US 2020 election: Analysis: The perfect storm for action on climate change

By Andeers Lorenzen

Last week, China, the world’s highest CO2 emitter, took their boldest and most ambitious step yet to take action on climate change. Their move to pledge carbon-neutrality by 2060, while still some way off what is needed to starve off the worst impacts of climate change, is the first policy move by China showing they’re serious about climate action.  

Watching the US

Perhaps Chinese President Xi Jinping has been watching the polls coming out for the US, the world’s historically largest CO2 emitter, showing that Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential candidate running on the most climate ambitious platform of any US presidential candidates, is continuing his lead. 

China’s move could be seen as a hint that if a US government were to take action on climate change seriously again then China would be willing to up their game. 

After the Trump administration rolled back Obama’s climate policies, China took a step back too unwilling to take the leadership baton handed to them and instead it was left to the EU to pick it up. 

While the EU has historically  done the most to tackle climate change, under Obama’s tenure it was actually the US and China that led the way in terms of putting forward ambitious policies and ensuring it was one of the key issues on the table. 

A wave of climate actions

The world’s ability to tackle climate change has suffered dearly due to the inaction of the Trump administration to take action on reducing emissions. This has meant that for the last four years no meaningful effort has been taken by the world’s two highest emitters.

If, come 4th of November (the day after the election), it is clear Biden will become the 46th US President, it would not be unrealistic and overly optimistic to predict a series of climate actions being prepared for when he takes office on the 21st of January . Biden has said his first priority would be to re-enter the Paris Agreement. But following this we could expect to see the collaboration between the world’s two biggest emitters opened up again. While China and the US don’t see eye to eye on every issue, the Biden administration would make sure the countries would seek to work together on climate change where possible, which could include Biden lifting the tariffs placed on Chinese solar panels by the Trump administration. 

Climate diplomacy

Of course other countries matter too, and Biden would seek to reintroduce climate diplomacy with the biggest players such as the EU, India and other large economies.

Climate advocaties and green groups are hoping that the way the world approaches action in climate change will look very different at the beginning of 2021 from what it did in the beginning of 2020.   

The dark picture

However, a darker picture looms if Biden should lose to Trump. It is a scenario that does not look likely at the moment, but considering what happened in the 2016 election it would be foolish not to entertain the thought. Should Trump win it would be that much harder to achieve the level action on climate change that science demands and policy makers and green groups will be scratching their heads right now coming up with back-up plans should it turn out that way.

But for now, the trajectory very much seems to be one where the world is lining up for serious action on climate change in 2021 culminating with the delayedCOP26 summit taking place in Glasgow, UK at the end of next year.

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