Science

Biden ready to rejoin Paris Agreement, put the U.S. back on track with climate goals

Incoming U.S. president Joe Biden will announce America's return to the international Paris Agreement to fight climate change on Wednesday, the centrepiece of a raft of day-one executive orders aimed at restoring U.S. leadership in combating global warming.

Biden has promised to work towards net-zero emissions by 2050

Protesters gather outside the White House in Washington to protest President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw the Unites States from the Paris climate change accord in 2017. One of Joe Biden's first acts after he is sworn in as the 46th U.S. president will be to rejoin the Paris Agreement. (Susan Walsh/The Associated Press)

Incoming U.S. president Joe Biden will announce America's return to the international Paris Agreement to fight climate change on Wednesday, the centrepiece of a raft of day-one executive orders aimed at restoring U.S. leadership in combating global warming.

The announcements will also include a sweeping order to review all of ex-President Donald Trump's actions weakening climate change protections, the revocation of a vital permit for TC Energy's Keystone XL oil pipeline project from Canada, and a moratorium on oil and gas leasing activities in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge that Trump's administration had recently opened to development, Biden aides said.

The orders will mark the start of a major policy reversal in the world's second-largest greenhouse gas emitter behind China, after four years during which Trump's administration pilloried climate science and rolled back environmental regulation to maximize fossil fuel development.

Biden has promised to put the United States on a track to net-zero emissions by 2050 to match the steep and swift global cuts that scientists say are needed to avoid the most devastating impacts of global warming, using curbs on fossil fuels and massive investments in clean energy.

A small group of activists gather to celebrate the Obama administration's rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline, outside the White House in Washington, DC, United States on November 6, 2015. President Donald Trump approved the pipeline in 2017. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

The path won't be easy, though, with political divisions in the United States, opposition from fossil fuel companies, and wary international partners concerned about U.S. policy shifts obstructing the way.

"We got off track very severely for the last four years with a climate denier in the Oval Office," said John Podesta, an adviser to former President Barack Obama who helped craft the 2015 Paris Agreement. "We enter the international arena with a credibility deficit."

Biden's orders will also require government agencies to consider revising vehicle fuel efficiency standards and methane emissions curbs, and to study the possibility of re-expanding the boundaries of wilderness national monuments that had been reduced in size by the Trump administration.

Hard part ahead

Global counterparts and climate advocates welcomed Washington's return to cooperation on climate change, but expressed some skepticism about its staying power, and its ability to overcome domestic political turmoil to enact ambitious new regulation.

Trump withdrew the United States from the 2015 Paris deal late last year, arguing it was too costly to the U.S. economy and would provide little tangible benefit, and swept away scores of environmental protections he saw as onerous to drillers, miners, and manufacturers.

"The United States continues to be the one and only country that has withdrawn from the Paris Agreement, making it, frankly, the pariah of this multilateral agreement," former U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres, told Reuters.

Biden can regain U.S. credibility by "doing the domestic homework" of ambitious climate action at home.

U.S. President Donald Trump is applauded as he announces his decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, U.S. in 2017. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Brian Deese, Biden's incoming director of the National Economic Council, told Reuters that the United States hopes to encourage other big emitters to also "push their ambition, even as we have to demonstrate our ability to come back on the stage and show leadership."

Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for China's foreign ministry, said China, the world's top carbon emitter, "looks forward" to the return of the United States to the Paris pact.

The climate envoy from the low-lying Marshall Islands, meanwhile, suggested the United States could help press for stronger climate commitments around the globe.

"The world is looking to the Biden-Harris administration to generate solutions to the climate crisis, reinvigorate commitment to the Paris Agreement, and ensure that countries around the world can deliver a green and resilient recovery from COVID-19," Tina Eonemto Stege said.

Pete Betts, an associate fellow at London-based think tank Chatham House who led climate negotiations for the European Union when the Paris deal was struck, said the United States will need to match its promises with financial commitments too.

The United States under Obama pledged to deliver $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund to help vulnerable countries fight climate change. It has delivered only $1 billion so far.

"The U.S. will need to put some money on the table, and also encourage others to do the same," he said.

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