May 14, 2021 | ACTIVE LIFE | By Avery Colborn | Illustration by Patil Khakhamian
The Biden-Harris administration has made history in pledging to make the fight against climate change a top priority. So far, it seems like it is staying true to that promise.
Here is an overview of the Biden administration’s policy and agenda on climate, including actions that have already been taken as well as plans that are in development.
Within his first 100 days, President Biden signed several executive orders to begin working towards establishing stronger climate policies, which included rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement.
One of the administration’s main goals is to implement a “whole-of-government” approach to tackling the climate crisis. In addition to creating a National Climate Task Force, this approach expects all federal agencies to contribute to the administration’s climate goals and conduct a review of all regulations, orders and documents passed during the Trump administration.
Any specific Trump-era rules affecting greenhouse gas emissions have been assigned a set deadline for completed review between March and September 2021.
In addition to the “government-wide” approach, these first executive orders have also set energy goals, such as reaching net-zero emissions within the electricity sector by 2035, as well as taking land-based approaches to combating climate change and restricting oil and gas development.
After releasing a pledge to reduce carbon emissions by 50% (compared to 2005 levels) by 2030 and to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, it appears that the administration plans on making significant efforts to combat the U.S. contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions.
“The Biden administration has the strongest climate commitment of any president of the U.S., ever,” said Corina McKendry, professor of political science and Director of the Environmental Studies Program at Colorado College. “[It] sees climate change as the fundamental threat to human and environmental well-being … and is incorporating climate change considerations – and climate justice considerations – into all aspects of government.”
It is no secret to Biden (or anyone, for that matter) that a crucial factor in accomplishing these ambitious reduction goals is garnering bipartisan support. Throughout Biden’s climate agenda, he has made a significant effort to assure blue-collar workers, a major demographic of Republican voters, that a future in renewable energy is a future in American jobs.
“I know some of you at home are wondering whether some of these jobs are for you,” Biden said in his first joint addressto Congress on April 28. “So many of you, the folks I grew up with, feel left behind, forgotten in an economy that’s so rapidly changing. It’s frightening. Let me speak directly to you … If we act to save the planet, we can create millions of jobs and economic growth and opportunity.”
Throughout his address he also emphasized the role that sustainable energy will play in strengthening the country’s economy.
For too long, Biden added, we’ve failed to use the most important word in meeting the climate crisis: jobs. “There is simply no reason why the blades for wind turbines can’t be built in Pittsburgh instead of Beijing … why American workers can’t lead the world in the production of electric vehicles and batteries,” Biden said.
Biden also aims to establish the U.S. as a world leader in climate solutions. On April 22 and 23, he hosted a virtual Leaders Summit with representatives from 40 different countries to discuss reducing emissions, calling for action specifically from the globe’s largest polluters.
While the administration has laid the foundations for the transition to a more sustainable future, the U.S. is still currently the world’s second largest polluter of greenhouse gases. In order to accomplish this transition, it would require large shifts in our economic system as well as daily lives.
So, what would reducing emissions look like and mean for Americans?
While nothing is concrete yet, it is likely that this agenda will move forward through investment in public transportation(though that is also up for debate, as states typically have more say on the issue) and federal incentives to switch to electric vehicles and renewable energy-based electricity, as well as efforts to increase carbon sinks in the land sector and general investments in and federal support for more renewable energy.
While some of these changes may appear drastic, they are necessary, and would have significant impacts on the fight against global temperature rise.
But so far, these plans are still just plans, many of which have been formally outlined via executive orders. The real work can only begin once they are approved and set into motion by lawmakers.
“Much will need to be done by Congress to fund and support the deep infrastructural changes we need to decarbonize; executive branch power is important but limited,” McKendry said. “But the proposals that the administration is putting forward are a huge step in the right direction.”