Back to the Paris Agreement and other climate challenges for Biden and Harris | Climate and Environment

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Photovoltaic power panels in El Centro, California.Bing Guan / Reuters

The easiest thing to accomplish on Joe Biden and Kamala Harris's agenda on environment and climate change may be to return to the Paris Agreement, which the United States abandoned this Wednesday, November 4, by decision of Donald Trump. The already elected president of the United States has promised on several occasions that on the first day of his mandate, which will start on January 20, his country will return to that international pact against climate change. The rules of the agreement establish that one month after a country requests to join, it will officially be inside. But entering is the simple thing, the question is what objectives to cut greenhouse gas emissions Biden is committing to for this decade, which will be vital in the fight against global warming. The second big question is what plan he will put in place to meet that goal, something for which he will face serious difficulties if Republicans maintain control over the Senate with a blocking attitude.

At the moment, the US is the world's second largest emitter of greenhouse gases, with 14% of the total (only behind China). But if historical emissions are taken into account, this country is the one that has contributed the most to the problem of global warming.

Climate change has been present in the US electoral campaign and in the statements of the two Democratic leaders during the long vote count. Biden and Harris have highlighted global warming as one of the challenges that they will now have to face from the White House in the early hours of Sunday. And climate change is in the congratulations of several international leaders to Biden, who this week has reiterated his intention that the United States return immediately to the Paris Agreement.

Biden's green program for this election proposed a two trillion dollar clean investment plan to help the United States achieve net zero emissions by 2050, which means that by that date the American economy will only be able to expel the atmosphere into the atmosphere. amount of greenhouse gases that its sinks (mainly forests) are capable of absorbing. He has also promised 100% emission-free electricity generation in 2035. Now the Democrats will have to specify those promises in plans that could be affected if the Republicans maintain the majority in the Senate, something that seems that will have to be decided in a second round of the elections in the State of Georgia.

A group of environmental NGOs, such as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth or, have drawn up a list of 10 actions that Biden can undertake immediately, and outside the Senate. The list is headed by the declaration of the “national climate emergency”. The petitions are largely focused on curbing fossil fuels, a sector that has been favored by the environmental deregulation developed by Trump during his tenure. More than a hundred environmental regulations have been repealed or lowered by the Republican's team, which has supported the extraction of fossil fuels and has slowed the tightening of limits on polluting emissions from cars.

Biden will have to find formulas now to reverse those changes made by the Trump Administration. And it will also need to make appointments to key bodies, such as the Agency for Environmental Protection, that advance its climate agenda. The Republican has been placing deniers and defenders of the fossil industry in decisive positions in the Administration.

One of the fundamental sectors will be transport. The Trump Administration has kept a tough fight with California (ruled by the Democrats) to prevent it from increasing the limits on the most polluting cars. A change of attitude in the White House will drive the electrification of this sector throughout the United States.

Long term plans

Biden's commitment to net zero emissions in 2050 joins that of the European Union (9.13% of global emissions), which has also set a goal of climate neutrality by mid-century. A few weeks ago, China (29.7% of emissions) also took a step forward and announced that before 2060 it will achieve carbon neutrality. Only these three blocks accumulate more than half of the global greenhouse effect emissions and if these promises are realized, the world would be on track to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. The pact establishes as the main objective that the increase in the average temperature of the planet does not exceed 2 degrees with respect to the pre-industrial era, and that as far as possible it remains below 1.5 (warming is already around 1 degree) .

To do this, all signatories must present emission cut plans for this decade. And that's where the key will be. When the details of the Paris Agreement were being discussed in 2014, the Barack Obama Administration – of which Biden was vice president – set a cut target for 2025 of between 26% and 28% compared to 2005 levels. To achieve this, his government had approved a clean energy program, which was stopped by the US Supreme Court first and then repealed by Trump. According to the consultancy Rhodium Group, in 2019 US emissions had fallen 12.3% compared to 2005 levels, which would be halfway to the goal proposed by Obama. Biden hasn't set any yet. In its environmental program, it aims to ask Congress to implement the relevant legislation so that, among other issues, the mechanisms to move towards zero emissions in 2050 are approved and concrete goals are established for 2025.

Biden's plan insists on linking the momentum to the transition to clean energies and employment opportunities, thus aligning itself with the green recovery from the coronavirus crisis that the European Union wants to promote. "The Biden and Harris Administration has a historic opportunity to enact one of the world's largest green stimulus efforts to accelerate the United States economy toward sustained emission reductions, while rebuilding and creating a more just society," has assessed through a statement Laurence Tubiana, director of the European Climate Foundation and one of the architects of the Paris Agreement.

That climate pact not only established obligations to cut emissions. It also urged developed countries to help less developed states economically to cope with the negative consequences of warming and to reduce their emissions as well. The commitment is to reach $ 100 billion annually by 2020 – in 2018, those funds granted through loans and grants reached $ 78.9 billion, according to a recent OECD report. The United States was one of the major donors until Trump's arrival, but from 2017 that funding was falling. In addition, Trump's team eliminated any contribution from his country to the Green Climate Fund, one of the main instruments of direct aid to less developed countries. Now Biden is expected to take up Obama's promise to contribute $ 3 billion to that fund.

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