Opinion pieces

Can President Biden deliver on climate?

On January 20th, a new dawn broke over America, taking it out of 4 long years of darkness brought about by the frenzied and belligerent Trump Administration. Many across the US and indeed quite a few people here in Europe breathed a sigh of relief when President Joe Biden was sworn into office. The grownups were finally back in the room, and they brought the scientists back with them.

Many of the policies and actions of the Trump White House were met with dismay. The suggestions of drinking bleach as a cure-all to COVID_19. The images of tiny unaccompanied children sitting before judges in immigration courts. The violence and use of force deployed against BLM supporters for peacefully protesting. The depravity of the Capital riot seemingly encouraged and applauded by the then President Trump. The lowering of environmental standards such as revoking limits on dangerous methane emissions during oil and gas drilling operations that were ushered into legislation alongside almost gleeful declarations that climate change was a hoax. President Biden now has an opportunity to not only roll back on the damage wrought by Trump but to deliver on his own campaign slogan – Build Back Better.

Given the ticking clock on climate change – environmental policy is as good as any place to start. On day one, President Biden signed the executive order to re-join the Paris Climate Agreement, which will come into effect at the end of January. The internationally binding treaty, which Trump left the day before the 2020 US election commits countries to keep global warming well below 2°C. Re-joining the Paris Climate Agreement is a welcome move, and it brings the United States commitments in line with 190 other countries. It also marks the first steps on the road to delivering the Biden Administration’s $2 trillion climate and environment package.

The Biden climate plan, like the EU Green Deal, is undoubtedly ambitious but urgently necessary. It matches the EU goals of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 by creating a series of overarching climate change tackling polices. It aims to end fossil fuel emissions from US power plants by 2035. Much like our own EU renovation wave- an initiative I led on in the European Parliament, the Biden climate plan will upgrade and retrofit 4 million buildings and homes over the next four years to increase energy efficiency. The Biden climate plan can create millions of new jobs in energy, transport and construction through the upgrading of infrastructure and moving toward public transportation in larger more urban areas- something we are also trying to do in the EU.

It certainly seems that President Biden and Vice President Harris get the need for urgent climate action and understand how it affects people’s daily lives. Appointing an internationally recognised and experienced climate team – including former Obama Secretary of State John Kerry inspires confidence. The idea of a just transition for poorer communities is also at the heart of this new policy approach. Something alien to the previous administration. Disadvantaged communities are expected to receive some 40% of the overall benefits of the Biden climate plan through more affordable and sustainable housing, training and retraining the workforce, and tackling air and water pollution. As is the case in Europe, to tackle the climate emergency successfully, we must leave no one behind and ensure, as a priority, that the resources are there to help the most vulnerable.

The comparisons between both the EU’s and the US’s new scientific approach to climate change are there for a reason. Ireland and the EU have always had strong ties with the US. Being able to work in tandem on tackling the climate emergency will only strengthen the transatlantic partnership. It will allow us to support and enable progressive and sustainable targets while also being able to call each other out if our policy areas and legislation are not hitting agreed climate goals.

We won’t see change overnight. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Even the process of re-joining the Paris Agreement takes some time. And while the Biden climate plan doesn’t go quite as far as the Green New Deal proposed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and backed by Bernie Sanders in 2019 which called for zero carbon emissions by 2030-it is a radical improvement on the last lot! It’s a plan the EU can work with.


January 21, 2021

first published

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