President Joe Biden is using his presidential powers to make climate change a central issue of the new administration and is taking immediate action to prove his commitment to the environment. After Biden took executive action to tackle the climate crisis at home and abroad, create jobs, and restore scientific integrity across the federal government; he finished the structure of his clean energy policy by surrounding himself with like-minded, climate-forward individuals to lead the country towards carbon neutrality. He is not only focusing on climate change at the national level, but also on a global scale. His actions have put the climate crisis at the center of United States foreign policy and national security and utilize a whole-of-government approach to accomplish his climate goals. Only time will tell how much of Biden’s energy policy will be implemented during his tenure in the White House, but the process to create a unified global front for attacking the climate crisis is well underway.
- Biden has focused 14 of his 30 executive actions on reversing Trump era mandates involving climate change, clean energy, and decarbonization. Major topics within the executive orders included pledging the U.S. to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement, reviewing methane emission regulations, protections from oil and gas development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, quantifying the social cost of greenhouse gasses, and revoking the permit for the Keystone XL Pipeline. His administration’s overarching goal of these policies are for the U.S. to achieve economy-wide net-zero emissions by 2050.
- The executive order titled “Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad” targets climate change policy both domestically and internationally by classifying the climate crisis as both a foreign policy and national security issue. It builds upon three objectives taken from the Paris Climate Agreement – a safe global temperature, climate resistance, and aligning financial flows with lower emissions. The plan sets a U.S. emissions target and prioritizes the power sector to be carbon-free by 2035.
- Another essential aspect to the executive order is implementing a “whole-of-government” approach to climate issues. This means leveraging multiple federal agencies and departments to meet action items for the President’s domestic climate agenda. The Biden administration has established several new climate departments like the White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy, the Civilian Climate Corps, and the National Climate Task Force as well as several new roles including the National Climate Advisor and Deputy National Climate Advisor.
- Biden’s goal of reaching economy-wide carbon neutral emissions by 2050 will require less power generated from coal in lieu of solar and wind power. Since about 50% of domestic emissions are transportation related, many cars will also need to be electrified to meet those goals. The aggressive move away from fossil fuels raises some concerns about domestic energy needs since hydrocarbons make up about 80% of total energy consumption and 63% of electricity generation.
- To jump start domestic clean energy projects, Biden plans to have federal agencies identify where clean energy technologies can be deployed commercially and with new infrastructure as well as generate job growth in the sector through the “Civilian Climate Corps Initiative.”
- Meeting the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement will require a global approach to comply with emissions reductions. With almost 90% of global emissions originating from outside of the United States, Biden’s climate change plans will require global cooperation to succeed. Emerging markets, developing countries, and emissions from China will be the biggest challenge for Biden’s global energy policies.
- Early implementation of the Biden administration’s energy policies outlines the long-term goal of net-zero emissions in the U.S. by 2050. His executive orders are the foundation for future action his office will take to put the country on “an irreversible path” towards those goals. Additionally, his foreign policy in the coming months will also likely include global climate goals with the U.S. acting as a role model on the world stage.
President Joe Biden’s first two weeks in office have been filled with a flurry of executive orders that aim to put the United States back on course to cut carbon emissions and resume a place of global leadership on climate action. They present a stark contrast to the first hundred days of President Donald Trump’s term, when he immediately set to work unraveling the Obama administration’s environmental policies. Trump’s first actions began with the appointment of Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency even though Pruitt was a known climate change skeptic. After Biden took executive action to tackle the climate crisis at home and abroad, create jobs, and restore scientific integrity across the federal government; he finished the structure of his clean energy policy by surrounding himself with like-minded, climate-forward individuals to lead the country towards carbon neutrality. Clearly, the 46th President of the United States is using his presidential powers to make climate change a central issue of his administration and is taking immediate action to prove his commitment to the environment. As promised during his campaign, the future of energy in the U.S. is set to send this country down a new path of transition and lasting change that will have reaching implications both domestically and abroad. But, it is yet to be seen how much of the world will take notice and follow the rapid strides of the United States to achieve global cooperation towards successfully combating the climate crisis.
Executive Orders On Climate Change
In his first 48 hours in office, President Biden cranked out about 30 executive actions, 14 of which target a broad range of former President Trump’s executive mandates focusing on themes such as climate change, clean energy, and decarbonization. His first executive order on climate change was a call to action which pledged the United States would rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement . This was Biden’s first step as commander and chief and the first action for his Clean Energy Revolution. Although it will take 30 days for the U.S. to officially rejoin the agreement, it is the perfect springboard for fulfilling campaign promises. Furthermore, meeting its targets is going to be a tall order. Biden doubled down with his second executive order titled “Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis,” which is a massive laundry list of plans to gain momentum for his Clean Energy Revolution . The order itself is split up into eight sections detailing how to tackle the climate crisis by utilizing environmental justice. These sections include mandates on more stringent methane emission regulations for the oil and gas industry, installing a temporary moratorium on all drilling permits and lease sales in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, creating accounting measures for the social cost of greenhouse gases, and revoking the presidential permit for the Keystone XL Pipeline border crossing. For a more detailed analysis, the RP Media Team composed in-depth looks into the first and second orders issued. These two executive orders not only set his Clean Energy Revolution into motion, but are the cornerstone of his Clean Energy plan: to work with Congress to put the United States on an irreversible path for achieving economy-wide net-zero emissions no later than 2050 . While this focal point will not be a single executive order to be put into place immediately, it will instead be a series of executive orders that are a part of the $2 trillion Clean Energy Plan. He will demand Congress enact legislation during the “first year of his presidency that: establishes an enforcement mechanism to achieve the 2050 goal that includes milestone targets no later than the end of his first term in 2025; makes a historic investment in clean energy and climate research and innovation; and incentivizes the rapid deployment of clean energy innovations across the economy, especially in communities most impacted by climate change” . While Biden insists failure on these fronts is not an option, he also told ABC News while campaigning last October that only a “dictator” would use executive orders excessively since “we’re a democracy” . Ironically, he has signed more than three dozen executive orders in his first week in office, more than any of his predecessors.
Biden’s Presidential Clean Energy Plan For National Security And Foreign Policy
After a busy week of executive orders, many of which targeted climate change, President Biden released a tell-all executive order on “Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad.” As the name states, Biden will use this executive action to tackle the climate crisis at home and abroad “while creating good-paying union jobs and equitable clean energy future, building modern and sustainable infrastructure, restoring scientific integrity and evidence-based policymaking across the federal government, and re-establishing the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology” . This order follows through on the President’s promise to take aggressive action towards climate change and builds on the executive actions issued during his first week in office, namely rejoining the Paris Agreement and an immediate review of harmful rollbacks of standards that protect air, water, and communities. While wordy and bulky, the executive order is essentially an outline of his Clean Energy Plan and nearly mimics his presidential campaign’s energy policy. The problem remains that the plan outlines the “what” but not necessarily the “how” for achieving his climate goals.
The chasm between Biden’s agenda and Trump’s legacy is one of the widest in recent decades, and nowhere is that contrast more pronounced than on climate change and the environment. President Biden is not just focusing on climate change at the national level, but also at an international level by putting the climate crisis at the center of United States foreign policy and national security. According to Biden himself, “Just like we need a unified national response to COVID-19, we desperately need a unified national response to the climate crisis because there is a climate crisis.” . To do so, Biden plans to work with other countries and partners, both bilaterally and multilaterally, to put the world on a sustainable climate pathway . In addition, he hopes the U.S. will move quickly to build resilience around the globe against the impacts of climate change that are already apparent and expected to intensify from current trajectories. His global leadership approach plans to implement and further build upon the Paris Agreement’s three overarching objectives: a safe global temperature, increased climate resilience, and financial flows aligned with a pathway toward low greenhouse gas emissions and climate?resilient development . To accomplish this he is pledging to exercise leadership in promoting a significant increase in global climate ambition to meet the climate challenge . Furthering those strides, Biden plans to host an early Leaders’ Climate Summit aimed at raising climate ambition and making a positive contribution to the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) and beyond. In addition, the United States will reconvene the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate, beginning with the Leaders’ Climate Summit to pursue “green recovery efforts, initiatives to advance the clean energy transition, sectoral decarbonization, and alignment of financial flows with the objectives of the Paris Agreement, including with respect to coal financing, nature-based solutions, and solutions to other climate-related challenges” .
The order kicks off the process of pushing climate ambition upon the world by developing the United States’ “nationally determined contribution” – our emission reduction target – under the Paris Agreement, as well as a climate finance plan led by the Secretary of State and Secretary of Treasury along with the newly created Special Presidential Envoy for Climate . President Biden has set ambitious goals to ensure America and the world can meet what he deems the urgent demands of the climate crisis. Additionally, the plan prioritizes empowering American workers and businesses to lead a clean energy revolution that achieves a carbon-free power sector by 2035 and puts the United States on an irreversible path to net-zero emissions, economy-wide by 2050.
The Presidential Clean Energy Plan For A Government-Wide Approach To The Climate Crisis
Part two of President Biden’s executive order “Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad,” or his presidential Clean Energy Plan, is to take a “whole-of-government” approach to tackle the climate crisis. According to the White House, implementing a whole-of-government approach formally establishes the first-ever National Climate Advisor and Deputy National Climate Advisor to lead the White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy that creates a central office in the White House charged with coordinating and implementing the President’s domestic climate agenda . In addition, the order establishes the National Climate Task Force which assembles leaders from across 21 federal agencies and departments to enable a shared vision for combating the climate crisis . While still not quite actionable items, the framework and support mechanisms for how President Biden is planning to execute his Clean Energy Revolution is beginning to unfold. By planning to create, organize, and deploy the full capacity of government agencies to combat the climate crisis, he is implementing a government-wide approach. It is his intention to use this approach to “reduce climate pollution in every sector of the economy; increase resilience to the impacts of climate change; protect public health; conserve our lands, waters, and biodiversity; deliver environmental justice; and spur well-paying union jobs and economic growth, especially through innovation, commercialization, and deployment of clean energy technologies and infrastructure” .
With a developed framework, Biden plans to build on his executive orders to create policy that will help develop his roadmap towards economy-wide net zero by 2050. To do so, the White House is positioning its next big policy push for creating jobs through infrastructure with a goal of making the economy “green.” By creating government agencies focused on his climate agenda and filling other agencies with climate-focused leaders, Biden is tapping into the entirety of the federal government’s arsenal to combat climate change and make his plan a reality. Some of the many initiatives currently on the table include ordering federal agencies to purchase electricity that is pollution-free, purchase zero emission vehicles for a federal EV fleet, eliminating fossil fuel subsidies, and directing the U.S. Department of Interior to halt new oil and natural gas leases on public lands or offshore waters to allow for the development of renewables in these areas with the goal of doubling offshore wind by 2030 . While initially the order was implemented by the head of the United States Department of the Interior on inauguration day, the President took the 60-day moratorium suspending new oil and gas leasing and drilling permits on all federal lands a step further in this order . As previously mentioned in Part Two of Biden’s orders, the whole-government approach of his order included actions to indefinitely suspend all new oil and natural gas leases on public lands or in offshore waters pending completion of a comprehensive environmental review .
President Biden expertly utilized his newly coined Climate Day to install government power ensuring his climate agenda is at the forefront of United States foreign policy and national security. This included new White House offices focusing on climate policy both domestic and abroad, and creating a Civilian Climate Corps Initiative designed to mobilize the next generation of conservation and resilience workers and maximize the creation of accessible training opportunities and good jobs. Biden’s Clean Energy Revolution is well underway and although he began an apparent war with the fossil fuel industry, he intends to extend his hand to the communities they operate in for economic revitalization to try and prevent further environmental damage in communities impacted by coal mining, oil drilling, and fracking. Clearly Biden comes to power with a sense of urgency about climate change that is unmatched to any previous occupant of the White House, and he is installing people sharing similar views throughout the government. The question then becomes, as the United States begins to lead the rest of the world in a fight against climate change, how will the global energy industry begin to transform?
Scientists warn that the coming decade will be critical for slowing heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions in order to keep the average annual global temperature from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to the mid-19th century. According to the UN Emissions Gap Report, the world is on track for an increase of 3 degrees Celsius, a level that ensures more destructive wildfires and hurricanes, devastation of coral reefs, and rising seas flooding the coastlines . Many believe the answer to saving the planet lies in incremental, but urgent change across all emission sectors. That is why Biden has set a goal of making the U.S. carbon neutral by 2050, which will require steeper emissions cuts than the U.S. has ever achieved. To reach it, coal power must wane into a footnote and be replaced by renewable sources like solar and wind and most cars will need to be battery powered since transportation and electricity together make up about half of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions [9,12]. Luckily, renewable energy is increasingly cheaper and abundance of natural gas is driving the retirement of coal power plants. The cherry on top is countless companies and a growing number of countries have already committed to net-zero emissions in the next few decades. As the energy transition continues, clean, green, renewable energy is slowly taking positive public perception and market share from the hydrocarbons currently used to run society.
Pausing new extraction of oil and gas from federal lands is the Biden administration’s tremulous first step going toe-to-toe with the U.S. oil and gas industry. Federal drilling is a key segment of domestic output providing around 22% of U.S. oil production and 12% of gas, according to the American Petroleum Institute . The problem is, the United States currently relies on fossil fuels for many facets of society. While renewable energy consumption surpassed coal for the first time in history in 2019, it still only accounts for about 11% of total U.S. energy consumption and about 17% of electricity generation, while hydrocarbons account for 80% of total energy consumption and 63% of electricity generation . Moving towards a long-term ban on federal leases will fulfil a campaign pledge and reassure environmentalists, but it also raises concerns over the U.S. becoming reliant on foreign imports to sustain domestic energy needs. In addition to critics predicting a reliance on foreign energy, others claim his initiatives will further cut jobs as the U.S. fossil fuel industry is already suffering from record unemployment numbers following the COVID-19 pandemic and oil market collapse. The White House is trying to get ahead of more criticism by addressing job creation. “When I think of climate change, I think of jobs,” Biden said, arguing that “millions” of Americans will be able to get jobs “modernising our water systems, transportation, our energy infrastructure – to withstand the impacts of extreme climate” .
Renewables are increasingly becoming the most affordable option for electric utilities, and Biden is seeking to speed up that trend by investing in clean energy projects through economic recovery spending as a way of supporting both job creation and climate goals. His plans direct federal agencies to “identify new opportunities to spur innovation, commercialization, and deployment of clean energy technologies and infrastructure,” and calls for the creation of a “Civilian Climate Corps Initiative [to] put a new generation of Americans to work conserving and restoring public lands and waters” . But the key to powering society with clean energy without overwhelming the power grid like in California or eating up more energy than before, lies in energy efficiency. While the topic seems trivial compared to other, flashier components of the global energy transition and the battle against climate change, energy efficiency is a monumentally important piece of the puzzle . “Using energy more efficiently accounts for the largest share — nearly 40% — of the reductions in heat-trapping emissions needed to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement,” Axios reported in October . Therefore, to make the energy transition as smooth and eco-friendly as possible, it’s imperative that we not only continue to improve our grid capabilities and capacities, but that the expansion of renewable energy keeps pace with increasing energy demand. In other words, in order to maximize efficiency and efforts towards combating the climate crisis, the focus must be on a gradual transition so energy demand can be met while expanding clean energy infrastructure. That means more jobs in clean energy while continuing to support workers in the fossil fuel industry during a transitionary period.
Biden’s administration sent the strongest market signal yet that the U.S. will undergo the difficult task of revitalizing its weakened economy with climate change in mind. This reality will reshape how communities across the U.S. think about energy, how global companies do business, and how developing countries plan future growth. While renewable resources are greatly reducing many forms of waste associated with the fossil fuel industry, clean energy infrastructure contains its own fair share of harmful materials requiring special and costly disposal methods. Regardless, banks and financial services firms have touted the opportunity presented by green investing under Biden’s leadership, and investors and companies have followed their lead . Biden says the U.S. has come back to the table at a key moment: when countries are making new commitments to cut emissions under the Paris accord. But for now, he has to convince them he can deliver at home before becoming a global leader in the fight against climate armageddon.
The dichotomy between having to prove to the world the United States is committed to addressing climate change and leading the charge against the looming climate crisis is quite ironic as the U.S. has been a leader against climate change for decades. In terms of raw carbon emissions reduction, the United States outpaces every other country in the rest of the world and many countries in the Paris Agreement have not seen their emissions decrease at all . Regardless, if society is to tackle the climate crisis to prevent catastrophic and irreversible environmental damage, the United States cannot act alone. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate and one of the president’s two climate czars, John Kerry, noted it would make little difference in the global climate change fight if the U.S. reduced its emissions to zero. “[President Biden] knows Paris [climate accord] alone is not enough, not when almost 90% of all of the planet’s global emissions come from outside of U.S. borders. We could go to zero tomorrow and the problem isn’t solved” . Climate change is a global issue, and under Trump the United States removed itself from the united international effort to reduce emissions under the Paris Agreement to focus efforts domestically. But, what Biden has set out to do is become the gold standard of climate policy and lead by example.
With the first step handled domestically, the second step will be to incentivize investment in developing areas of the world. Massive investment in renewable energy in developing economies, which are set to produce most of the global emissions in the coming years, will be necessary to achieve global climate goals according to Fatih Birol, the Executive Director of the International Energy Agency . Our energy and climate future increasingly hinges on the decisions made in emerging markets and developing economies as these areas currently account for around two-thirds of global carbon emissions – with one-third occurring in China and another third arising from other markets – and would represent the largest source of future emissions growth if insufficient action is taken to transform their energy systems . Frighteningly, almost all future emissions growth will come from developing economies over the next 30 years . The world is switching over to renewable sources at a breakneck pace that’s only going to continue to speed up as more countries adopt climate-friendly policies and the renewable sector continues to see technological improvements making their energy more attractive and affordable to the public. But, one thing must not be forgotten: countries dependent on oil revenues for much of their budgets will become increasingly vulnerable to problems caused by the global energy transition . The world will still need oil this year, next year, and for years to come. Over time it will need less and less, and increased government regulation will likely continue cementing the global course towards a more renewable energy future with the United States in the lead.
In a Bloomberg interview, Birol noted that without sufficient government commitment, however, oil demand will continue rising as it did before the pandemic . He pointed to China as a case in point: China’s demand for oil is already higher than it was before the pandemic, because the government in Beijing has made no substantial change in its energy priorities. This is why a battle against climate change must be a united front. The world is going to continue to need more hydrocarbons until the clean energy infrastructure can handle the transition to clean energy sustainably and reliably. Until then, to achieve current global climate goals the world must come together and hold each other accountable. While it may appear to be a seemingly straightforward idea, execution of the task is easier said than done.
The energy that powers humanity’s daily lives and economies also produces three-quarters of global emissions, meaning the climate challenge is essentially an energy challenge. The United States has now pivoted and the Commander in Chief is determined to tackle that challenge to ultimately lead the global clean energy transition. President Biden came into office with the most ambitious climate change plans of any presidential administration to date. He not only promised to reverse the Trump administration’s climate policies, including regulatory rollbacks and a withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, but is committed to push the United States farther on climate change action than it has ever gone before. He named climate change action as a top priority, right alongside the coronavirus pandemic, the economy, and racial justice. Put perfectly by American Clean Power Association CEO Heather Zichal, who served as one of Obama’s top climate advisers and will assist White House National Climate Adviser Gina McCarthy, “If we’re going to remove 51 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually and get to zero [emissions] in 30 years, this is going to require drastic action,” adding that her members are prepared to invest $1 trillion in the coming years on clean energy projects. “We see nothing but opportunity” . However, the cornerstone of Biden’s Clean Energy Revolution, achieving economy-wide net zero, is not black and white.
The next four years will be an iterative process involving many different facets of society and domestic policy. Once the United States has proven to the world it is capable of taking the reins in the battle against climate change, Biden will attempt to expand those processes to the world. Before making dramatic changes to the global energy landscape, the first step is to understand and explain the origin of energy as well as the benefits and perils of all energy sources – not just fossil fuels. Only then can the reality of the current energy system be rationally evaluated for improvement and the limits of the energy transition identified. It is certain that many parts of the world have begun the process of phasing out fossil fuels, but it ultimately must be a collective, gradual change. An immediate shift away from the energy that supports a functioning society is foolish and will be detrimental to progress towards environmental justice. Rhode Island Senator Sheldon White has preached a similar call for action every week the senate has been in session since April 2012. In his “Time To Wake Up” climate speech, he calls all individuals to action. On Joe Biden’s new, January 27th Climate Day, Senator Whitehouse delivered his 279th and final speech, declaring an end to a nine-year mission. “Instead of urging that it’s time to wake up,” he said, “I close this long run by saying, now it’s time to get to work” . Biden’s initiatives on climate progress are not going to change for the next four years and will likely only grow. Companies must utilize this opportunity to position themselves for the impending changes and prepare to work together on a united front for meeting policies aimed at attacking the climate crisis head on.
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