Here’s how the incoming administration’s bold plans for climate action could impact global efforts to reduce carbon emissions.
Tomorrow, Joe Biden will be inaugurated as the 46th president of the United States of America. With the most ambitious plan for climate change in the nation’s history, his inauguration marks a major departure from US environmental policies of the past four years. President-Elect Biden has pledged to re-enter the Paris Agreement on his first day in office – but what does this mean for worldwide efforts to combat climate change?
Here’s what you need to know about President Joe Biden, the Paris Agreement, and how the incoming administration could help shape our global climate future.
What is the Paris Agreement for Climate Change?
In December 2015, nearly every country on Earth came together to initiate a landmark international climate treaty. The Paris Agreement, also known as the Paris Climate Accord, establishes a framework to limit global temperature rise to 2ºC – preferably 1.5ºC – by the end of the century.
Paris Agreement Summary
Mitigation: Governments worldwide pledge to reduce their individual greenhouse gas emissions to prevent the most catastrophic, long-term impacts of climate change. As part of the effort, countries agree to produce increasingly ambitious clean energy plans every five years.
Accountability: Governments submit plans for climate action (known as Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs) and agree to report their progress publicly through third-party analysis.
Adaptation: Wealthy nations agree to provide financial resources to developing countries and small island nations, which have contributed the least to climate change but disproportionately suffer its consequences.
Despite the United States, the world’s largest economy and second largest greenhouse gas polluter, temporarily withdrawing from the treaty, international support has remained strong. Since 2015, several factors indicate that the world is ready for – and capable of – serious climate action.
In December 2020, Climate Action Tracker released a study showing end of century warming estimates have dropped from 3.6ºC to 2.9ºC since the Paris Agreement was established. 127 countries, representing roughly 63% of global greenhouse gas emissions, have adopted or are considering plans to achieve carbon neutrality – putting the treaty’s long-term temperature goals within striking distance.
The shift towards climate-friendly policy is taking place at every level on the global stage. Over 1,000 businesses and numerous major cities have set ambitious goals to reduce or eliminate their carbon footprints. As wind and solar prices plummet, financial institutions are increasingly committing to energy investments aligned with Paris Agreement goals.
Despite early signs of progress, the world is not yet on track to achieve its long-term temperature goals. Under the Paris Agreement, countries must incrementally increase their NDC commitments every five years. Although governments were required to provide updated NDCs by the end of 2020, only 70 countries, representing just 28% of emissions, met the official deadline.
The COP 26 global climate conference was postponed from November 2020 until November 2021 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. While this won’t slow climate change, it gives governments a larger window to update their outstanding NDCs. It also gives the Biden administration time to advance its clean energy agenda, which includes hosting an international summit as part of an effort to increase global climate ambitions.
What To Expect from COP26
COP 26 will indicate whether or not world governments are willing to fulfill their pledges to increase their climate targets every five years, making it the most significant climate event since the 2015 Paris Agreement. Governments are expected to present their updated NDCs, deliver five-year progress reports, and negotiate plans to further cut carbon emissions.
The conference will also address items left unresolved at COP 25, including laying out rules for carbon market exchange between countries and finalizing plans to finance climate change-driven loss and damages worldwide.
Joe Biden has pledged to make climate action a cornerstone of his presidency – but re-entering the Paris Agreement alone won’t cut it. To rebuild international trust and substantially reduce the country’s carbon footprint, the Biden climate plan must prioritize environmental policy at a domestic level and on the global stage.
Drive Down Domestic Emissions: The United States is responsible for 13% of global greenhouse gas emissions. With Paris Agreement targets set to level-up this year, the Biden administration must take immediate action to accelerate economically-viable, socially-equitable mitigation efforts.
Active Leadership in Global Efforts: The United States played a central role in negotiating the 2015 Paris Agreement – but, shortly after, the Trump administration withdrew from the effort. The Biden administration must demonstrate a clear commitment to international climate leadership to ease concerns about the nation’s environmental policy tug-of-war.
How the Biden Administration can be Instrumental in Achieving Paris Agreement Goals
Joe Biden’s climate plan dedicates $2 trillion in federal funding throughout his term to clean energy and sustainable practices. The recent Georgia run-off election turned Congressional control over to the Democratic party, clearing a path for the Biden administration to achieve its climate ambitions. Here are a few ways US environmental policy reform could impact the global landscape.
Transition to a 100% Clean Energy Economy
The Biden administration has pledged to set the United States on track to achieve 100% clean energy and net-zero emissions by 2050, with a goal of decarbonizing the electrical grid by 2035. As part of this goal, Biden plans to make a historic investment in energy and climate research and innovation. Breakthroughs in US climate science could help power progress worldwide.
Climate-Forward Foreign Policy
The Biden administration will put climate front and center in its approach to trade, international relationships, and national security. Major commitments include rallying to stop financing high-carbon projects, pushing for a worldwide ban on fossil fuel subsidies, driving an international effort to reduce shipping and aviation emissions, and imposing fees or quotas on carbon-intensive goods from countries failing to meet their climate obligations.
Recommit to Green Climate Fund
To date, the Paris Agreement has yet to establish requirements for wealthy nations to contribute to climate adaptation efforts in developing countries. President-Elect Biden has vowed to fulfill the United States’ pledge to the Green Climate Fund and work to help developing countries better manage the adverse effects of climate change.
Lasting change will require a massive effort from the top down and the bottom up. But starting small is big when we all pitch in. Joro provides tools to make the most impactful changes in your lifestyle – whether that’s taking ownership of your carbon footprint, eating a plant-forward diet, or joining a sustainability challenge with friends.
Supplement Your Personal Climate Practice with Activism
Climate advocates play a key role in pushing governments and businesses to adopt environmentally-conscious policies. Help move the needle in the right direction by getting involved in local climate efforts and urging your elected officials to support Paris Agreement-aligned legislation. Together, we can make positive progress towards a carbon-neutral future.
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