When Joe Biden rejoined America to the Paris Agreement just hours after becoming President on 20th January, environmentalists around the world breathed a collective sigh of relief. After four years under the Trump administration, during which time the President revoked the country’s adherence to the Agreement, allowing him to proceed with damaging policies such as ending adherence to the Clean Power Plan and reducing the size of two national monuments in Utah to increase mining activity, Biden’s decision couldn’t have come sooner.
Trump stated his intention to withdraw America from the Paris Agreement in June 2017, just five months after his inauguration as president. Due to rules which were specifically integrated within the agreement’s policy in the event that such a decision as this were to occur, the withdrawal was delayed by three years, not officially coming into effect until 4th November 2020. Though the US produces around 15% of worldwide emissions – a number which doesn’t sound all that large – its role as a global economic superpower means that this decision has a greater impact. In addition to implicitly suggesting that the climate crisis is not an issue worth fighting, the removal of the US from the agreement gave Trump free reign to implement policies which would prove damaging to the environment. Following this, the former President announced in October 2017 that he would cut the Clean Power Plan, whose goal was to reduce carbon emissions by 32% by 2030. Trump also relaxed rules around protecting endangered species, such as the sage grouse, and, in December 2017, removed climate change from the list of national security threats.
Despite US greenhouse gas emissions falling below 1990 levels for the first time in 2020, by a decrease of 10.3%, this was largely down to the pandemic, rather than any initiative of Trump’s. This is the largest reduction in emissions the US has seen since World War II, but there is still a long way to go before they reach the target of a 26-28% decrease below 2005 levels by 2025, as set by the Paris Agreement. Rhodium Group tracked changes in emissions throughout 2020, concluding that though the US has easily achieved its target of 17% decrease set by the 2020 Copenhagen Agreement – having already decreased overall emissions by 21% on 2005 levels. This is a positive sign, yet much of the progress on the emissions front is due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic: with vaccination programmes gaining pace globally it seems likely that this dip is simply a consequence of the pandemic rather than a long-term adjustment.
The positive environmental impact of the coronavirus pandemic, together with Biden’s decisions to rejoin the Paris Agreement, and ‘rollback the rollbacks’ suggest that the US is set to enter a more actively environmentally conscious era. President Biden has also stated his desire for the US to reach a state of zero-emissions by 2050, a pledge which, though ambitious, once again suggests that things may be looking up for the US. However, now is not the time to become complacent. These pledges suggest that Biden is willing to make positive and necessary changes, acting with foresight to tackle the challenges posed by the climate crisis – though only time will tell whether these efforts will be enough.
Image by Exchanges Photos on Flickr