Fingers crossed
Down To Earth|November 16, 2020
Undoing the damage caused by Donald Trump may be Joe Biden’s first step, but the climate challenges that the US faces today are daunting
AVANTIKA GOSWAMI AND SHAZNEEN CYRUS GAZDAR

DURING HIS victory speech, US President-elect Joe Biden announced that climate change would be one of his top priorities, adding that Americans must “marshal the forces of science in the battle to save our planet”. He has vowed to rejoin the landmark the Paris Agreement as soon as he assumes office. In fact, in June last year, Biden had said that he had plans for a $1.7 trillion investment in a green recovery, which would reduce US emissions by about 75 gigatonnes over the next 30 years.

Biden has also said he would stop leasing any new oil and gas rights on federal land and water. He could also direct agencies to tighten emissions standards for the electricity sector, to push it toward his goal of net zero emissions. And he could raise fuel economy standards for cars and trucks to speed up a transition to electric vehicles (see ‘Biden will restore climate change and climate policy’, p27) .

But a 1800 turnaround on environment and climate change issues for the US will not be easy for Biden, post-Trump. First, any push for climate action will require Democrats take control of the US Senate. Second, in the four years he was president, Donald Trump relaxed more than 150 climate-friendly regulations—tailpipe emissions, endangered wildlife and rainforest protection among others—and this will take considerable time for Biden to undo the damage.

Third, fracking—hydraulic fracturing in the shale formation to release gas—is a contentious issue. It is opposed by climate advocates for the volume of water and toxic chemicals consumed by the process and the contamination threat to drinking water sources. But Biden has historically been known for his deep involvement in the shale oil boom during the Obama years. So we can expect little action from Biden on banning fracking.

Though Biden had earlier vowed to get other countries to make more ambitious targets to keep global warming to a maximum of 20C, in a post-Trump world, the bar for the US to participate as a climate leader in international negotiations has become very low. The country is set to miss its Paris commitment to lower carbon emissions by 26-28 per cent below 2005 levels through 2025.

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