Former vice-president Joe Biden formally launches his 2020 presidential campaign during a rally May 18, 2019

Joe Biden set to return US to Paris Agreement

With the campaigning over and most of the votes calculated, the US Presidential election has resulted in the country choosing former Vice President Joe Biden to assume the mantle of the 46th President.

Unlike most transitions of power in American history, Mr Biden’s path as President-elect is somewhat rocky – his predecessor, President Donald Trump, has refused to concede to him, claiming votes in specific states have been subject to fraud. These claims are unsubstantiated as yet, with several related court cases being thrown out by various state courts.

Even so, Mr Biden has wasted no time in outlining the plans he wants to put into action, when he ultimately starts to occupy the White House. Eagle-eyed readers may have spotted that the US ironically exited the Paris Agreement on Election day itself – a parting shot from the Trump administration.

Mr Biden intends to reverse this decision immediately, as soon as he assumes office. What would this mean for the planet?

The US has immense influence

Under President Trump, a philosophy of America First was the apparent orthodoxy. As we wrote at great length in our pre-election environmental policy piece, the Trump administration has had plenty of policies which impacted the environment, but little in the way of ideas which sought to address climate change head-on.

The US produced over five billion metric tonnes of CO2 last year, making it one of the highest emitters of greenhouse gases in the world. It is also home to the world’s largest economy, depending on which definitions you use. In short, where the US goes on climate change influences us all, whether we like it or not.

Withdrawal from the Paris Agreement was officially pursued by President Trump on economic grounds, but may have simply been an attempt to settle an old score by unpicking the progress of his predecessor, former President Barack Obama. Signed into force in late 2015, it intends to keep global temperature increases below the two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels marker.

As explained when we explored the world of coral reefs, an increase of two degrees Celsius could mean coral reefs being pushed to extinction altogether.

Biden sets out his plans

In a 15-minute acceptance speech to supporters, mere hours after news networks called a victory for the Democrats, Mr Biden gave a vision of the future. Following on from his Vice President-elect, Kamala Harris, Mr Biden hinted at the more science-led approach to the problems his administration would face, from COVID-19 and beyond. He explained:

“What is our mandate? I believe it is this: Americans have called on us to marshal the forces of decency and the forces of fairness. To marshal the forces of science and the forces of hope in the great battles of our time.”

Re-entry into the Paris Agreement is expected to be achieved within the first 77 days of a new Biden administration. Mr Biden is reportedly intending to wield the immense influence the US carries, making nations such as Australia feel the heat, to persuade nations to set explicit targets on emissions.

After four years of apparently taking a back seat, this new administration appears to be keen for the US to take decisive leadership in tackling climate change, and it all starts with re-joining the Paris Agreement.

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