and the phasing out of traditional energy sources. As an overarching principle, Biden suggests that every infrastructure development project that receives federal funding should minimise any environmentally detrimental effects as much as possible.
Biden pledges to invest, over the course of his four year term in office, 2 trillion USD in infrastructure development — upgrading buildings, forms of transportation, water systems, energy infrastructure — in order to render the US more energy efficient and better able to withstand the effects of climate change. He proposes setting a target of reducing the carbon footprint¹⁸ of the US building stock (all the buildings in the US) 50% by the year 2035, in order to incentivise the retrofitting of clean power generation across the country. He also proposes changing the agricultural sector of the US economy to be the first in the world to achieve net-zero emissions.
Biden proposes that transportation infrastructure investments should focus on public transportation, by constructing new, and developing current railroad systems in order to reduce their pollution emission levels, and to better connect communities to each other. He also proposes investing in the manufacture of electric vehicles and charging points — and working with local governments across the US in order to facilitate the installation of 500,000 public charging outlets by the end of 2030. Additionally, he proposes that his government will provide financial incentives to consumers in order to encourage them to use environmentally cleaner cars.
Biden pledges that his climate policies will create 10 million jobs for American workers, across various different industries. He states that these jobs will be created in communities across the country, in both rural and metropolitan areas, and that they will be able to join a trade union¹⁹ and to bargain collectively²⁰.
Holding Polluters Accountable:
Biden pledges to take action against polluters who knowingly harm the environment. For example, he proposes directing both the Environmental Protection Agency²¹ and the Department of Justice²² to pursue anti-pollution cases (such as legal proceedings regarding the violation of water pollution standards²³) to their fullest extent. He suggests that, if necessary, his government will pursue additional legislation that enables corporate executives to receive prison sentences in anti-pollution cases, in order to better hold powerful individuals to account.
Biden pledges to ensure that federal agencies²⁴ adopt community-centric strategies in order to solve environmental injustices²⁵ which affect low-income communities, indigenous communities²⁶ and non-White communities. This involves these communities receiving preference in the competitive grant programmes established by The Biden Plan because the detrimental effects (on health, economic well being, quality of life) of climate change are more acutely felt by those communities²⁷.
Additionally, Biden proposes that his government will develop water infrastructure and upgrade current water supply systems so that safe drinking water is accessible to all.
Supporting Communities Through The Clean Energy Transition:
Biden pledges to support the workers and communities affected by the transition from fossil fuels to cleaner sources of energy. For example, he proposes investing in communities that are impacted by the energy transition (such as coal miners and power plant workers and their families) by implementing legislation that protects their pension and health benefits, and by establishing a Task Force on Coal and Power Plant Communities. He states that the latter proposal will allow the affected communities to access federal investment funds, therefore facilitating the creation of unionised jobs in the local area. Additionally, he suggests collaborating with trade unions and community colleges²⁸ in order to establish training opportunities for these new jobs.
Biden pledges to rejoin the Paris Agreement²⁹ on his first day in office³⁰. The Agreement is an international treaty³¹ (though it is not completely legally binding³²) that has been ratified by nearly 200 countries³³. Essentially³⁴, it aims to limit the increase in the global temperature to well-below 2°C (Article 2) through requiring states to set nationally determined contributions³⁵ — essentially, the domestic targets of individual states which form aspects of their national environmental policy programme (Article 4). It also aims to encourage states to formulate and implement National Adaptation Plans³⁶, in order to ensure they are able to withstand the effects of climate change (Article 7), and to encourage the development of technologies that can be used to tackle climate change (Article 10).
Towards the end of 2020, then president Donald Trump formally withdrew³⁷ the United States from the Paris Agreement. However, Biden pledges that his government will rejoin the Agreement, therefore recommitting the US to its targets under the Agreement — such as reducing its greenhouse emissions by 26–28% below the level of emissions in 2005³⁸.
In addition to rejoining the Paris Agreement, Biden pledges to hold a climate-focused world summit in the first 100 days of his presidency. He intends to use this summit to persuade the international community to set more ambitious national pledges for themselves that go beyond their current commitments. Biden also pledges to integrate climate change into foreign policy, national security strategies and approaches to trade. This involves deeming climate change to be a core national security priority, and therefore treating it as a threat multiplier³⁹ — meaning that it is regarded as a phenomenon that exacerbates existing geopolitical and environmentally-related risks.