analysis

US 2020 election: Analysis – Georgia paves way for a climate-ambitious Biden administration

President-elect Joe Biden & Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. Andrew Harnik / Pool via Reuters.

By Anders Lorenzen

After several nail-biting days following the US Presidential Election on the 3rd of November, it was clear that Joe Biden would become the 46th President of the US. Early voting meant that it was days before the election could be confirmed for Biden, and even as it was called the anxiety did not stop. Donald Trump continued to broadcast lies that there had been election fraud and victory had been stolen from him, and so he mounted a series of legal challenges, supported by some Republicans in the House and Senate, but which was ultimately unsuccessful. And then as the Senate met to certify the result on the 6th of January the ugly scenes caused by a mob of domestic terrorists incited by Trump stormed Congress. This resulted in the death of five people, including one policeman, and a national and international embarrassment for the United States.

Following the November election, and even though it was clear that Biden would be the next president, it was unclear how the vote would look particularly in the Senate due to two tight races in Georgia scheduled for a runoff on the 5th of January. Even though Biden won Georgia on November the 3rd, first time for Democrats since 1992, experts and analysts did not expect them to win both Senate seats. But this is precisely what happened. Stephen Warnock was the first to be declared and is to become the first black Democratic senator in the South, followed later by Jon Ossof. This meant that Democrats would narrowly gain control of the Senate at 50/50, with vice-president Kamala Harris having the deciding vote.

While that is still tight and you only need one Democrat to vote with the Republicans to lose a vote, the Biden Administration now has a golden chance to pursue aggressive climate policies from day one.

But equally crucial it will mean that all of Biden’s cabinet appointees will be confirmed by the Senate, and that is a big deal. A Republican-led Senate could oppose and delay, but now a swift confirmation of Biden’s cabinet is increasingly likely.  Work can commence straight away not only by undoing Trump’s damaging attacks on protecting the environment, climate action, clean energy and tech but also enacting new and ambitious climate policies.

The Biden Administration

When the Biden Administration is confirmed it would signal a new administration which has action on climate change printed all over it. 

Starting at the top, Vice-President Kamala Harris’s has co-sponsored a host of climate and environmental policies and legislation. And as California’s General Attorney she won damages against several powerful corporate polluters. 

There are nominations to key Democrats offices which we know from the Obama Administration. John Kerry who served as Obama’s Secretary of State in his second term in office will now be Biden’s Special Presidential Envoy for Climate.  Kerry was of course key in securing the 2015 Paris Agreement, and during his tenure was instrumental in making climate change a foreign policy issue. 

And we say hello again to Gina McCarthy, EPA Administrator during Obama’s second term when she was instrumental in the groundbreaking Clean Power Plan, and will now be Biden’s National Climate Advisor. 

But the nomination which has received most praise by activists and campaigners is that of Deb Haaland as the Secretary of the Interior who will be the first indigenous person to serve in a presidential administration, which demonstrates that Biden is serious about diversity in his cabinet. And as Trump has awarded a huge amount of federal land to the fossil fuel industry, not least in the environmental and climate-sensitive areas of the Arctic Wildlife National Refuge (AWNR), ignoring the plight of the indigenous people living there and dependent on the area. We can expect her to put a stop to that and to put the needs of the indigenous people and the climate crisis before the fossil fuel industry.  

Jennifer Granholm as Energy Secretary has also been a welcome appointment celebrated by activists, campaigners and clean energy advocates. There was a concern that Obama’s Energy Secretary, Ernest Moniz who championed the all of the above energy strategy would get the post and thereby make phasing out of fossil fuels harder to achieve. But Granholm, the former Governor of Michigan, has a strong record on promoting clean-energy policies during her time as an advisor to the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Clean Energy Program, and as a professor at the University of California’s Goldman School of Public Policy.

This is just a snapshot of the Biden cabinet, and to get a full overview of the situation, see below as I discussed the subject with the Center for Biological Diversity’s Government Affairs Director, Brett Hartl

Getting to work

Biden has already said that on day one in office he will start the process of re-entering the US into the Paris Agreement.

And then starts the long process of undoing many of Trump’s disastrous anti-environmental, anti-climate, and anti-clean energy moves where Trump rolled back many Obama era policies. Biden could quite simply and easily undo much of the damage by a series of executive orders. But his declared climate ambitions go further than those of the Obama era, and his team has acknowledged that his administration must go further and faster than any other US president has ever gone before on tackling climate change.

Climate activists will pay close attention to Biden`s promises made on the campaign trail. The climate activist and pressure group 350.org has this ten-point plan for what a climate president should look like and what he must do in the first ten days of office. 

Highlights of Biden’s ambitious climate plan is that he would spend $2 trillion during his first term investing in clean-energy infrastructure. He has vowed to cut CO2 emissions from the power sector to zero in 15 years He has also promised to 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, and deal with potent issues of racism relating to environmental and climate justice.

The US – a changing climate

In previous US presidential elections, the issue of climate change has been downplayed and it never became a top issue. Even though dealing with the pandemic dominated this year’s virtual campaign trail, climate change featured higher than ever before. And there’s some data coming through that in once safe Republican states such as Georgia now flipping to the Democrats climate was a key issue.  People of colour and young people together with climate activists played a crucial role in helping to get the vote out, helping to motivate those who had previously felt disenfranchised. Prior to the election polling found that the majority of US voters supported strong government climate actions.

It seems that the fact that the Biden team was happy to make climate a crucial top issue it is now seen, even amongst top strategist, an election-winning issue, and that is good news for action on climate change.

The US though has without a doubt still serious problems with climate denialism and misinformation. But a lot of this is due to conservative media and social media accounts, as well as some companies spreading lies and falsehoods about climate change and clean energy. The Republican establishment repeats their lies, making the level of misinformation far higher than in any other developed economy in the world. Sadly, it is more often than not a reality amongst Republican holding high office that they deny the facts of climate change rather than seriously taking account of the science.

But for now, Biden has been given the green light to act on climate change without any obstructions.  Around the world and in the US amongst the majority of the public anticipation is building up to January the 20th when Biden becomes the 46th US president. 

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