Biden Beats Trump – What Does This Mean For The Climate?

Out with the old, in with the… same old?

As I’m sure everyone reading this will know, a few months ago, Biden was voted the next and 46th President of the United States *breathes sigh of relief*. This was a rare cause to celebrate in 2020 – not because Biden is a great option as “Leader of The Free World”, nor because he is what the USA needs; but because Trump & his hateful bigotry will be ousted from his White Supremacist House. Now, Trump has even been impeached (again),following a series of a events that were somewhat unbelievable to watch, even after living through the chaos of 2020. Yet, whilst we all raise a toast to the long-awaited removal of Donald Trump (*plays FDT by YG*) from his abuse of power, I’ve had one resounding question on my mind – what does this mean for the climate?

Fracking and the 'Green New Deal': Here's where Trump and Biden stand on  climate change - MarketWatch

Back in 2017, the Trump Administration announced that it would withdraw from the Paris Agreement (PA) – a monumental, global agreement to keep temperature rise to well below 2°C. Even though the PA is fairly weak, and has been shaped to suit the USA, they still decided it was unfair for their state. So, the US left and was no longer a party to the agreement as of the 3rd Nov 2020. This means that right now, they are not bound by their PA obligations towards fighting the climate crisis, and are at present, the only country to have rejected this international agreement.

However, President-elect Biden has promised that the US would adopt the PA once more from his first day in office. So… problem sorted right? The US will whole-heartedly commit to climate action & join global negotiations and the climate crisis will be solved!? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple…

Having done some research into the history of the PA and global climate negotiations (Conference of the Parties – COP), I’ve seen that the US has a long, dark history of derailing and sabotaging these important events. The US has rarely (if ever), played an important, positive, or hopeful part in global climate action. At COPs specifically,

  • they have tried to remove distinctions between developing and developed nations, which would allow the US to ignore the fact that historically (and even today), they have been one of the largest carbon emitters, and therefore must take more responsibility for the problem
  • they fought for the PA to use a bottom-up “pledge and review” approach over a top-down legally binding system – this would have meant that governments wouldn’t have to stick to any legally binding targets. In doing so, it would allow countries to make very weak contributions that do not come even close to meeting the 2°C limit
  • they mounted onslaughts on the conventions to try and weaken provisions and their obligations, and tried to seek a legal “hybrid” regarding which parts of the PA were legally binding, to ensure that this suited them
  • they’ve been a guilty party in a much overlooked scandal that has contributed to increasing the debt burdens in the world’s poorest countries. Back in 2009, developed countries made a commitment to providing a sum of $100 billion by 2020, to provide finance that would help vulnerable, developing nations mitigate climate change, and also adapt to and cope with climate-driven disasters that are happening now. However, it has been found that much of this money has been provided as loans rather than grants, with richer countries expecting to be paid back¹.

It was pretty clear in 2016 that a 4-year Trump Presidency would be disastrous for our planet. He has repeatedly denied climate change, rolled-back various measures that protect the environment, and he supports wealthy elitism, whilst sitting safely in his NY ivory tower. Trump is almost a direct representation of the climate mess we are in, as he stands for all the problems that are contributing to it (unfettered capitalism, racism, colonialism, misogyny etc.). He’s a (not-very-good) businessman who backs corporate powers, and won one of the most politically responsible and influential roles in the world despite having zero political experience, and no evidence of caring about the best interests of his country’s inhabitants.

However, I have little faith that Biden will be much better. For he is just another wealthy, straight, white man in what has been an almost unbroken chain of this type, all linking together to create the problems that individuals are currently having to fight against. I don’t think Biden is any different to every other US President in history, and most of these people, and their decisions, are what led us here. To a position where the Equality Act (to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity) STILL hasn’t been passed into law; where BIPOC are still having to fight for their right to exist; and where the future of human civilisation is at stake.

The only break in this long-running series of white, male presidents was Obama – perhaps perceived as one of the most progressive and promising US presidents we have had. Yet even his 8-year stint in office was bad for the climate. Obama came into power back in 2008 – right after a recession, which was a great opportunity to re-form various systems and de-carbonize the economy.

We could have seen real, huge climate solutions invoked globally after the recession of 2008. However, Obama bombed in this task. His inability to create climate justice over a decade ago was not due to a lack of technology, resources, or power. It was simply because he decided, like many other powerful, privileged men, that there is something wrong with telling large, wealthy corporations how they must do business. And that it is communist or dictatorial to create a plan to build the type of economic systems that we need.

Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything describes a man who, at the 2009 UN COP in Copenhagen, seemed like “the picture of confidence and composure… his optimism about the summit’s prospects never flagged”. However, the mood soon shifts as the conference draws to a close, as this same person “fell apart before our eyes… he began to sob uncontrollably. ‘I really thought Obama understood,’ he kept repeating.”

Obama, like every other President before him, was a part of the problem².

So if the charismatic and generally-popular former President Obama lacked the solutions, then can his former Vice-President Biden really be trusted to out-perform him? Biden has distanced himself from the “Green New Deal” – a proposed package of US legislation aiming to address the climate emergency. He has adopted parts of the framework, but rather than aiming to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, his target is for 2050.

Reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 isn’t ambitious enough for any country – it leaves far too much time for delaying action, until we reach a point at which we’ve already surpassed climate tipping points, and the worlds climactic systems are permanently altered. It is particularly uninspiring and lazy of the US – the 2nd biggest carbon emitter in the world. The US massively needs to step up it’s game regarding the climate crisis, and not just because they themselves have a lot at stake.

Right now, I have little hope or expectations that Biden will be the answer, and that he will fully engage with and understand the importance of acting on the climate crisis urgently. If the US is to re-join the PA, and return to the climate arena, Biden had better be prepared to take action, to be an ally for developing countries, and to give up part of his platform to minority voices that need to be heard. Otherwise, the US may as well have just reinstated Trump, and sped up the demise that they are so set to shape.

Though it has been horrible and frustrating to see the number of people who once again voted for Trump, there is optimism to be found in the selection of Biden. Those who want justice, and stand for equality, kindness, and action have won. However, this now presents a moment in which Americans (and people everywhere) must resist complacency, and remember that the climate problem hasn’t been solved simply by a new President. The general public must make sure that the climate is at the top of Biden’s presidential agenda, by maintaining and growing the climate movement, & ensuring it garners public attention.

Biden's New Climate Change Plan Is Also His Stimulus Plan

Right now, however, the new POTUS once again has an open opportunity to de-carbonize: the long-lasting effects of a global pandemic have created an economic recession – the deepest since WWII³. We have all the modern technology and innovations we could possibly need to avert a climate breakdown, and the urgency of the problem (& general knowledge of this) has only expanded. All that is needed now is the political will to make long-lasting and beneficial changes to our society.

Obama failed to muster up this will, and to save the climate after the last economic recession. Trump then set us back by about 20 years in the space of just four. But perhaps Biden has learned from these mistakes. Perhaps he does recognise the importance of transitioning to a green economy. Perhaps a global pandemic was proof that drastic societal changes and sacrifices must be made sometimes, for the sake of individual citizens and the future, even at the expense of the government’s likability.

As soon as the coronavirus crisis is under control, we will have to act fast and hard to solve other global issues. We will have a short time-frame in which the US, and the world as a whole, can choose to Build Back Better. We can tackle the climate crisis head-on, and create permanent changes that prevent all the car-crashes of 2020 from repeating themselves, and snowballing into something much worse.

How we, the general population, act over the coming months (and years), will determine how President-Elect Biden acts. And how The President of The United States act, will have a huge part to play in how the entire world acts. And how the world acts, will determine the entire trajectory of humanity’s future.

It’s up to everyone to ensure that Biden’s election triumph is in fact a win for the climate.



2. Naomi Klein: This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs The Climate


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