Analysis: Biden is ready to move on climate 


Photo credit / David Lienemann.

By Anders Lorenzen

Joe Biden, the US Democratic nominee for the presidency, has, after coming under pressure from the radical left of his party, declared he is serious about tackling climate change and has unveiled an ambitious $2trillion climate plan. 

On day one

Biden pledges that on day one of being in office, the US would re-join the Paris Agreement (which the US will leave on the 4th of November, the day after the election). In addition, he would look at what can be done through executive orders to significantly and urgently reduce emissions. His campaign states that he recognises the need to go further and faster than ever before. Biden would also seek to take the US back into a global leadership position concerning climate change, a position lost during the Trump presidency.

Listening to progressive climate voices

Earlier this month Biden declared that if he became President he would spend $2 trillion during his first term investing in clean-energy infrastructure, and he vowed to cut CO2 emissions from the power sector to zero in 15 years.

It is a shift to a more aggressive approach to tackling the climate crisis than he had set out during the Democratic presidential primary.  He has clearly been influenced by the progressives` climate voices in his party calling for swift and urgent action. Senator Bernie Sanders, his main challenger in the primaries, and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) were both appointed to his climate task force. They sit alongside the more centrist climate advocate John Kerry who was Obama’s Secretary of State. By taking these steps, Biden has also looked to unite the Democratic Party by making compromises where necessary across the board.

Doubles up as a jobs package 

Biden said that the plan goes beyond just reducing emissions. His climate package would stimulate the US economy, battered by the COVID-19 pandemic, and would create millions of new jobs in the clean-energy sector. 

In a campaign event in Wilmington, Delaware, Biden said: “Let’s not waste any more time. Let’s get to work, now.” The former vice president was clear that he wanted the next US government not to pander to climate denial, adding: “When Donald Trump thinks about climate change, the only word he can muster is ‘hoax.’ When I think about climate change, the word I think of is ‘jobs.’ Good-paying union jobs that put Americans to work,” he said.

More ambitious than Biden’s first climate plan

Biden’s climate plan would require the US to be in a position to produce 100% clean energy by 2035, which is considerably more ambitious than his original plan which targeted 2050. Biden supporters would argue that it shows just how much he has listened and how ambitious his thinking is on this now. This new timeline was adopted from Elizabeth Warren who in return had adopted it from Jay Insley – all had originally been 2020 candidates before withdrawing from the race.

Activists had been urging Biden to adopt more ambitious and expansive climate policies. This plan would see Biden spend more quickly than he had originally set out in his first climate plan. Originally he had pledged to spend $1.7 trillion over a decade, but will now spend $2 trillion in just four years.

In the plan, Biden would boost the electrification of the US car industry by creating incentives for manufacturers to produce zero-emission electric vehicles. On housing, his administration would look to construct 1.5 million new energy-efficient housing and public-housing units.

Climate justice

Focusing on the huge issue of racism in the US, Biden’s plan would also want to address environmental and climate justice. He would direct 50% of clean-energy spending toward disadvantaged communities, many of whom live near refineries and power plants and are more likely to be coloured people.

The political climate activist group, the Sunrise Movement, which previously had been critical of Biden’s lack of ambition have praised him for showing more urgency.  Biden also appears to have caved into one of the major demands from climate activists as he has now committed to not accepting donations from executives in the fossil fuel industry.

Not surprisingly, some Republicans in oil-producing states have gone on the attack, accusing Biden of pandering to the radical wing of the Democratic Party, and they have warned that his plan would cost jobs.

How will it be financed?

Like the rest of the world, the number one priority in the US is to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and therefore there’s less focus on addressing the climate crisis, which has heavily impacted the US economy. So amongst the public getting the economy back on track has been the main concern alongside healthcare.

But advisers to Biden have said that his climate plan will be part of his COVID-19 economic recovery package. Other countries and economies have also said that the way out of the COVID-19 crisis must be through a green recovery creating green jobs, a path which Biden seems likely also to follow.

The Biden campaign says it will release further information on how it intends to cover the cost of the recovery package in the coming weeks, but some details are available now. 

Biden has been very critical of Trump’s tax cuts for the wealthiest in society. He has pledged to reverse Trump’s tax cuts and breaks for the wealthiest Americans and top-earners. This could provide him with at least some of the cash flow needed to fund his plan. In addition, the Biden campaign has pledged to end fossil fuel subsidies. If achieved he would have done what even the climate progressive European Union has failed to do. 

The political climate

How easy it will be for Biden to carry his plan through depends very much on how Congress will look following the election. If the Democrats keep the House and win the Senate it is likely it would go through fast. And even if they weren’t to win the Senate, some of the plan could be achieved through executive orders.

As Biden has taken a considerable lead over Trump in the polls, the US fossil fuel industry has shifted their tone in addressing the climate crisis moving away from denial but seeking to slow down action. The chief executive of the trade group the American Petroleum Institute, Mike Sommers, said: “You can’t address the risks of climate change without America’s natural gas and oil industry.” 

Action on climate can’t wait

When Obama took office after the 2008 election he had pledged action on climate change as one of his top priorities. Activists were left disappointed as they had to wait until his second term before he started to prioritise this.  By then it had become almost impossible to get anything through as Republicans had taken back the House, and then two years later also the Senate. As Obama’s vice-president, Biden will have observed all this and will be keen not to make the same mistake. 

Climate advocates will welcome this plan as a significant step forward, but in particular, activists should keep a close eye on the Biden Administration to make sure it lives up to its promises. The plan has much information, and it is trying to do a lot but still contains some grey zones such as the future relationship with the fossil fuel industry, and establishing a clear pathway for getting to a clean energy economy.  Nevertheless, this plan will be a most welcome sea change from the Trump Administration’s policies. 

But first, there is a certain election in November to be dealt with. 


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