US Election 2020 and the Future of Eco-regulations: Biden Climate Change Policies

This year for the election of the 46th president of the United States (US), the majority of the American nation not only voted against an anti-globalist, white supremacist, and irrational presidential nominee, but, their vote was for change. Their support was for a leader who will not deny the realities like climate change and a global pandemic. Thus, winning the popular vote and breaking the record of Mr Obama, the ex-Vice President Joe Biden was successfully elected by the Americans to be their president.

US is the second-largest producer of the greenhouse gas (GHG), with the responsibility to cut back on their emissions. Whereas in the last four years of the Trump administration, every step was taken to increase the process of climate change and every previous environmentally positive initiative has been revoked. Resultantly, across the US’ states, an increase in hurricanes, intense heatwaves, wildfires and droughts have been witnessed.

The damage done by the Trump administration, in mostly undoing the climate change policies of its predecessor government, is not easily reversible. In 2018, the Trump government dismissed the automobiles regulatory program under the 1975 Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) program. The government also rolled back the fuel efficiency standards from the Obama-era vehicle standards. Similarly, it loosened the regulations on the release of mercury from oil and coal-fired power plants.
Another move by the Trump government to replace the Clean Power Plan (CPP) would though satisfy the coal industry but would have dire effects on the health of humans. While the replacement of the CPP is expected to lower the power sector emissions by 11 million tons by 2030, the Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule is still deemed to be weaker.
The Trump administration though started drilling and opening of land for oil and gas, to decrease their reliance on Arab countries for oil. But it is not going to eliminate the oil dependence on the Gulf States and also it is harming the climate on the international level. Besides, weakened restrictions on oil and gas companies to detect methane leaks are also another feather in the Trump administration’s cap.

The Trump administration prioritised the fossil fuel industries even during the COVID-19 pandemic rather than catching the opportunity to reset the economy on a greener route. The topmost polluting sectors were the ones which got huge bailout packages to rescue them from the economic setback of the pandemic. Instead of introducing a green recovery, climate change protestors were politicised, and environmental laws were suspended.

Biden’s administration plans to ensure that their policies are more “climate-ready.”

Moreover, on a global level, the Kigali Amendment of Montreal Protocol (1987) which could prevent warming up to 0.5°C by the century’s end is not rectified by the US yet. It is a crucial climate deal which sets high targets for the termination of the hydrofluorocarbon emissions. The state department in 2017 only said that they had “initiated the process” to consider the decision of ratification.
In addition to it, the government back in 2017 decided to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. Under the treaty, the country had previously committed to decreasing its emissions by 25% of the 2005 levels, till the year 2025. Currently, not only the US is not near to achieving the set target, but has officially left the Paris Agreement right after the country voted for the new president-elect.
This official withdrawal of the US from the Paris Agreement would have its effects in two-fold. One, it will become a precedent to be followed by other high polluters to not comply with the agreement’s standards. Second, due to President Donald Trump’s disbelief in the notion that climate change is real; the US has lost its credibility in climate talks internationally.

The challenges related to climate change policy on domestic as well as international level will have to be dealt with by the next democratic president. President-elect Joe Biden secured the majority of the popular votes in the recent 2020 US elections due to their rational and liberal policies towards domestic and international issues. It was generally due to the seriousness of the Democrats towards climate change rather than considering it a hoax as President Donald Trump.
Biden’s climate change plan included rejoining the Paris agreement as one of the first acts as the President of the US. His aim to reach carbon zero by mid-century could prevent the small islands from sinking and could have a significant impact on the target to limit the rise to 1.5°C. Moreover, on the domestic level, he plans the country to achieve net-zero emissions and carbon-free electricity by 2035.
Once in office, the president-elect aims to reduce GHG emissions by setting new fuel economy standards. Firstly, by setting a target for 100% new light and medium-duty vehicles that will be powered through electricity. Moreover, the new government will incentivise the production of clean energy and zero-emissions vehicles. Biden’s administration plans to ensure that their policies are more “climate-ready.”

The most straightforward goal of Biden is taking the US back into the global discussion on climate change and making the country a major actor of the conversation again.

The Biden-Harris leadership in White House has ambitions to retract the damage done by President Trump in many realms a Mitch. However, on the issue of environment, the reversal would be relatively slow with the probability of McConnell-led Senate. For example, the radical proposal of the Green New Deal is most likely to stay as a proposal for the next four years as well, if the Democrats don’t turn around the Senate votes in their favour in January 2021.
But according to some analysts, the rollbacks of the Trump administration on climate change could be repealed. For instance, the most straightforward goal of Biden is taking the US back into the global discussion on climate change and making the country a major actor of the conversation again. Therefore, this could be easily achieved by rejoining the Paris Agreement.
Therefore, the US needs to act not later than the present to adopt more environmentally friendly policies and annul the rollbacks of the Trump administration. Because the estimated time to cut the carbon emissions is estimated to be “barely more than a decade”. It is also required to avoid the occurrence of pandemics like the coronavirus, which arguably are likely to occur more frequently in the future if the effects of climate change keep on increasing at the same level.
Thus, the Biden-Harris government would have many in-house obstacles to tackle while proposing environmentally friendly policies. At the same time, it would take a good time to undo the four years of climate destruction of President Trump. But if the US fails to reverse the environmental legacy of Trump, the entire globe would have to pay the price.

Rida Anwar

Rida Anwar is a Research Assistant at the Centre for Strategic and Contemporary Research. She has studied International Relations from the National Defence University, Islamabad.

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