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Why the US Election Result is Good News for Global Climate Action

Supporters of Joe Biden gather at a rally in Madison, Wisconsin, the United States, on Nov. 7, 2020 | PA Images

3 min read

America’s return to international climate diplomacy means other countries must increase their green credentials or risk becoming isolated

It’s almost impossible to overstate the significance of what the incoming Biden administration means for the global fight against the climate crisis. You might think that’s in part because of what Trump has represented for the environmental agenda: namely (and as is widely known) a hugely destructive destabilising and deregulatory force for global climate action.

The occupant of the Oval Office has for the last four years consistently cast doubt on basic climate science while rolling back protections on air and water quality, scrapped incentives for renewable energy, and parachuted sceptics into positions of authority in key environment agencies.

President Trump’s (hopefully peaceful) final journey across the lawn of the West Wing can only be a good thing for those wanting to prevent the worst impacts of climate change and biodiversity loss.

But, just as excitingly, Biden has made climate change a priority for his administration – so not only are we waving goodbye to a destructive force, we’re welcoming (we hope) a new global champion for international co-operation, with Covid-19 and climate change providing unequivocal reasons to pursue environmental breakdown not just as a tool in his plans for the economic recovery, but as a reason to pursue diplomacy with haste and vigour.

Biden’s climate plan can be separated into three phases. In the first phase, we will likely see a flurry of executive orders issued which will reverse a number of Trump’s flagship policies. Foremost of these will be an executive order to rejoin the Paris Agreement, which Biden tweeted should be expected on his first day of office on 21 January 2021.

The second phase of the president-elect’s climate plan will see the US once again return to the scene of international climate diplomacy. The US will have to jostle to resume its former position as world leader on climate, however, as China and the UK are eagerly eyeing up the top spot. While the former has recently announced a 2060 net zero goal and will be hosting the UN biodiversity summit next year, Boris Johnson has very clearly signalled his ambition to become a world leader on climate change action as the UK looks forward to holding COP26 in Glasgow. What’s more, the US’s return to international climate diplomacy means that countries such as Brazil, Australia and Poland can no longer risk being inactive for fear of becoming isolated.

The final phase of Biden’s climate plan will see him put in place the long-term infrastructure in the US required to achieve the targets he outlined during his campaign, such as 100% clean energy by 2035 and net zero by 2050. To reach such ambitious targets, Biden’s landmark policies will include a $2 trillion investment into clean energy – paid for by rolling back Trump’s tax reform, another snub to his predecessor.

When it comes to avoiding the most catastrophic consequences of the twin climate and nature crises, time is in very short supply. Biden’s administration, however, could very well turn the tide and slingshot the world to within a hair’s breadth of the targets set in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

So, here in the UK, all eyes are now on No 10 to respond to Biden’s agenda with an equally ambitious domestic programme of its own. We’re expecting a few good announcements by the end of this year but whatever initial steps Boris Johnson makes, with the UK way off track to meet its long-term climate targets, we know there’ll always be more to do.


Chris Venables is Head of Politics at Green Alliance

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Read the most recent article written by Chris Venables, Head of Politics at Green Alliance - Unless the Prime Minister steps up now, the UN climate talks risk failure