What does Biden’s presidency mean for the Paris Agreement – and climate change globally?

A remarkable American U-turn is coming. CNN reports that President-elect Joe Biden plans to sign roughly a dozen executive orders, including rejoining the Paris climate accord on his first day in office.

And there could be more change in the air than a simple return to the Paris status quo. Plenty of media outlets are hinting Biden may take the opportunity to really push on with America’s climate efforts, to make up for lost time during Trump’s tenure.

Reuters predicted a swift resurgence of US leadership under President-elect Joe Biden, and a promise of cash for poorer countries that could galvanise action on climate change this year.

“The U.S. played a very important role in getting the Paris Agreement together. So we certainly are hoping that we will see this kind of leadership coming back,” Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, told the Reuters Next conference.

With only ten months until the summit, President-elect Joe Biden must reboot that leadership “very fast”, Espinosa said.

Biden’s climate promises

CBS News has these predictions in store for what business can expect from Biden. He will, on day one, ‘Sign an executive order to formulate plans to achieve a 100% clean energy economy and Net Zero emissions by 2050.’

Then, Biden will also enact an executive order ‘to conserve 30% of America’s lands and waters by 2030.’ Further, in the next 100 days, he will organise a “climate world summit” to push world leaders to more aggressively tackle climate change, specifically addressing global shipping and aviation emissions.

This, writes CBS, is one of the priorities Mr. Biden has established that does not require congressional approval. The new president also promised to “pressure” China to stop subsidizing coal and “outsourcing” pollution.

Various other reports mention plans for a $2 trillion boost on clean energy, alongside rumours of a high-level task force to come up with a climate plan across government.

There is also a certain irony to proceedings. Trump began removing the US from the climate pledges soon after election but this took pushing on four years, so the US actually only left after Trump had lost the 2020 election.

The BBC’s Matt McGrath observed in November last year that after a three year delay, the US has become the first nation in the world to formally withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. But almost immediately a return is on the cards.

Ironically for Trump, President Obama’s negotiators wanted to ensure that it would take time for the US to get out if there was a change in leadership, building in the delay as a kind of insurance policy to help protect the agreement. To that purpose, Obama’s plan worked.

What future now for the Paris Agreement?

It seems relatively self-evident that for the Agreement, the good times are probably back. “The EU green deal and carbon neutrality commitments from China, Japan and South Korea point to the inevitability of our collective transition off fossil fuels,” Laurence Tubiana, one of the architects of the Paris agreement and now chief executive of the European Climate Foundation told the BBC.

“There were always going to be speed bumps as the global economy shifted off oil, gas and coal – but the overall direction of travel is clear. As governments prepare stimulus packages to rescue their economies from Covid-19 it’s vital they invest in technologies of the future, not the past.”

But there will be challenges. The Guardian noted that Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has written what critics say will be a weak proposal for climate pollution from airplanes, a placeholder that will hinder stricter regulation.

The Trump administration, it argues, has been playing both offence and defence, rescinding and rewriting some rules and crafting others that would be time consuming for the incoming Democratic president to reverse.

Whilst the US is back in, undoing some of the recent harm may be a fight that takes years.