Former Vice President Joe Biden defeated incumbent President Donald Trump in the 2020 election on Nov. 7. After four years of neglect regarding the urgent necessity for climate policy in the United States, Biden is determined to combat this crisis head-on with an in-depth plan.
From rising sea levels to an increase in extreme weather events, climate change has become a severe and immediate threat to human civilization. According to NASA, it is more than 95% likely that the cause of climate change is entirely anthropogenic. According to a 2014 study conducted by the EPA, the U.S. is responsible for 15% of worldwide emissions, despite only having 4% of the world’s population. Additionally, a 2020 Yale University study showed the U.S. ranks 24th in the environmental performance index, significantly lower than other industrialized countries.
“Climate change is the number one issue facing humanity,” Biden said in an Oct. 24 interview with Crooked Media. Biden’s history with environmental protections includes introducing one of the first climate change bills to the Senate in 1986 and overseeing the Recovery Act of 2009.
As climate change is a time-sensitive issue, the Biden administration will need to work quickly to make meaningful progress. It is expected that during his administration, Biden will reverse the damage done by the Trump administration on environmental policy. In March 2017, Trump signed an executive order that dismantled former President Barack Obama’s prior climate efforts in order to revive the coal industry. Biden is expected to replace this with an executive order that will “[declare] his administration’s intention to cut greenhouse gases and instruct all government agencies to look for ways to do so,” according to Lisa Friedman, a climate reporter at The New York Times, in a Nov. 8 report. Fossil fuel and oil companies that were given extensive leniency by the Trump administration will now be faced with stricter environmental regulations from the Biden administration.
However, just reversing the Trump administration’s policies will not be enough. While working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, “the U.S. should [also] be urgently working towards building a society that is more resilient to the impacts of ongoing climate change,” said Paul Loikith, the director of the Portland State Climate Science Lab. Biden’s plan will need to focus on the future of the planet while also managing the consequences of past inaction.
The Biden Plan, as outlined on the administration’s website, includes an ambitious goal of obtaining a 100% clean economy and net-zero emissions by 2050. The Biden administration intends to reach this goal by creating a fully-formed milestone plan by 2025 and by making a $2 trillion investment. The Biden Plan also vows to develop “regional climate resilience plans” that are intended to create infrastructure that is able to withstand the changing climate with the help of local universities and national labs.
Biden will also fully integrate environmental protections into foreign policy and national security with the intention of pushing climate change to the forefront of global issues. He stated that on day one of his administration, the U.S. will rejoin the Paris Agreement. This decision will ensure the U.S. remains an active participant in the global effort to slow climate change following Trump’s decision in 2017 to withdraw the country from the agreement.
Other day-one initiatives include aggressive limits on methane pollution, utilization of the Clean Air Act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions of transportation, the creation of new appliance and building efficiency standards and the protection of biodiversity through the conservation of 30% of U.S. water and land by 2030.
The Biden Plan is also majorly focused on environmental justice. Biden intends to hold polluters responsible for the disproportionate impact that their pollution has on low-income communities. He will ensure that communities across the U.S. will have access to clean drinking water, specifically naming Flint, Michigan to Harlan, and Kentucky to the New Hampshire sea coast as prioritized areas.
Finally, by making a $400 billion investment into clean energy research over the next decade, Biden intends to fund technological innovations that will reduce carbon emissions and result in the development of new jobs.
Despite the ambitious scope of The Biden Plan and the U.S.’s economic ties to the fossil fuel industry, experts project that Biden’s objectives are reasonable and achievable. Scott Seagal, partner at energy-focused law firm Bracewell said in an Oct. 25 interview with NPR Biden’s plan is “somewhat comfortable” because it’s possible to “sketch out that linear commitment to additional resources to achieve [his] objectives.” Seagal additionally noted the future of business is already on a path that fits the additional resources that Biden plans to implement. Jenny Marienau Zimmer of the climate activism group 350 Action said later in the interview “this is the strongest plan yet” from a president-elect, particularly commending his plan to stop leasing public land to fossil fuel companies. Zimmer noted she wants to see Biden go further and “create a true phase-out for the entire fossil fuel industry over the course of the next decade.”
It is essential that efforts to combat climate change begin immediately, but a split Senate led by Kentucky senator Mitch McConnell, a historically conservative politician with a close relationship to the Trump administration, could interfere with Biden’s plans. “The Biden campaign has listed the right things, but the difference between listing things and implementing those things is a big difference,” said Amy Myers Jaffe, managing director of the Climate Policy Lab at Tufts University, to NPR.