President Biden, as one of his first moves in office Wednesday, announced the United States intends to reenter the Paris Agreement, the global pact to combat climate change that the Trump administration rejected.
Biden’s action on the first day of his presidency represents a symbolic fulfillment of a core campaign promise, but it amounts to little substantively for now.
His administration submitted a letter of intent to the United Nations on Wednesday for the U.S. to reenter the Paris Agreement, which was negotiated by the Obama administration when Biden was vice president and enacted in 2015.
But under the terms of the pact, Biden needs to wait another 30 days for the U.S. to be officially back in.
“The Biden team could have waited until next week, but to be organized and ready to say on Day 1, ‘We are back in,’ that does send a strong signal to the rest of the world that climate change will be top priority of the administration,” said Carla Frisch, senior principal at the Rocky Mountain Institute who works on America’s Pledge, an effort from cities, states, and companies to keep the U.S. on track to meet the Paris goals after former President Donald Trump rejected the agreement.
During the campaign, Biden described rejoining the Paris Agreement as a first step.
He wants to meet and exceed the pace of emissions cuts envisioned by the Obama administration in order to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, meaning the the U.S. would balance emissions with measures that take pollution out of the atmosphere.
That’s in line with new findings from U.N. scientists in 2018 that the world would need to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 in order to achieve the goal of the Paris Agreement to hold global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius or “well below” 2 degrees. The world is on pace for a temperature increase of more than 3 degrees Celsius this century.
The U.S. might have an outside chance of achieving the Obama-era Paris target of reducing emissions 26% to 28% below 2005 levels by 2025, but only inadvertently because of a once-in-a-century pandemic that shut down the economy and slammed demand for transportation fuels, causing a record drop in emissions in 2020. Emissions are expected to rise again this year as the economy recovers.
Despite the likely failure in achieving the Obama goal, activists want to see a stricter commitment for 2030 in order for Biden to reestablish credibility lost under Trump.
While market forces, businesses, and state and city governments have united to pick up some of the slack, it wasn’t enough without the Trump administration’s involvement.
“You are not going back to the same Paris Agreement you triumphantly helped negotiate,” Collin Rees, a senior campaigner with the liberal group Oil Change U.S., said of Biden. “You are going back to one where Trump has lowered your standing in international heft. The world will be watching to see what Biden does to back up his commitments.”
Climate activists are expecting to see Biden submit to the Paris Agreement an updated target on reducing emissions out to 2030 ahead of the next U.N. climate conference in Glasgow, United Kingdom, in November 2021.
That process could take time.
Environmental groups close to the Biden administration say he’d have to set a goal of reducing emissions 45% to 50% below 2005 levels by 2030 in order to stay on track for net-zero emissions by 2050.
“A significant part of Paris is not just signing a piece of paper but submitting and following through with an emissions target,” said Nat Keohane, senior vice president at the Environmental Defense Fund. “That target needs to be ambitious and credible if reentering Paris is going to be anything more than symbolic.”
But meeting an aggressive 2030 target could be tough without cooperation from Congress on passing new laws, such as clean energy mandates or carbon pricing, along with, in the near term, significant investments in clean energy.
Under the Paris Agreement, all of the nations of the world set their own nonbinding targets for reducing carbon emissions.
Trump complained the Obama administration’s ambition to cut emissions was too much compared to other major polluters such as China and India.
In the four years since Trump rejected the pact, the U.S., the world’s largest economy and second-biggest emitter, has watched as other competitor countries have raised their targets for lowering emissions.
The European Union, the third-largest emitter collectively, recently committed by law to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and it is looking to cut emissions by 55% by 2030.
China, the world’s largest emitter, pledged in September to reach carbon neutrality by 2060.
Biden has promised in his first 100 days to “convene a climate world summit” of the largest emitting nations “to persuade them to join the United States in making more ambitious national pledges” above commitments they have already made.
Author: Josh Siegel
Source: Washington Examiner: Biden signs order for US return to Paris climate agreement — what comes next