It has been just over two weeks since Joseph R. Biden was sworn in as the 46th President of the United States of America.
A lot has happened in such a condensed period of time, so we thought to ask what will President Biden and his administration mean for the environment? Are we seeing a new era of U.S climate leadership at least for the next four years? Let us unravel this.
In the run-up to the presidential election, there was much debate, especially from the democratic standpoint, who had the most ambitious and transformative climate pledges. Climate change ranked as a key part of the political agenda especially among young people, where 60 to 80% believe prioritising action is especially important . so the strength of any candidate’s agenda was a driving factor in getting votes.
All of the democrat candidates had some form of climate pledges in place. Senator Warren had a plan to decarbonise the U.S military; Senator Sanders had sweeping ambitions across the board for achieving 100% renewable energy by 2030; and Mayor Buttigieg planned to use an economy-wide tax on carbon emissions .
With this presidential election being distinguished as the ‘climate election’ , it was clear that whoever would be in office on January 20th would have a lot of pressure due to the extent of efforts needed.
In the run up to the election, Biden also set his sights on the presidential seat through promises of unity and pledges of a return to ‘Science, Not Fiction’ .
What did Biden pledge to do for the environment?
Biden pledged the U.S to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. This would be achieved by major investments into climate research and a ‘rapid deployment of clean energy innovations’, all with milestone targets set for no later than the end of the first presidential term.
Secondly, he pledged to recommit the U.S to, arguably the most important international treaty of our time, the Paris Climate Agreement*.
He was also lauded by the NRDC, one of the U.S’ largest environmental advocacy groups, for his intersectional efforts  . For instance, he planned to spend 40% of the proposed climate spending around environmental justice for rural and low-income areas, as well as BIPOC* communities. In this sense, what was proposed was more than a climate plan, as it importantly tackles social and environmental issues that are evidently interlinked.
All eyes are on swift action
Pledges are great, but without action — it’s all talk.
Well Biden walked the talk on day one by recommitting the U.S to the Paris Climate Agreement. Only two months ago, the U.S had officially left the Agreement, so you can only feel for the bureaucratic nightmare that must have ensued.
The world’s largest economy will be eagerly met at the centre stage of the COP26* (held in Glasgow, UK in November this year) for international climate policy ambitions and pledges.
The new President also took swift executive action to revoke the Federal permit for the Keystone XL Pipeline. This part operational part proposed oil project was aimed at delivering Canadian crude oil to the Midwest of the U.S. A myriad of social issues are intertwined with this as proposed paths cross indigneous communities such as the Rosebud Sioux Tribe .
A new era for U.S Climate leadership?
The Democratic majority of the Senate and the House both make the legit case for a new era of U.S climate leadership. This is because any new climate laws written by the House are likely to be approved by the Democratic-majority Senate. Whether this shake up of the White House will result in fast enough action can be debated. With the flurry of executive actions mise en place, time will still be a factor as many laws go through a stringent and often lengthy process.
Considering we are only two weeks in, Biden’s administration shows a relieving move in the right direction on environmental issues. As we move towards spring, these ambitions will come clearer and convincing this to the wider international community will be important come November in Glasgow.
What we could expect in the first 100 days in Office:
- Biden instructed the Secretary of Agriculture to implement a ‘climate-smart’* strategy to farming and forestry within the next 90 days .
- Putting in place a Clean Energy Standard (CES), a national programme that prioritises 100 percent clean electricity by 2035. This could ensure every state switches from polluting energy sources to necessary clean ones at a pace in line with the Paris Climate Agreement (although the energy system is quite complex and this is not an easy task by any means!) .
- Assessing and reregulating a number of environmental rollbacks enacted by Trump during his term in office. These include laws on forestry, air pollution, chemical safety, water pollution, and wildlife.According to the Washington Post, Biden has overturned 11 of these with 60 in target, while adding an additional 13 new protections. There are around 140 rollbacks that are yet to be targeted . You can read more in The Climate Reregulation Tracker by Columbia University , highlighting key U.S policy actions taken for the climate.
 How important is climate change to voters in the 2020 election? by Pew Research, 2020.
 Climate Policy of 2020 Presidential Candidates Ranked | The Brink by the Boston University, 2020.
 How 2020 Became a Climate Election | How to Save a Planet by How to Save a Planet (Gimlet Media), 2020.
 Plan for Climate Change and Environmental Justice | Joe Biden by Joe Biden, 2020.
 Biden’s Plan Is More than a Climate Plan by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) 2020.
 Rosebud Sioux and Fort Belknap file suit against Keystone XL — Native American Rights Fund by the Native American Rights Fund, 2020.
 Tracking environmental actions under Biden by the Washington Post, 2021.
*Paris Climate Agreement = The Paris Agreement is a legally binding international treaty on climate change. It was adopted by 196 Parties at COP 21 in Paris, on 12 December 2015 and entered into force on 4 November 2016. Its goal is to limit global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels. (Source: UNFCCC, 2021 )
*BIPOC = Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour.
*COP 26 = the 26th United Nations Conference of Parties, which will be hosted in Glasgow between 1 and 12 November 2021. For more information please go to: GLASGOW — UN Climate Change Conference .
*Climate-Smart Agriculture = is an integrated approach to managing cropland, livestock, forests and fisheries that address the challenges of food security and climate change. (Source: World Bank, 2021 ).
Ilkka is a sustainability consultant, content creator, and carbon researcher currently residing in Edinburgh. He became passionate about the environment through seeing wasteful practices working as a chef in commercial kitchens and through spending time living in Malaysia. As a result, he studied an MSc in Carbon Management at the University of Edinburgh and aspires to continue making a difference through his work. You can follow his content journey through Instagram over at: and his .