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Joe Biden’s promises: why is he “the climate president”?

Last week, newly-elected President Biden signed executive orders rejoining the Paris agreement – the climate accord that Trump not just disregarded for years, but also recently withdrew from. Just hours after being sworn in as president, Biden pledged to put the full force of the federal government toward fighting global warming with a new strategic approach. Undoubtedly, Joe Biden plans to tackle climate change in a way that no US president has ever done before. What promises make him “the climate president”?

REJOINING THE PARIS CLIMATE AGREEMENT (done!). This way Biden leads to a major diplomatic effort to push other countries to do more on the climate crisis. The US is the largest historical emitter of greenhouse gases and ranked second in 2020 (after China), but tackling climate change would mean becoming a team with other world leaders. The administration’s pledge to pay global warming constant and comprehensive attention goes beyond domestic politics. There is a chance the US will take on a leadership role in climate protection and push ahead.

INVESTING $2 TRILLION IN CLEAN ENERGY OVER FOUR YEARS. Biden calls for setting a 100% (wow!) clean-electricity standard by 2035, a significant shift towards cutting the use of fossil fuels. The plan involves totally renovating the US auto industry, encouraging the manufactures to produce zero-emission electric vehicles. The new administration has been arguing that the climate plan will never set an ultimatum of “the economy or the planet”, but instead create millions of new jobs (over 3 million new workers have already found clean energy jobs in the last five years), build 1.5 million new energy-efficient homes, and advance social justice.

REVOKING AUTHORIZATION FOR KEYSTONE XL PIPELINE. The network that aims to cut short the distance between the US and Canada has been opposed for a number of reasons. The gas drilling would go through vast national monuments and protected areas in Utah, increase North America’s reliance on fossil fuels, affect water supplies upstream for Native Americans, and threaten the world’s largest freshwater reserves. The revision of the highly contested project signed by Trump will also require Joe Biden to set aggressive methane pollution limits for new oil and gas operations.

PERMANENTLY PROTECTING THE ARCTIC NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE. Biden opposes any oil activity in Arctic refuge after, in 2017, Trump issued leases in a part of the refuge considered sacred by the Indigenous communities. While the drilling development seems to boost oil production and generate revenue (which obviously should not be the main reason to make a decision), the Beaufort Sea provides a habitat for numbers of wildlife animals close to extinction – caribou, polar bears, wolves, and birds. The administration will call for a new comprehensive environmental review in the areas that should be off limits to drilling.

SECURING ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE. Biden’s administration has acknowledged that the energy and environmental policy decisions of the past have failed communities of colour. Most factories, refineries, landfills, and factory farms that tend to expose their residents to health risks from pollution have been put in Black, brown, and poor communities for decades (one of the consequences of systematic racism in laws, policies, and institutions). Biden has promised that no less than 40% of the benefits from federal investments in clean energy and clean water will go to communities that bear disproportionate pollution. Biden also pledged to make his policies accountable to the people, not to corporations.

USING HIS WHOLE GOVERNMENT TO TAKE ON CLIMATE CHANGE. Joe Biden sticks to an “all-of-government” strategy, which means assuring that all federal agencies have their part in cutting nationwide greenhouse gas emissions. Although the past administrations used to dedicate only the Environmental Protection Agency to climate issues, every agency is a climate agency now. The federal agencies playing a role in Biden’s environmental agenda includes the Interior department (to conserve one-third of all land and water by 2030), the Energy Department (to conduct lean energy research and development programs), the Defense e Department (to purchase clean and resilient energy technologies), the Treasury Department (to require institutions to weigh climate risk in their investments), the Agriculture Department (to pay farmers and forest landowners to reduce and offset emissions through a credit program), the Education Department (to assist in the electrification of bus fleets and greening of school buildings), and the Justice Department (to prioritize federal civil cases with a climate focus and to negotiate supplemental climate projects in settlements with polluters).

Environmentalists call the day Joe Biden got elected as “the single biggest day for climate action in more than a decade”. The US has finally got a leader it deserves – someone who perceives climate change as “an existential threat” and wants to make the environmental agenda central. President Biden has got the boldest climate plan in US history and it finally gives some hope for a greener future.

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