Biden's ambitious climate plan: make the environment relevant again

The president-elect plans to spend $2 trillion over four years to drive down emissions

US President-elect Joe Biden delivers remarks at The Queen in Wilmington, Delaware, on November 10, 2020. President-elect Joe Biden said November 10, 2020 he had told several world leaders that "America is back" after his defeat of Donald Trump in last week's bitterly contested US election. / AFP / Angela Weiss
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President-elect Joe Biden’s plans to prioritise climate change signal a complete reversal from the outgoing president’s abolition of climate safeguards, leaving environmentalists hopeful the US can once again lead the fight against global warming.

Mr Biden has already said he will rejoin the Paris Agreement, from which Donald Trump pulled the US back in 2017 in the face of international condemnation.

Mr Biden has been criticised for not committing to Democrat Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal. Although the president-elect's plan is more moderate, it remains the most progressive strategy attempted by a US leader to date.

In Mr Biden's climate plan, he pledges to ensure the US achieves a 100 per cent clean energy economy and reaches net-zero emissions no later than 2050. He also lays out a strategy to develop regional climate resilience plans in partnership with local universities and national science laboratories, as well as fully integrating climate change into foreign policy.

Mr Biden plans to spend $2 trillion over four years to drive down emissions, primarily by upgrading old buildings to make them more energy efficient. He will also invest heavily in public transport and electric vehicles, which would also create jobs.

"The most important thing for the incoming Biden-Harris administration to remember is that young people and people of colour delivered this victory," Adrien Salazar, senior campaign strategist for climate equity at think tank Demos, told The National.

“Moreover, Joe Biden ran on environmental justice and climate justice. This means he goes into the presidency with a clear mandate to act on the climate crisis now and to do so in a way that protects and invests in the communities that ... experience the worst of the climate crisis.”

Mr Biden has leant heavily on his pledges to address the disproportionate effect climate change has on communities of colour.

“While everyone is already feeling the effects of climate change, the impacts – on health, economics, and overall quality of life – are far more acute on communities of colour, tribal lands, and low-income communities,” his plan reads.

“We cannot turn a blind eye to the way in which environmental burdens and benefits have been and will continue to be distributed unevenly along racial and socioeconomic lines – not just with respect to climate change, but also pollution of our air, water, and land.”

Renate Brillinger, executive director of California Climate and Agriculture Network, highlighted the need to address not just issues experienced by communities of colour, but by farmworkers of colour in particular.

"Farmworkers are the backbone of American agriculture, and are very vulnerable ... to climate change impacts such as heatwaves and wildfire smoke," he told The National.

“There is also evidence that climate change increases the harmful effects of pesticide use, a chronic workplace hazard.”

During his presidential campaign, Mr Biden received official endorsement from the United Farm Workers, a labour union that represents thousands of agricultural workers, in the hope he would protect the group.

“Our family farmers and ranchers were already fighting an uphill battle because of Trump’s irresponsible trade policies and consistent siding with oil lobbyists over American growers,” Mr Biden recently said during a presidential debate.

To address the climate crisis while safeguarding the nation’s food security, the administration needs to tackle immigration reform, Mr Billinger said.

"[This will] ensure greater economic security for farmworkers, fund healthy soils practices that help farmers transition away from chemical inputs, and invest in health care and adequate housing to protect those who grow our food.”

FILE - In this March 12, 2020, file photo, the sun shines through clouds above a shale gas drilling site in St. Mary's, Pa. In a late gambit to win the battleground state of Pennsylvania, President Donald Trump and his GOP allies have intensified attacks on Joe Biden over fracking, hoping to drive a wedge between the former vice president and the white, working-class voters tied to the state's booming natural gas industry. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File)
A shale gas drilling site in St. Mary's, Pennsylvania. EQT chief executive Toby Rice said there are 50 operators running 30 rigs in the Appalachian basin. AP Photo

Although Mr Biden has pledged to ban fracking on federal land, it will not actually make much difference: 90 per cent of fracking occurs on state or private land.

Mr Biden has a challenge ahead of him when it comes to pushing climate laws through a Republican-led Senate. But Mr Salazar insisted this should not detract the president-elect from achieving climate justice “right away” in order to “start having a material impact on making people’s lives and futures healthier”.

Mr Salazar pointed to shutting down pipelines through indigenous territories such as Keystone XL, the Dakota Access Pipeline, and Line 3.

Demos even outlined a roadmap for the incoming administration demonstrating how Mr Biden can prioritise environmental justice, which has been signed by more than 120 environmental groups. Suggestions include protecting frontline communities from industrial and environmental pollution, and reaffirming executive order 12898, which was signed by Bill Clinton in 1994 and required federal agencies to address environmental effects on minority and low-income populations.