Donald Trump exiting the Paris Agreement shocked and angered the entire international community. As the only major country to not be signed to the accord and simultaneously the second highest polluter in the world, the exit was seen as a major setback in the global effort to mitigate the climate crisis. The United States is a global leader and every move it makes has worldwide influence. In the wake of president-elect Joe Biden’s victory, the nation and the world are anxiously awaiting to see what his next move regarding climate change will be.
It is about time that the United States takes the climate crisis seriously. Global carbon dioxide concentrations, the main cause of global warming, are at higher levels today than ever before in history. Unfortunately, this high concentration limits how much the world can do to effectively address it. We are already seeing its catastrophic effects: wildfires have scorched cities on the West Coast, and floods have decimated large portions of Asia. This past decade, with all its deadly heatwaves and droughts, was the hottest year ever recorded. It is NOT too late, however, for Joe Biden, to make the United States a leader in the fight against climate change.
According to CNN, Joe Biden has pledged to re-enter the Paris Agreement on his first day in office. While many presidents say they will execute important tasks on their first day in office, this is actually somewhat realistic as Biden will not need the Senate’s support to rejoin since the accord was designed to be an executive agreement. Biden’s administration will need to send a letter to the United Nations stating their intention to rejoin the Paris Agreement, and the official return would take effect in one month’s time. The reinstatement will follow with a long list of necessary changes to be made. The new national goal will have to be updated from the Obama administration and Biden must include a plan to reduce domestic emissions from the power and energy sector. The U.S. would need to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by year 2050 in order to reach the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to only 1.5°C, assuming China, the European Union, and others also reach their goals also.
What would pledging to become carbon neutral and a spearhead in reducing climate change look like for the United States? For starters, it would take a lot of work for the U.S. to improve its reputation and regain global trust. The Trump administration’s dialing back of green economic reforms and environmental regulations was a major shock to the world. It looks those that produce far less carbon emissions but invest far more in a sustainable economy. Furthermore, it prompted individual states, cities, and corporations to develop their own climate plans, meaning the entire nation is operating on completely different pages. Creating a strong but viable climate plan would not only satisfy the members of the international community who have been critical of the United States’ inaction, but it would also inspire other nations to follow suit.
Biden has an enormous task ahead of him as it will be hard to satisfy the varying views of Americans. Right-wing conservatives will be reluctant to implement a costly climate policy and strong leftists will likely want a more aggressive approach to climate change mitigation than Biden will offer. Regardless, Biden has said that he is dedicated to this cause.
Biden says that “Climate change is the challenge that’s going to define our American future.”
Something to note about the Paris Agreement is that like many other United Nations treaties, it is nonbinding. This means that there is no way to guarantee that the United States will still be following its guidelines in the administration after Biden, and there is no way to reprimand the U.S. either. It also means that anything Biden says now is only the truth for the next four to eight years maximum, as any leader after him could take the United States in a different direction. For now, Biden’s climate plan will be essential for the next few years of the United States and for the world at large.