The Biden presidency will have to rely on executive action while negotiating support for items that could broadly come under a bipartisan agenda.
The Biden presidency will have to rely on executive action while negotiating support for items that could broadly come under a bipartisan agenda. (Photo source: Reuters)
The entire planet’s hopes for meaningful climate action, and not just the Americans’, were hinged on Joe Biden becoming president and fulfilling his ambitious climate agenda. The Biden campaign promised a $2 trillion ‘green economic stimulus’, making the US’s electricity generation and the overall economy net-zero for carbon emissions by 2035 and 2050, respectively. However, a Republican-controlled Senate as also opposition from some Democrats could stall potential legislation and leave the budgets small. The Biden presidency will have to rely on executive action while negotiating support for items that could broadly come under a bipartisan agenda. A Credit Suisse analysis of what climate action under a Biden presidency and Republican Senate could look like lists extensions of tax credits for renewables and carbon capture as items where the Senate may be willing to work with the White House. However, on key elements such as a meaningful green economic stimulus, a national tax system for emissions, national low-carbon fuel and clean electricity standards, national zero vehicular emissions target, the outlook is dim. Indeed, Credit Suisse estimates the eventual ‘green economic stimulus’ could be a mere fourth of what Biden’s agenda talks of, that too in the most optimistic scenario. A more conservative-leaning Supreme Court also means federal agencies will be far more constricted on implementing sweeping ‘green’ laws.
It is unclear if ‘green’ executive orders (EOs) will prove to be a saving grace, given the time-crunch for meaningfully impacting the current climate-change trajectory vis-a-vis the limited effect of what is achievable through EOs. Even so, the Biden presidency can take the EO route to reinstate the Corporate Average Fuel Emission Standards for vehicles (even make them tougher than the Obama era) that Trump had weakened substantially, allow states more autonomy in setting vehicular emission standards (circumscribed by Trump), regulate emissions for the power sector through carbon capture incentives rather than emission standards mandated by law, reverse the Trump rollback of methane emission standards for the oil&gas industry, and even redirect federal government procurement spending of $500 billion towards electric vehicle adoption, retrofitting of federal government buildings for greener power consumption, etc.
The bright spot is likely to be the action from the states and the Biden administration is unlikely to throw a spanner in such works—eight states, which account for 15% of the US’s energy-related carbon dioxide emissions, have adopted carbon neutrality goals, while 15 accounting for a fourth of the country’s electricity generation, have adopted zero-carbon/carbon-neutral targets for the power sector through statutes and EOs. It is not as if Biden’s will be the only government that may not be able to match word with action on the planet’s climate future; even the UK, which has done admirably on cutting emissions, seems to have committed lower funds than needed to back its net-zero target. Unless developed countries commit to faster, more intensive action, standalone climate action, like India’s, won’t be able to keep the world from frying.