12 November 2020

Can Biden offer a U-Turn in US Climate Action?

President-elect Biden campaigned on an ambitious, yet much-needed, green energy plan to tackle climate change, with the objective of the US reaching net zero emissions by 2050.

This action will undoubtedly make difference in the voting intentions especially of younger voters. Indeed, his climate agenda churns up hope for a very different stance on climate change compared to previous US administrations. He has promised to re-join the Paris Agreement and to put some USD 2 trillion (£1.6tn) toward creating carbon-free electricity by 2035 along with a huge boost to low carbon technology and job creation. Biden is also proposing to adopt climate change tariffs on traded goods against countries that are not reducing their emissions, in line with the Paris Agreement. As a result, international morale will certainly be boosted. 

He has promised to rejoin the Paris Agreement and to put some USD 2 trillion (£1.6tn) toward creating carbon-free electricity by 2035 and net-zero emissions by 2050.

But how will he convince both Houses of Congress of his plans, especially if the Senate retains its Republican majority? We have heard of proactive climate platforms before from recent Democrat presidents and contenders alike, yet never has any significant climate change legislation actually been adopted at federal level. That said, the subnational level has long been more proactive. This is demonstrated, for example, by the ‘We Are Still In’ coalition that now includes almost 4,000 US states, cities, businesses, universities, communities of faith, tribal groups, among others. And it covers the innovative bipartisan US Climate Alliance that includes some 25 governors committed to meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement.

Given the deadlines under the Paris Agreement to update nationally determined contributions (NDCs) every five years, Biden will have to come up with a US revision of its existing NDC early next year, as required by Paris, and in line for COP26 in Glasgow next November. He will have no time to spare to convince the rest of the world of his genuine dedication to the cause of addressing climate change and raising the global ambitions alongside other high emitters including China, India, Japan and the EU. 

Heike Schroeder, Professor of Environmental Governance at UEA