The United States of America, arguably the world’s most powerful country, has a new president-elect. And as expected, it was a most historic election, both in terms of voter participation and in the fact that Donald Trump has refused to concede on (unfounded) claims of voter fraud in state election results that has given Joe Biden the presidential win.
Putting Trump’s baseless claims of electoral fraud aside, with Joe Biden as president-elect, this represents not just a win for the Democrats but a win for global environmental justice… or is it? While the transition of power officially takes place in January, the hard work of forming a new government has already begun. There is no time to lose, especially as a mountain of challenges is facing US President-elect Joseph Robinette “Joe” Biden Jr.
Of course among the president-elect’s priorities is the fight against climate change.
Withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement
November 4, 2020, was a momentous date, not just because it was the day after the US elections when Americans and the whole world waited with bated breath for the presidential winner to be called. November 4 also marks the effectivity date for the formal withdrawal of US support from the Paris climate agreement – a year after Donald Trump sent a notification to the UN about his decision to leave and more than three years after the June 2017 press conference where he “vowed to exit the agreement“.
The Paris climate agreement is a pact among 197 nations to fight off climate change by cutting carbon emissions, the main culprit in trapping heat and causing the rise in global temperatures. Trump’s vow to leave the agreement created tension in the international community; the US is one of the most influential actors in the battle against climate change and there were fears it would set a precedent for other nations not to do their part in reducing carbon emissions.
Rejoining the Paris climate agreement
Even before his win, the president-elect has stated:
“In exactly 77 days, the Biden Administration will rejoin the Paris Agreement.”
The head of the US Natural Resources Defense Council, Gina McCarthy, said that “it’ll be time for the White House to finally get back to leading the charge against the central environmental crisis of our time”.
Climate action has been one of the key points of Biden’s campaign. He is set to launch the boldest climate change plan in history known as the ‘Clean Energy Revolution and Environmental Justice’. Among his main agenda are:
a) to build a resilient America;
b) for the US to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050;
c) lead the global fight against climate change;
d) make businesses and polluters accountable for the damage that they cause to our environment; and that
e) no workers and communities to be left behind as the US executes on this agenda.
Biden cited that his administration would allocate close to $2 trillion in federal investment in the next 10 years to enact these measures as he plans to overhaul US infrastructure to make sure that water, transportation, energy, and buildings will be able to withstand the effects of climate change.
Biden’s campaign plan will likely meet with challenges. While Democrats will likely keep control of the House, the Senate is another matter, to be ruled by Republicans. If Biden cannot get Congress’ support, he can pass executive orders to continue with his bold climate action plan as Barack Obama did during his time as president. However, the problem with this course of action is that the policies will have a hard time standing its ground under the scrutiny of the Supreme Court which has grown more conservative with Trump-appointed justice Amy Coney Barrett replacing the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Alliances for the climate
Despite the challenges, Biden will not be alone. Polls show that Americans from across the political divide support climate action. In other words, Biden has the support of the people when it comes to tackling climate change. As former US Vice-President Al Gore said:
“Joe Biden’s win ratifies what’s been clear all along: despite Trump’s best efforts, the American people have remained committed to the Paris agreement. Business, investors, cities, and states redoubled their efforts to solve the climate crisis, proving that the path to a sustainable economy is inevitable.”
And this is true. We’ve seen US companies such as Microsoft, Apple, IBM, AT&T, General Motors, and General Mills very much committed to mitigating their impact on the environment. Studies have also shown that almost 80% of Americans value sustainability and reducing environmental impact. Various states have also joined the US Climate Alliance and have led the way for climate action by executing on programs that will build resilient communities, clean energy economies, and improve public health. Together, they represent “55% of the US population, 40% of the US greenhouse gas emissions, and an $11.7 trillion economy.” No matter how divided the United States may seem, their shared concerns over climate change brings them together.
How about the rest of the world?
Biden had the support of the international community ever since he laid out his climate agenda. As soon as he was declared the winner of the US presidential elections, he received messages of support from the leaders of different nations.
President of Greece Katerina Sakellaropoulou even tweeted, “Congratulations to @JoeBiden, new President-Elect of the USA and @KamalaHarris, first female Vice-President. Looking forward to extending our cooperation and friendship under your presidency. Welcoming the US again to the #ParisAgreement on climate change is the first step!.”
Biden joins a coalition of countries committed to fighting climate change. Earlier this year, China, EU, Japan, and South Korea announced solid commitments to reduce their carbon emissions. With the Biden-led US joining these forces, this represents a significant shift in tackling the global issue.
Together, this coalition constitutes almost 75% of the world’s fossil fuel market and contribute half of global emissions. Their commitment to climate action will lead us closer to the goal of achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. But of course, it doesn’t end with these countries. The US has the power and influence to compel other nations to act quickly and reduce their respective carbon emissions in their respective countries including its allies such as Australia.
A time to heal the world
Joe Biden’s win does not guarantee immediate victory in the fight against climate change. In fact, there is also a battle against time. There’s little room for bitterness and divisiveness and while it may be difficult for the United States particularly given the political polarization observed in nation over the last four years, the country will need to find ways to unite over shared values, overcome its social instability, heal its hate and division – and then work with the rest of the world to fight what many are calling the battle of our lifetime.
- 10 of the Best Climate Action Policies to Date (That Other Countries Should Consider Adopting)
- The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: the Nations Leading and Failing on Climate Action
- Poor Filipino Fishermen are Making Millions Protecting Whale Sharks?
- Rise For Climate: Activists Call for 100% Clean Renewable Energy
- Concerned About The UN Climate Report? Take These Sustainable Actions Today…
- 14 Famous Female Leaders on Climate Change, Sustainability and Protecting Our Environment
- How to Have Better Arguments About the Environment (or Anything Else)
- 30 Things You Can Do If You’re Feeling Helpless About Climate Change
Cover image of US president-elect Joe Biden speaking with supporters in February 2020 at a community event at Sun City MacDonald Ranch in Henderson, Nevada. Photo by Gage Skidmore.