Joe Biden’s Presidency and Prospects on Climate Action

Joe Biden’s Presidency and Prospects on Climate Action


Faisal A Qureshi

In a cut-throat 2021 American Presidential race, the Democrat Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. aka Joe Biden won against the Republican Donald J Trump. This election victory was speculated by all the stakeholders of global importance, especially from those in the field of environment and climate change. Biden’s win has lit up the hope of credible action on the issue of climate change by putting back up the US leadership in shaping global energy and climate policy.

Unfortunately, during the Trump administration, the US-backed off from the Paris Agreement, announcing a pull-out in June 2017. Such a hasty pull-out by a global hegemon led to a serious setback to an already narrowing scope for climate action by the world community. Beginning from the substantial Rio Declaration (1992) and moving to Kyoto Protocol (1997), the climate negotiations culminated with the Paris agreement (2016). The Agreement was too late and too little of a climate plan as it ruled out the mandatory action by the developed countries to reduce their carbon emissions.

The Trump administration pulled the US away from every platform of global engagement on climate change and global warming. In pursuance of his “America First” policy, Trump outlined the dominance of American energy over environmental concerns. Such a unilateralist approach gave legitimacy to other countries following in the footsteps of the US to keep national interests above climate change. Over the past decade, the US's energy needs became free from foreign dependence due to the shale revolution in oil and gas. The American energy grew multifold in potential as the country started eyeing to become a major exporter of energy. The shale revolution helped the US to fuel its comprehensive military energy requirements, and made it a confident player in the global energy market. At such a juncture, the US started backing off from various climate-related multilateral institutions. Given these, Biden’s Presidency cannot fully roll back the damage done by Trump’s unilateralism.

Biden’s manifesto recognizes the American energy needs as critical to American progress. It says that the US shall undergo a clean energy revolution focusing on “environmental justice”. The American focus on clean energy will be of a great deal to environmental conservation. However, it is unlikely that America will take a leadership position in the multilateral sphere related to climate action.

Over the period of the last three decades, successive US administrations have tried to steer the country away from taking a global leadership in curbing emissions. The discussions narrowed down merely to “Common But Differentiated Responsibility” vs the “Polluter must pay” debate. The US’s failure to recognize its historical liability over climate change is one factor that makes the highest polluting countries lax in curbing their emissions. In 2019, the topmost greenhouse gas emitter countries included the developed countries like the USA, Japan and Russia, along with India and China that are newly industrializing countries. In both respects of the debate, the US is liable for curbing global emissions. Hence, Biden’s energy plan should conform to the global climate change scenario in elucidating climate action. Meanwhile, it promises to roll back the policies of Trump in the “intra-national” realm rather than the international realm, such as protecting America’s natural treasures by permanently protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other areas impacted by President Trump’s attack on federal lands and waters. It also aims to rejoin the Paris Agreement. Moreover, Biden aims to enhance the funding for clean energy and innovation to realize the plan of achieving an emissions-free economy by 2050. The major moves of Biden’s clean energy plans should include uniting the world in taking substantial and additional steps in curbing carbon emissions and holding the polluters accountable.

Biden’s climate plan is more inward-looking than outward-looking where he plans to make environmental justice a priority across all federal agencies, create jobs, and return gratitude to the American climate warriors and workers.

Conclusively, it can be said that the American approach to climate and energy may not undergo a paradigm shift with the upcoming Biden’s administration. For instance, the American military-industrial complex is still a major stakeholder in the Shale-related production of oil and gas. It has not been easy for any American president to roll back military interests. However, the assuring turn is that the Democrat-elect President can make America bandwagon with the global climate action plan and global multilateralism over climate change and energy. Once, the Clinton presidency rejected the American senate ruling over Kyoto Protocol (1997). Biden can be expected to follow similar standards.

Faisal A Qureshi is a doctoral scholar at Istanbul Zaim University, Turkey.