US President Joe Biden returned the US to the Paris Agreement in one of his first official acts on Wednesday, and launched a series of efforts that would transform how Americans drive and get their power.
“A cry for survival comes from the planet itself,” Biden said in his inaugural address. “A cry that can’t be any more desperate or any more clear now.”
Biden signed an executive order rejoining the Paris climate accord within hours of taking the oath of office, fulfilling a campaign pledge.
The move undoes the US withdrawal ordered by former US president Donald Trump.
The Paris accord commits 195 countries and other signatories to come up with a goal to reduce carbon pollution, and monitor and report their fossil fuel emissions.
Biden’s move would solidify political will globally, former UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon said.
“Not a single country in this world, however powerful, however resourceful one may be, can do it alone,” Ban said at a virtual briefing in the Netherlands for an upcoming Climate Adaptation Summit. “We have to put all our hands on the deck. That is the lesson, very difficult lesson, which we have learned during last year.”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed Biden’s steps, saying that the US’ re-entry to the climate agreement means countries producing two-thirds of carbon pollution have committed to carbon neutrality.
Biden signed other directives to start undoing other Trump climate rollbacks. He ordered a temporary moratorium on new oil and gas leasing in what had been virgin arctic wilderness, directed federal agencies to start looking at tougher mileage standards and other emission limits again, and began revoking Trump’s approval for the Keystone XL oil and gas pipeline.
Another first-day order directed agencies to consider the impact on climate, disadvantaged communities and future generations from any regulatory action that affects fossil fuel emissions, a new requirement.
However, there was no immediate word on when Biden would make good on another climate campaign pledge, one banning new oil and gas leasing on federal land.
After Biden notifies the UN by letter of his intention to rejoin the Paris Agreement, it would become effective in 30 days, UN spokesman Alex Saier said.
Rejoining the Paris accord could put the US on track to cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 40 percent to 50 percent by 2030, experts said.
“There’s a lot we can do because we’ve left so much on the table over the last four years,” said Kate Larsen, former deputy director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality during the administration of former US president Barack Obama.
Biden has promised that transformations of the US transportation and power sectors, and other changes, would mean millions of jobs.
Opponents of the climate accord, including Republican lawmakers who supported Trump’s withdrawal from it, have said it would mean higher gas prices and higher electricity prices.
“The Paris climate agreement is based on the backward idea that the United States is a culprit here, when in reality the United States is the leading driver of climate solutions,” US Senator John Barrasso said.
Republican senators are expected to introduce legislation that would require Biden to submit the Paris plan to the US Senate for ratification.
It is not clear whether the Senate would have the two-thirds votes needed to ratify the agreement, which was never approved by Congress.
Supporters say that congressional approval is not needed.
Most of the pollution-reduction goals set by the agreement are voluntary.
The climate deal is based on each nation setting a goal for cutting carbon pollution by 2030.
Other countries submitted theirs by last month.
Saier said that the US just needs to submit its goal some time before climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland, in November.
A longtime international goal, included in the Paris accord with an even more stringent target, is to keep warming below 2°C since pre-industrial levels.
As of last year, US emissions were 24 percent below 2005 levels.
There are two big areas where climate policy deals with day-to-day American life. One is electricity generation, and the other is transportation.
Several experts say that the majority of new vehicles purchased in 2030 would be electric.
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