By DR. MIRIAM ACZEL
(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Rejoining the Paris Agreement
On June 1, 2017, in a blow to climate action, Donald Trump announced that the United States would leave the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change mitigation. The withdrawal from the Climate Accords officially took effect on November 4, 2020, just one day after the 2020 US presidential election.
Trump’s planned withdrawal from the Paris agreement would have had a catastrophic impact on other countries through a loss of $3 billion U.S dollars to the Green Climate Fund, which would no longer be available for research on climate change. Furthermore, the loss of this funding would have reduced the chance of achieving the Paris Agreement goals, in addition to exempting the US from contributing to future IPCC reports.
Fortunately, President-elect Joe Biden has vowed to rejoin the agreement, and on November 4th, 2020, when the US formally left the Paris climate agreement, he tweeted that “in exactly 77 days, a Biden Administration will rejoin it.”
According to the Guardian, this Biden-Harris victory could bring stated goals of the Paris agreement “within striking distance”, if the administrations climate plans are fulfilled. The Biden Administration’s policy of a $1.7tn investment in a green recovery from the COVID pandemic, combined with net zero carbon emissions by 2050 would lead to a reduction of roughly about 75 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide in the next 30 years by or its equivalents–enough to prevent a temperature increase of roughly 0.1C by 2100.
The Biden Administration’s Position on Climate Change
Under the newly-elected Biden administration, the US will have the strongest position on climate change in the country’s history. Biden recently outlined his $2 trillion plan for promoting clean energy and developing infrastructure, including setting a goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, in addition to his administration’s commitment to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement. Moreover, the Biden administration’s plan is truly historic because in addition to the goal of net-zero emissions, the President-elect has promised to “[m]ove ambitiously to generate clean, American-made electricity to achieve a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035. This will enable us to meet the existential threat of climate change while creating millions of jobs with a choice to join a union.” This is particularly important as the US has the world’s largest reserves of coal.
Importantly, Biden’s comprehensive climate plan also promises to “[p]rovide every American city with 100,000 or more residents with high-quality, zero-emissions public transportation options through flexible federal investments with strong labor protections that create good, union jobs and meet the needs of these cities – ranging from light rail networks to improving existing transit and bus lines to installing infrastructure for pedestrians and bicyclists.”
The Biden Administration has also promised improvements to the sustainability and energy usage of buildings, promising to upgrade, weatherize and retrofit “4 million buildings and weatherize 2 million homes over 4 years, creating at least 1 million good-paying jobs with a choice to join a union; and also spur the building retrofit and efficient-appliance manufacturing supply chain by funding direct cash rebates and low-cost financing to upgrade and electrify home appliances and install more efficient windows, which will cut residential energy bills.”
The plan also includes the construction of a 1.5 million sustainable housing units and homes, and pledges to reduce costs in “critical clean energy technologies, including battery storage, negative emissions technologies, the next generation of building materials, renewable hydrogen, and advanced nuclear” and rapidly commercialize the technologies while ensuring that these new technologies are made in America. In addition, the plan promotes the creation of jobs in “climate-smart agriculture, resilience, and conservation” as well as “250,000 jobs plugging abandoned oil and natural gas wells and reclaiming abandoned coal, hardrock, and uranium mines,” which will provide important and much-needed jobs particularly in rural communities, and lead to reduction in toxic chemicals and prevention of local environmental damage.
But one of the most important elements is the incorporation of racial and environmental justice, and the recognition that“environmental justice is a key consideration in where, how, and with whom we build – creating good, union, middle-class jobs in communities left behind, righting wrongs in communities that bear the brunt of pollution, and lifting up the best ideas from across our great nation – rural, urban, and tribal.”
“President Trump has a devastating pattern of denying science and leaving our country unprepared and vulnerable. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, he ignored public health experts, praised the Chinese government, and failed to take the actions needed to protect the American people. And as the crisis accelerated, Trump rolled back environmental standards that protect public health — adding to the 100 similar environmental and public health protections he has rolled back since taking office — even though early data suggests a link between exposure to pollution and serious negative health impacts from the virus.”
Moreover, the Biden administration has promised that the Build Back Better plan will ensure that coming out of the global health and economic crisis, and particularly within the context of the accelerating climate crisis, he will ensure that“we are never caught flat-footed again…we will launch a national effort aimed at creating the jobs we need to build a modern, sustainable infrastructure now and deliver an equitable clean energy future.:”
The Climate Equity Act: Connecting Climate Justice and Racial Justice
According to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, “COVID-19 has laid bare the realities of systemic racial, health, economic, and environmental injustices that persist in our country…The environment we live in cannot be disentangled from the rest of our lives, and it is more important than ever that we work toward a more just and equitable future. That is why, as we combat the climate crisis and build a clean economy; we must put justice and equity first.”
The Biden-Harris Climate Equity Act is a much-needed response to today’s pressing climate and racial justice needs and promises to ensure that “no community gets left behind” when it comes to environmental policies. Moreover, according to Harris, the critical inclusion of “Indigenous communities, Black and brown communities, and the youth of our nation are calling for and demanding justice. We need them at the table from the beginning.” Harris expressed that she is proud to partner with Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on a comprehensive proposal that works to “empower communities that have been neglected by policymakers for far too long.” As stated by Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez, “[f]or too long, policies that affect communities of color have been determined by a few white men in a room in Washington…I’m proud to partner with Senator Harris on a bill that will pave the way for a new, inclusionary way of doing things in D.C.”
Over the last year, both Harris and Ocasio-Cortez have worked together with community leaders as well as environmental justice organizations and groups such as the national Climate Justice Alliance and the New York-based WE ACT for Environmental Justice, receiving input and feedback on the legislation to ensure the most comprehensive and inclusive policy.
The groundbreaking Climate Equity Act means that the Biden-Harris victory is truly a win for the planet, from climate change mitigation to environmental and community justice. Let’s get to work!
Miriam Aczel is Leaders in Energy’s Director of Communications. Miriam is a researcher at Imperial College London’s Centre for Environmental Policy, with a focus on international energy science and policy, with a focus on mitigation of environmental and health impacts of shale gas. She is also co-founder and co-director of the Amir D. Aczel Foundation for Research and Education in Science and Mathematics, a nonprofit based in Cambodia.