Newly-inaugurated US President Joseph Biden has wasted little time in honouring his campaign promise to prioritise climate policy and undo a previous deregulation agenda, and science-denialism ideology propagated by his predecessor.
On his first day in office, President Biden demonstrated his commitment to tackling the climate crisis with several executive orders including re-joining the Paris Agreement, revoking the withdrawal of the US from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and cancelling the Keystone XL pipeline.
The Paris Agreement is an international treaty between nations to curb global greenhouse gas emissions, moving towards a low-carbon economy. In 2017, Trump withdrew the US from the agreement, branding it as a “disaster”, which was met with controversy from climate activists.
President Biden’s executive order means that the U.S will re-join the Paris Agreement on 19 February 2021 – 107 days after withdrawing. The U.S must put forward a nationally determined contribution (NDC) for 2030 which supports the Paris objective of keeping global warming below 2C. Biden pledged in his campaign to reach net zero emissions by 2050, however, his administration has yet to release details of how this goal will be achieved.
The move to re-join the Paris Agreement has been welcomed by environmental organisations who claim that this is the first step in the road to green recovery. Greenpeace said that re-joining the agreement was a “no brainer” for Biden, who now must “roll up his sleeves and do the real work to deliver climate justice — revoking federal permits for the Keystone XL pipeline is a great start”.
The Keystone XL pipeline has been a back-and-forth debate between climate activists and the oil industry since the initial stages of the project in 2010. The pipeline, upon completion, would carry oil from the oil sands of Alberta, Canada to Nebraska. However, due to concerns regarding drinking water, public health and the climate the pipeline was vetoed in November 2015 by the Obama Administrations. The Trump administration then rekindled the project by issuing a permit in 2017.
Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, expressed his “disappointment”, however, with Biden’s decision to cancel Keystone XL’s permit, during a 22 February phone call between the two leaders.
A statement released by the PM Trudeau’s office said: “"The prime minister underscored the important economic and energy security benefits of our bilateral energy relationship as well as his support for energy workers."
According to TC Energy Corp, the Canadian company building the pipeline, “thousands of union workers” will be made redundant as a result of the cancellation of the project.
In terms of protecting public health, Biden has halted the country’s withdrawal from the World Health Organisation (WHO) which was enforced by the Trump administration in May 2020 and due to come into effect on July 6, 2021. In a letter to Secretary-General, António Guterres, Biden said that the US will continue to help with “advancing global health and health security”, which includes helping to improve water management for sanitation purposes in response to the current COVID-19 pandemic.
On January 20, 2021 the Biden administration announced that Tanja Trujillo would be the principal deputy assistant secretary for water and science at the Department of the Interior. She will play a central role in delivering better water management with modernised supplies, to provide clean water to a growing population.