One of the largest talking points in both the Democratic and Presidential debates was the climate. Biden was by no means the most radical of the Democratic candidates when it came to climate policy, but his proposed plan was far greater than Trump’s, and the most progressive of any president in American history. The main pillar of the Biden climate plan is the goal of a United States with net-zero emissions and 100% clean energy by 2050. This goal is ambitious, but possible, and it is absolutely necessary for human civilization as we know it to survive. The Biden campaign made it clear that they see the massive change in our society needed to achieve zero emissions by 2050 as an opportunity rather than a hardship, albeit one that will require lots of work. As industrial jobs leave America, massive investment in new clean energy infrastructure and business would create millions of jobs, especially in the fields where many are being lost.
Immediately upon taking office, Biden pledges to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement, an international agreement to try to keep global average temperatures below 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The participating countries will meet next year in Glasgow to update their commitments for the first time since the agreement was signed in 2015. For this meeting, the Biden Administration will have to develop and present a climate pledge for the United States. While the Paris Agreement is a good sign for international action against climate change, the President-elect’s climate envoy, former secretary of state John Kerry, admits that the agreement alone is “not enough.” Most countries aren’t cutting emissions fast enough, and many of their pledges fall short of what’s needed. What the new administration has much more control of is their domestic climate policy.
The Biden Administration's domestic climate strategy is based on the principle that polluters must bear the full cost of the pollution they emit. Be it through a carbon tax or other laws, Biden wants to work along with businesses to motivate them to limit their emissions themselves for economic reasons rather than cracking down with heavy regulation. The ambitious reductions in emissions must be spread economy-wide rather than be borne by a few sectors. In return, $5 trillion private, state, and federal dollars will be invested across the economy over the next ten years. One focus of this money is towards research and innovation, a target of $400 billion over the next decade. Along with this is the establishment of ARPA-C, a cross agency Advanced Research Projects Agency focused on Climate. Other domestic policies include ending subsidies for fossil fuels, conserving 30% of America’s lands and waters by 2030, banning new oil and gas permits on public lands and waters, developing renewable energy sources on public lands, and doubling offshore wind energy by 2030. Trade policy will be extremely important in the fight against climate change. The U.S. only produces 15% of global emissions, so we must compel others to cut the remaining 85%. The greatest emissions in the world come from our largest trading partner, China. If the U.S. transitions to clean energy, but China doesn’t, China may become a destination economy for polluters, and there will be no net loss in global emissions. We must focus not just on limiting our own emissions, but helping limit the rest of the world’s as well.
While these are expensive and laborious tasks, many of the largest obstacles in the way of a zero-emissions U.S. are political. Congressional power is needed to get much of the planned legislation passed. If Democrats regain the Senate by winning the two Georgia special elections in January, Biden can do much of his climate action using congressional budget reconciliation, a process which only requires a simple majority of the Senate for passage. If Republicans win, which is more likely, important parts of the $2 Trillion clean energy infrastructure agenda can also be funded by working with moderate Republican senators while emphasizing the huge economic stimulation to all states, both red and blue. If people like Mitch McConnell stop bipartisan legislation, Biden will make it the key issue of the 2022 elections, where more Senate Republican seats are vulnerable. Either way, without any congressional help, Biden could hasten the processing of federal permits for renewable-energy projects, and regulate lots of emissions through the EPA. Because Trump’s EPA reversed a lot of emissions regulations, Biden will have to decide whether to un-reverse them, which would be very difficult, or create an entirely new set of regulations that look forward another 10-15 years for a longer-lasting impact. As of now, it is more likely that the Biden Administration will create all new rules.
While the Biden Administration's climate plan isn’t perfect and relies heavily on congressional power, it is leagues better than the Trump Administration’s. Biden’s is the most ambitious climate plan in American history, which, while not saying much, is a step in the right direction. As more details come out in the coming months, along with cabinet picks and congressional election results, a clearer picture of our environment’s future will arise. For now, a little optimism can’t hurt.