President-elect Joe Biden has pledged that among the first actions he will take upon assuming the presidency is to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord, the international treaty to mitigate climate change and reduce global emissions. President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the agreement in 2017, asserting in a press conference, “[It] disadvantages the United States to the exclusive benefit of other countries, leaving American workers and taxpayers to absorb the cost in terms of […] vastly diminished economic production.” While Biden must overcome significant political obstacles in reaching his newly-proposed emissions target, reimplementing the Paris Accord is an essential first step in the trajectory of climate change mitigation.
In order to understand the significance of Biden’s promise, it is essential to examine the Paris Accord and the United States’ role in it. In 2015, the treaty agreed to allow countries to establish their own goals to mitigate global warming, with a collective aim to stay below an average worldwide temperature increase of 2 degrees Celsius. The United States, the world’s second-largest carbon emitter, pledged during Barack Obama’s administration to reduce emission levels by 27% by 2025. As part of the Paris deal, former president Obama also pledged three billion dollars toward the Green Climate Fund (GCF) to help low-income countries adapt to their own emission mitigation goals.
As it currently stands, the United States is not on track to meet its goal of a 27% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Trump not only withheld two billion dollars of the aforementioned commission from the GCF, but he has also rolled back nearly 100 climate safeguards during his presidency. He has continually prioritized industry lobbyists and ‘economic growth’ above climate mitigation, claiming that environmental regulations are detrimental to job creation. I see little evidence that this systematic rollback of climate change rules has benefited the economy. Automobile manufacturing jobs are steadily declining despite the loosening of regulations on vehicle emissions. In 2019, coal production in the United States was also the lowest it had been since 1978. Yet atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide exceeded 417 ppm this past summer, the highest mark in human history. It is undeniable that Trump’s systemic unraveling of environmental regulations has not only failed to deliver its promise of bolstering the economy, but it has also hindered essential climate change mitigation efforts.
Despite this grim reality, President-elect Biden has plans that extend beyond re-entering the Paris Accord. In addition to restricting oil and natural gas drilling, Biden has pledged to achieve a carbon pollution-free electricity sector in the United States by 2035. The President-elect’s ability to implement these plans and undo Trump’s regulatory rollbacks, however, is dependent entirely on the makeup of the Senate after the Georgia runoff elections. Biden’s environmental initiatives may only pass if Democrats win the Senate. I also think that legal challenges will be likely from the fossil fuel sector given the number of courts across the nation with Conservative majorities.
In developing the new target, the Biden administration will need to assess the level of congressional support, as well as the attitudes of citizens, businesses, and industries for different measures. However, I believe that it is essential for the United States to establish an ambitious emissions reduction target before the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland. This conference, as well as the Group of Twenty and Group of Seven summits, will be pivotal in terms of forging the United States’ climate mitigation strategies.
I believe the United States should use these meetings as an opportunity not only to declare its new target, but also to develop a comprehensive plan alongside the leaders of other nations with large carbon emissions. These meetings are particularly important when many in this nation still cling to Trumpian ignorance of climate change, a mindset that operates to the detriment of the environment and American citizens. By rejoining the Paris Accord and shifting the paradigms that condemn the planet to a dismal future, however, the United States can help achieve a future in which everyone thrives.