22 Jan Biden returns US to Paris climate accord hours after becoming president
Biden administration rolls out a flurry of executive orders aimed at tackling climate crisis
Joe Biden has moved to reinstate the US to the Paris climate agreement just hours after being sworn in as president, as his administration rolls out a cavalcade of executive orders aimed at tackling the climate crisis.
Biden’s executive action, signed in the White House on Wednesday, will see the US rejoin the international effort curb the dangerous heating of the planet, following a 30-day notice period. The world’s second largest emitter of greenhouse gases was withdrawn from the Paris deal under Donald Trump.
Biden is also set to block the Keystone XL pipeline, a bitterly contested project that would bring huge quantities of oil from Canada to the US to be refined, and halt oil and gas drilling at Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, two vast national monuments in Utah, and the Arctic national wildlife refuge wilderness. The Trump administration’s decision to shrink the protected areas of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante will also be reviewed.
The flurry of first-day action on the climate crisis came after Biden, in his inauguration speech, said America needed to respond to a “climate in crisis”. The change in direction from the Trump era was profound and immediate – on the White House website, where all mentions of climate were scrubbed out in 2017, a new list of priorities now puts the climate crisis second only behind the Covid pandemic. Biden has previously warned that climate change poses the “greatest threat” to the country, which was battered by record climate-fueled wildfires, hurricanes and heat last year.
The re-entry to the Paris agreement ends a period where the US became a near-pariah on the international stage with Trump’s refusal to address the unfolding disaster of rising global temperatures. Countries are struggling to meet commitments, made in Paris in 2015, to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5C above the pre-industrial era, with 2020 setting another record for extreme heat.
“It’s just a huge day to get rid of this myopic, benighted administration and welcome in a new president who manifestly is committed to strong, meaningful action,” said Todd Stern, who was the lead US negotiator in Paris. “Rejoining Paris is just the first step, but it’s a big first step.”
Biden is expected to convene an international climate summit in the spring to help accelerate emissions cuts and will probably submit a new US emissions reduction goal to help it reach net zero emissions by 2050. “We can’t be afraid or diffident about exercising leadership again but we need a sense of humility in light of what has occurred over the past four years,” Stern said of America’s return to climate diplomacy. “The message is ‘we are back, let’s move hard.’ It will be deliberate, aggressive and strategic.”
Gina McCarthy, Biden’s top climate adviser, said Biden will in all reverse “more than 100” climate-related policies enacted by Trump.
The twice-impeached Republican repeatedly dismissed the science of climate change and spent his term as president weakening or overturning rules to limit pollution from cars, trucks and power plants. McCarthy said climate change poses an “existential threat” and the administration’s opening salvo “will begin to put the US back on the right footing, a footing we need to restore American leadership, helping to position our nation to be the global leader in clean energy and jobs”.
Biden will be able to unilaterally limit fossil fuel development on federal land and set tougher rules for fuel efficiency in cars and trucks but sweeping climate legislation to make deeper cuts in emissions will be more challenging to get through Congress.
While Democrats control the House, the Senate is split 50-50 and is unlikely to embrace anything styled like the Green New Deal, which has been championed by progressive representatives such as Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez. Instead, Biden’s hopes of providing huge financial support to boost clean energy such as solar and wind may rely upon funding being included in budgets and infrastructure bills.
“There is a serious backlog of needs in water systems, roads and bridges and other things and my colleagues understand that,” said Kathy Castor, a Florida Democrat who chairs the House’s select committee on the climate crisis. “We know we must go much further much faster. This is a race to the future.”
Scientists and climate campaigners have welcomed the urgency voiced by Biden given the ever-worsening impacts of the climate crisis across the world.
“Even if we can’t get new climate legislation, our executive branch already has many tools to act,” said Leah Stokes, an expert in environmental policy at the University of California. “The best time to cut emissions was decades ago; the second-best time is today.”