Soon after assuming office, US President Joe Biden announced an ambitious plan to tackle climate change – an important part of his election agenda. Among the executive orders he signed last Wednesday, one of the most significant orders deals with climate change.
During his campaign for the presidential elections, Biden proposed a $2 trillion spending plan to deal with climate change that includes promoting clean energy and climate-friendly infrastructure.
As per a study published by the Pew Research Center in June 2020, over two-thirds of Americans think that the government should do more on climate change and about 63 per cent of Americans believe that climate change is affecting their local communities.
In November last year, Biden named John Kerry, who served as Secretary of State under former President Barack Obama and is one of the leading architects of the Paris Climate Agreement, as his special presidential envoy for climate change. His appointment was significant as it was seen as Biden’s commitment to keep his promise to work on climate change.
Under former President Donald Trump’s administration, the US officially left the Paris deal just a day after the general elections on November 4, 2020. However, since being appointed President, Biden has already written to the UN requesting that the US rejoin the agreement.
On January 26, the UNDP released a report based on the “largest survey of public opinion” on climate change that included 1.2 million respondents from 50 countries. One of the major findings of this survey was that even during the pandemic, there was widespread recognition of climate change as a global emergency in every country surveyed, the report says. The 50 countries include India, UK, US, Sweden, Thailand, Turkey, Australia, Sri Lanka and others.
In his first address as the presidential climate envoy, Kerry said last week that “we really don’t have a minute to waste” and that “failure is not an option” when it comes to climate change. He also spoke of the road ahead, which includes creating “millions of middle-class jobs”, improving the quality of air and improving the lives of citizens all over the world.
The order signed by Biden on Wednesday establishes climate considerations as an important part of US foreign policy and national security, which means understanding the effects of climate change on security and integrating climate considerations in international work.
Significantly, one of the broad goals of the climate change agenda under the Biden administration is to attain a steady growth in clean energy employment. In his first address, Kerry mentioned that in the US, over 3.3 million new workers have been put into clean energy jobs in the last five years and that India has seen a five-fold increase in clean energy jobs over the same period.
Biden also cancelled the Keystone XL pipeline project on his first day in office. The pipeline project was the proposed fourth phase of the Keystone Pipeline network between Canada and the US, which aims to cut short the distance between Alberta’s oil sands and the Texas Gulf Coast, where most of North America’s refineries are situated. The first three phases of the project are complete and carry 5.5 lakh barrels of oil every day from Canada to the US via a longer route.
Different groups opposed this project including environmentalists who argued that if the pipeline was built it would increase North America’s reliance on fossil fuels and Native Americans opposed it since they feared that the pipeline construction would affect water supplies upstream. There was also opposition from residents of the state of Nebraska where leaks from the pipeline could threaten the Ogallala Aquifer, among the world’s largest freshwater reserves which provides drinking water to 20 lakh people in eight US states.
As per the Centre for Law, Energy and Environment at Berkeley Law, the Biden administration can reverse nearly 200 rollbacks initiated by the Trump administration, which include repealed light bulb efficiency standards for general service incandescent lamps, reversing the revocation of an Obama-era order designed to preserve the ocean, coastal and Great Lake waters, resuming payments to the Green Climate Fund, a UN program to help poorer countries reduce carbon emissions (the US had pledged $3bn) and reversing a proclamation that reduced the size of monuments from 85 per cent to 50 per cent, leaving the rest of the area open to mining, oil and gas drilling.