Climate Change: How will US policy differ under newly elected Joe Biden and how much does it need to change?
Image: “Remarks on the Climate Crisis – Wilmington, DE – September 14, 2020” by Biden For President is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
By Ethan Leyden
Since being elected president of the United States in 2016, Donald Trump has made no secret of his scepticism towards the threat of climate change. From pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement in 2017 to loosening regulations on toxic air pollution and scrapping Obama’s clean power plan, Trump’s handling of the climate crisis has been nothing short of disastrous. Trump once labelled global warming as “A total, and very expensive, hoax”. As a result, climate scientists will be able to breathe a huge sigh of relief following Joe Biden’s victory this week, but just how much of a change will his policies to deal with climate change be?
In order to understand the severity of the issue in question, it is important to consider just how bad the climate situation in the US actually is. The United States is one of the richest and most technologically advanced countries in the world, so it would make sense for them to lead the way in fighting against climate change. This, however is not the case.
Despite making up for just 4.25% of the world’s population according to Worldometers, the US produces just under 15% of the world’s fossil fuel CO2 emissions. This is second only to China at 27.5% as of 2018. Although the US does have the world’s largest GDP, which for some may justify high emissions, their GDP per capita of $65,118.4 dwarfs China’s figure of $10,261.7 (World Bank figures as of 2019). This clearly demonstrates a much higher level of wealth, which should in theory result in the US being able to invest in renewable energy in order to bring those emission figures down. This, again, is simply not what has happened.
A nation as large and as underdeveloped as China in many parts is currently operating by producing 23% of its energy through renewable sources, according to ChinaPower. This figure is substantially higher than that of the US, which currently sits at just 11% according to EIA figures. This data clearly shows how much progress is needed for the US to reach its’ climate targets, or even just catch up with the slow but important progress being made by the rest of the world.
So will Joe Biden be able to deliver this progress as president, or will America’s ignorance towards climate change continue?
According to Statista, under the Obama administration in which Biden was Vice President, US carbon dioxide emissions from energy consumption fell 11.12%. In comparison, under the Trump Administration carbon dioxide emissions fell just 0.8%. It therefore isn’t being overly optimistic to expect similar or even better reductions in emissions under Biden’s administration, considering the scale of the problem we are facing today has grown substantially since Obama’s presidency.
Biden’s election campaign can also give hope to environmentalists.
Biden has pledged $2 trillion to confront the “grave threat” climate change poses. He pledged to re-join the Paris Climate Agreement that Trump left as soon as possible if he was elected. Biden also wants to stop Keystone XL, one of the largest fossil fuel projects in the US, which was regularly endorsed by Trump. Vice President elect Kamala Harris has signed a brief urging a federal judge to shut down the Dakota Access Pipeline, another US fossil fuel project. He has made clear his will to end all fossil fuel subsidies, whilst investing in cheap renewable energy which he believes has eliminated US demand for new coal plants. He supports developing small scale nuclear reactors, which can create huge amounts of energy without producing toxic emissions. Biden has also claimed he will set “aggressive” methane limits on oil operations, while hoping to end all use of fossil fuels for electricity within 15 years. Additionally, he has supported the goal of conserving 30 percent of America’s land and water by 2030 in an attempt to slow extinctions.
It arguably isn’t however the climate revolution of sorts that many scientists have tipped is necessary. It could be argued by environmentalists that Biden’s proposed reforms still don’t go far enough. He has stated that he will not ban fracking as president, which could be said to undermine decarbonisation and ensure the US stays reliant on fossil fuels. Biden’s target of net-zero emissions by 2050 has also been criticised for being too late to have the intended impact, which is to prevent a climate emergency.
Despite these drawbacks to Biden’s climate plan, it is clear that Americans and environmentalists alike can expect substantial improvements to the US’ stance on climate change, given the stark contrast between Biden’s climate policies and Trump’s repeated climate change denial.
If Biden can deliver on his expansive set of pledges to save the planet and dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which with keen environmentalist Kamala Harris as Vice President is a realistic expectation, the world can look forward to a President that will lead the way to climate recovery and a brighter future.