President Biden is putting climate change front and center in his administration. During the 2020 presidential campaign, candidate Joe Biden proposed a less-ambitious 4-year, $2tn climate plan. After his election, President Biden formed six teams to develop policy positions and proposals. He named Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Bernie Sanders, and others to the climate team, which developed a much more robust and far-ranging proposal than Biden’s campaign one. Biden accepted most of the team’s proposal recommendations, announcing a massive 10-year, $8 trillion plan during his first week in office,
Biden’s climate plan is ambitious and comprehensive. His vision is nothing less than a total transformation of the American energy economy from one dependent of fossil fuels – coal, oil, gasoline, and natural gas — to an economy that relies 100% on clean energy sources, principally the sun, the wind, and water.
Biden’s plan calls for achieving a net-zero world by 2050. ‘Net zero‘ is a world where any heat-trapping, climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions are offset by additions to Earth’s carbon-absorbing capacity. By achieving net zero, we will build a stronger, more resilient nation capable of responding to the planetary challenge of climate change.
Biden brings equity issues directly into the Climate Plan, promising to promote environmental justice for communities of color and low-income ones that polluters have harmed more than affluent, majority-white ones. And he vows to ensure that the workers and communities who have built our economy over decades will not be left behind by the transition to a clean energy economy, that jobs in the new ‘net zero’ climate economy will be good jobs.
Biden also wants to rally the rest of the world to meet the climate change challenge, because the threat is global. It respects no boundaries, no frontiers, so it does little good to just clean up our own economy if other countries don’t clean up theirs too.
There is much that Biden can do by Executive Order to achieve his ambitious climate agenda, and he has issued several climate-related ones already. Notably, on his first day in office, Biden rejoined the Paris Agreement, from which President Trump had announced his intention to withdraw in 2017. That withdrawal process became final on November 4, the day after Biden’s election. So, technically, the U.S. only withdrew from the Paris Agreement for two months.
However, on the legislative side, passage of bills implementing economy-wide climate action is challenging. President Biden is committed to seeking bipartisan support for his climate agenda, but the Senate is much more partisan than it was when Biden served in it, and the country is more divided. The chances of getting ten Republicans to support a Democrat-proposed Climate Plan bill is slim. Barring that, the Democrats can use the reconciliation process to push Climate Plan bills through Congress, which by-passes the need for a super majority in the Senate.
Instead of putting forth specific Climate Action bills, the Biden team’s strategy is to embed climate change provisions, such as electric cars, into the massive Infrastructure Bill. The bill funds wind and solar projects to speed the transition to clean energy, expands and modernizes the electrical grid, and supports research needed to improve existing clean technologies, like improving the efficiency of solar panels or batteries. It also funds development of innovative new technologies, such as capturing carbon from the air or from the smokestacks of fossil fuel-driven plants and factories, or better ways to split water into hydrogen and oxygen.
As this is written, the White House is still attempting to work with Senators of both parties to find a compromise acceptable to all on the Infrastructure Bill, which has a large climate component. Democratic climate activists have indicated they will not support any infrastructure bill without robust climate provisions.
President Biden’s final recourse is to appeal over the heads of the Senate to the public, in the hope that public pressure will induce enough Senators that it is in their own best interest to support Biden’s climate agenda or face voters’ wrath come next election. With nearly fifty years’ experience in the U.S. government, President Biden is an astute strategist for achieving national and international leadership on climate, but citizen support is essential as well.