Biden’s election and its impact on global climate policy

By Samarth Kavoori

Following President-elect Joe Biden’s successful presidential campaign, the United States is likely to re-join the Paris Climate Agreement by February 2021 (Newburger, 2020). The inbound US administration has stated that it will invest about USD 2 trillion towards renewable energy and climate change mitigation policies. According to their campaign website, the elected Biden government will focus on infrastructure, local auto-industry, public-transit, environmental justice, sustainable innovation among other core areas of concern. Furthermore, he has promised to create ‘good, union jobs’ to support the country’s middle-class. The economic plan includes the goal of attaining net-zero emissions and a clean energy economy by the year 2050. Likewise, President Biden also intends to make the US energy sector carbon-free by the year 2035. Other initiatives include the building of 1.5 million sustainable housing units, amongst other aims (Biden For President, 2020a).

The president-elect’s campaign also highlighted the fact that climate change remains a geopolitical concern for national security. The campaign website referred to reports by the Department of Defense (DOD) along with other security agencies. It includes the environmental assessments of US military bases along with operations that concern American interests. Former Secretary of State John Kerry is the Special Presidential Envoy for Climate appointee. As the Secretary of State, Kerry played an essential role in the signing of the Paris Climate Accord in 2016. While in office, Kerry wants to enforce a deadline for businesses to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, setting comprehensive timelines for the next 30 to 40 years, among other matters. Meanwhile, other signatories witnessed significant gains in their respective climate goals since the inception of the accord in 2015 including the EU, China, Canada, Nepal, Japan, etc.

While the critics of the Biden Plan often compare it to the agendas of the Green New Deal, the objectives of the Biden Plan are considered quite advanced in contrast to previous presidential campaigns and likened to the policies of European counterparts. A notable distinction between the two proposals is their respective deadline to achieve carbon neutrality in the US. Yet, the Biden campaign had reportedly made discernible effort to consult with the progressive wing of the Democratic Party via the Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force.  The plans are held to be equally pugnacious on tackling issues such as environmental justice, sustainable housing, transportation along with other infrastructural schemes. Combined with Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s recent proposal for a Ten-Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution in Britain, the Biden Plan may offer global climate diplomacy augmented momentum in the immediate future. With the re-establishment of global structural frameworks, the prospect of meeting environmental targets remains probable.

Meanwhile, efforts are required to facilitate EU’s implementation of the European Green Deal, bearing in mind that Biden is likely to embrace America’s oldest allies. The EU unveiled a Circular Economy Action Plan (CEAP) in early 2020 as a key feature of the European Green Deal.  It lays extensive emphasis on the Free Trade Negotiations and the Global Circular Economy Partnership (European Commission, n.d.). While it is unknown at present if the US will collaborate with the EU directly in implementation, Biden’s commitment to challenging the ongoing climate crisis will remain a plus. In addition, the EU has announced that it will enhance its climate goals this decade. At the peak of the first COVID-19 pandemic outbreak, the EU disbursed USD 572 million on a Green Stimulus to combat climate change and make Europe the first climate-neutral continent. Joe Biden may also propose tariffs on countries not limiting their emissions. Although developing countries may experience volatility due to increased tariffs, the provisions are inescapable under the given circumstances.

An energy policy expert and a former White House advisor to President Obama, Jason Bordoff along with environmental economist Nat Keohane were quoted saying “that Biden will have to incorporate a dimension associated with climate action into all proposed aspects of the executive branch” (Booker & Weber, n.d.) . It certainly includes Biden’s role in highlighting climate at the forefront of American foreign policy. Examples include the impact of water scarcity in conflict zones, economic instability as the world moves away from fossil fuels, the impact of other foreign policy initiatives on climate among issues ranging across the globe. Though rising powers like India and China may not view the restrictions on fossil fuels positively. Correspondingly, John Kerry’s appointment may incentivize international support for the US to counter climate concerns and offer climate diplomacy in general a jolt.  The recruitment of former Secretary of State Kerry can also be seen from a geopolitical perspective as the transition to renewable energy may vividly alter global markets in the next decade.

In response to the rising commitment to tackle climate change by the EU, the UK and the US compared to earlier settings, environmental initiatives will see substantial gains. Nonetheless, problems connected to the climate are likely to evolve in this decade. Given recent developments, the United Nations among other international organizations are likely to take hold of opportunities in the presence of ideally suited government policies. Climate change is today linked to its impact on human rights. As of December 2020, thirty-three countries have acknowledged that climate emergency is at present a threat. It also includes developing countries such as Bangladesh, Maldives, etc.

The UN Climate Change Conference originally scheduled for November 2020 has been postponed by a year to 2021. The pandemic along with perhaps one of the most invigorating US elections is likely to have a decisive impact on the conference and its goals. Given the same, the UN Secretary-General Antonia Guterres urged all UN members to declare a “climate emergency” to mark the fifth anniversary of the Paris Accord (Green & Abnett, 2020) .  Secretary-General Guterres has extensively reiterated that the post-pandemic economic activity will be significant to solicit advancement on climate policy and renewable energy.  Thus, a comprehensive Global Climate Change initiative and ensuing tenders for regulation shall remain an indispensable debate in the international community.

Samarth Kavoori is a freelance political analyst. He formerly worked as a Geopolitical Analyst at Grid91, a firm based out of Mumbai and is a graduate of the Jindal School of International Affairs.

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Foreign Policy News is a self-financed initiative providing a venue and forum for political analysts and experts to disseminate analysis of major political and business-related events in the world, shed light on particulars of U.S. foreign policy from the perspective of foreign media and present alternative overview on current events affecting the international relations.

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