climate change

The US Supreme Court intervenes to delay action on the climate crisis

Steam rises from a US coal powerplant. Photo credit: Reuters / Chris Keane.

By Anders Lorenzen

The Conservative majority of judges in the US Supreme Court on Thursday last week intervened to weaken President Biden’s plans to reduce emissions. This action will slow down the efforts of the US, historically the largest emitter of CO2, to tackle the climate crisis.

The highest court in the US voted by 6-3 to limit any US government’s authority to reduce CO2 emissions. In this case, it removed the ability of the government agency the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to regulate emissions from power plants, making it one of the only countries in the world where the government can’t intervene to set emission standards. The US President had previously asked the EPA to set emission rules for power plants.

A dent in climate diplomacy

This is set to have serious implications for US’s global role in climate leadership which only resumed when Joe Biden took over in January 2021. Four years of climate denial and delay during Donald Trump’s four years as US President has significantly set the US back. It will be hard for the Biden Administration to urge other countries to increase emission cuts when they are not themselves in a position to do the same

The ruling was just the latest controversial decision taken by the Court, following the ban on abortion announced the previous week. And once again the Supreme Court favoured conservative social views.

Already President Biden had come under criticism for not being ambitious enough and for not moving away from fossil fuels fast enough. This latest setback will further dismay climate advocates and activists, not just in the US but across the world.

It was also met with disappointment in the United Nations (UN) who called it “a setback in our fight against climate change.” UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric added: “Decisions like the one today in the US or any other major emitting economy make it harder to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement for a healthy, liveable planet.” 

President Biden responded to the ruling with disappointment, but a determination to keep moving on with his climate agenda: “I will not relent in using my lawful authorities to protect public health and tackle the climate crisis. I have directed my legal team to work with the Department of Justice and affected agencies to review this decision carefully and find ways that we can, under federal law, continue protecting Americans from harmful pollution, including pollution that causes climate change.” 

The ruling means that there is still not a clear pathway for the US to reduce emissions at a speed, that climate scientists say is required to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

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