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President Biden’s first climate moves send strong signal in key year for global action

The president returned the US to the Paris Agreement hours after entering office, sending a powerful signal in the build up to Cop26, says Daisy Dunne

Friday 22 January 2021 01:29 GMT
<p>President Biden has sent out a strong signal on the climate crisis</p>

President Biden has sent out a strong signal on the climate crisis

Just hours after entering office, President Joe Biden signed an executive order to bring the US back into the Paris Agreement, an international deal aimed at curbing the climate crisis. The US will formally be back in the agreement in 30 days.  

It marked the beginning of Mr Biden’s ambitious new climate regime. On his first day, Mr Biden also signed an order to restore 100 public health and environmental rules that Donald Trump had rolled back or weakened, and a separate order to cancel the permit for the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline project.

Rejoining the Paris Agreement is more than just a symbolic statement. After notifying the UN of his commitment to rejoin, Mr Biden is now expected to come up with a plan for how he will reduce the country’s emissions. As the US is the world’s second largest greenhouse gas emitter, Mr Biden’s international climate plan will have global repercussions.

It is unlikely that Mr Biden will be able to immediately supply the UN with a more ambitious climate plan, which is called a “nationally determined contribution” (NDC), says Pete Betts, the former lead climate negotiator for the UK and EU and current fellow of Chatham House.

“There are different views on how long it will take them to put their own commitment together, their so-called ‘NDC’,” he told The Independent. “But it will probably take some months.”

Coming up with an ambitious international climate plan will be key for Mr Biden as he attempts to rebuild the US’s reputation as a global leader on environmental issues.

Ahead of his inauguration, Mr Biden signalled his intent to renter international climate diplomacy by appointing former Secretary of State John Kerry to serve as a “special presidential envoy” for the climate crisis, and by pledging to hold a climate summit for world leaders within his first 100 days of office.

“Whatever happens Biden is going to give a very high profile to climate change internationally,” said Betts. “The appointment of Kerry as the special representative is a very strong signal there.”

Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry speaks in Delaware

The UN is hoping that all countries will significantly raise their ambition for tackling their emissions ahead of the next round of climate talks, which will be hosted by the UK in Glasgow in November. The summit, which is known as Cop26, is widely expected to be a key moment for sufficiently ramping up action to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.

Dr Kat Kramer, climate policy lead for the charity Christian Aid, said that Mr Biden’s commitment to prioritising the climate crisis could “usher in a new era to put the world on a safe path”.

“The return of the US shows the strength of the Paris Agreement. Donald Trump has been the ultimate stress-test for the accord and despite his attempts to undermine it, no other country followed him out of the door and now the world’s biggest historical emitter is back in the fold.

“Now with the Biden Presidency making climate change a priority we have the opportunity to usher in a new era to put the world on a safe path.”  

Boris Johnson was among world leaders to congratulate Mr Biden for taking swift action to rejoin the Paris Agreement. In a statement, he said: “President Joe Biden rejoining the Paris Agreement is hugely positive news. In the year we host Cop26 in Glasgow, I look forward to working with our US partners to do all we can to safeguard our planet.”

Experts previously told The Independent that the prime minister is likely to see the climate crisis as a key area where he can find common ground with the new president.  

“Obviously the UK has the problem of the legacy with the relationship with Trump,” Nick Mabey, founder and CEO of E3G, a global climate think tank, told The Independent.

“They know they aren’t going to get any change on trade and they’re not really a global superpower around issues like Russia and China, so the main area where the US needs the UK and the UK has got agency is on climate change and Cop26.”

Sam Hall, director of the Conservative Environment Network, added: “Climate will be one of the top foreign policy priorities of Boris Johnson's government this year, and US soft power is now firmly pushing for a successful Glasgow climate summit. 

“With the palpable energy that has been injected into international climate policy after Biden's election, climate is possibly the most significant area for UK-US cooperation in 2021.”

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