President Biden sets out bold green agenda
As the political drama of recent weeks settles down, President Biden is consistently painting a picture of an administration acting tough on environmental matters.
Inaugurated as the 46th President of the United States, Joe Biden didn’t rest on his laurels, and got straight to work in a matter of hours. In just three days, President Biden signed no fewer than 30 executive orders, with many understandably confronting the country’s most immediate challenge: defeating the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, some of the executive orders look beyond the issues right in front of us, especially when it comes to the environment. One executive order, which was telegraphed much in advance, before the Presidential election, will see the US re-join the Paris climate agreement, which is expected to take 30 days to be completed.
More than Paris
The Paris Agreement re-joining is significant, as President Biden’s predecessor had been the very person responsible for withdrawing the US from it in the first place. Arguments for withdrawal were based on the assumption that following the ideas laid out in the Agreement would be damaging to the domestic economy.
Ted Cruz, a Republican senator from Texas, attracted much ridicule in the past week, for suggesting that President Biden cared more about the interests of the city of Paris than of Pittsburgh, in deciding to re-join the Agreement. Critics of the document believe it serves to limit industrial ambitions in the US, and could harm jobs in certain sectors deemed inefficient or harmful to the environment.
Such a response is objectively misleading, as the Paris Agreement is actually a blueprint for all willing nations, which will have impacts extending far beyond just one city or country, and for many generations to come. In Article Two of the Paris Agreement, there is a clearly-stated aim of keeping global temperatures from rising by more than 1.5 to 2 degrees celsius as compared to pre-industrial levels.
As we wrote about previously, keeping a lid on a rise in global temperatures is really a case of meaning whether we have coral reefs or whether vast swathes of life on Earth go completely extinct in the next century.
Biden takes on big oil
President Biden’s executive orders didn’t just inflame passions concerning the Paris Agreement. He also signed an order demanding the immediate suspension of work towards the creation of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, a project which would have carried oil from Canada into the United States. It would have connected to existing pipeline infrastructure, conveying oil almost 1,200 miles from Alberta, Canada to Steele City, Nebraska.
The intended pipeline was controversial, as concerns were raised about the potential for leaks to damage the surrounding environment. Greenpeace claimed in 2017 that, if completed, the pipeline would be responsible for up to 59 major leaks in just a 50-year lifetime, doing irreparable damage to its surroundings.
Allowing the pipeline to go ahead would also have been taken as a clear signal that the US was by no means intending to turn its back on continuing to import large quantities of crude oil for use, which could have a detrimental impact on the climate in the long-term.
People are starting to recognize the fact that First Nations have the inherent land rights and have treaty rights … and these are long outstanding land and human rights that need to be respected and protected.– Melina Laboucan-Massimo, climate and energy campaigner Greenpeace
Not only that, but First Nation groups in Canada and the US have repeatedly stood in opposition of the pipeline for over a decade, showing concern with how the pipeline could affect the land upon which they have called home for centuries.
If re-joining the Paris Agreement and taking on big oil weren’t enough, President Biden also just announced plans to replace the entire US federal fleet of vehicles with electric ones. This includes vehicles used by the Post Office and other federal organisations, and these newer models are expected to be made in the US itself, replacing the existing stock, numbering 645,000 at present. Though a costly measure, it could create hundreds of thousands of jobs, and underlines the Biden presidency’s shift towards a more EV-friendly state of affairs, at least at a federal government level.
As Presidencies go, a week is seemingly a long time already, but only time will tell what President Biden chooses to do next, over the coming four years, with regards to US energy and climate policy.