The US took a step closer to reprising its role as a world leader on climate policy after President Joe Biden made the issue a national security priority, signing a sweeping set of executive orders protecting federal land and halting oil and gas leases. He’s also invited world leaders to a climate summit in April.
“We have already waited too long,” Joe Biden said Wednesday, describing global warming as an existential threat to humanity. “We see it with our own eyes, we feel it in our bones. It’s time to act.”
The orders – intended to push the US towards net zero emissions by 2050 – mark a radical shift in direction for the world’s second biggest polluter which, under Donald Trump, saw huge rollbacks to its environmental policies.
Biden is now putting an end to fossil fuel subsidies, while doubling offshore wind energy and conserving at least 30 percent of federal land and oceans by 2030. In addition, the government’s fleet 650,000 cars and trucks is to be replaced by electric vehicles.
The US needs to make progress on multiple fronts at once if it is to deliver on its climate promises, says David Waskow, director of the climate initiative at the World Resources Institute, a global non-profit in Washington DC.
“There's no question that this has to be an all-in kind of approach,” he told RFI. “It has to be across all sectors, all departments of the government, and it's got to be top-to-bottom across the country.”
This will require unprecedented collaboration among all federal departments and agencies in areas of energy, agriculture, transport, trade, financing and more.
With the Democrats controlling both houses of Congress, hopes are high that Biden’s green transition will be meaningful.
While the new rules are expected to get pushback from big industry, they’re also tipped to drive new jobs and opportunities – especially in the area of renewables.
“We’ve seen so much more evidence that taking action on climate change actually brings enormous economic benefits … and we're seeing polling that shows Americans understand this,” Waskow says.
“They know that taking action to boost renewable energy … and electrify our transport fleet can also be a big economic generator for the United States.”
As part of efforts to reposition the US as a climate leader, Biden has also announced plans to host an international summit on Earth Day, 22 April.