GP Insights

GP Insights # 461, 23 January 2021

The US: Biden brings America to Paris
D Suba Chandran

What happened?
On 20 January 2021, as a part of the first day actions, the new American President issued a series of directives, including rejoining the Paris agreement on climate change, focussing on global warming. He has appointed John Kerry, former Secretary of State (during Obama's period), as the US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate. Kerry made an immediate announcement on the wasted years of climate change.

On the same day, Biden has also revoked the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, thereby impacting the expansion of the pipeline that would bring the Canadian crude oil to the US Gulf Coast. 

On the same day, the administration also announced a 60 days freeze, to any new drills on federal lands and waters.

What is the background?
First, the US and the Paris agreement. Signed in 2015, the Paris agreement has around 200 members, from the developed and developing worlds agreeing to reduce fossil fuels' use. Each country has committed to reducing the use of fossil fuels, addressing carbon neutrality and thereby to bring down the global temperature. Obama, then the US President made the US a part of the agreement, and also made pledges to reduce carbon emissions. Accorper cent a New York Times report, "Under the accord, the United States had pledged to cut its greenhouse gas emissions 26 to 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2025 and commit up to $3 billion in aid for poorer countries by 2020." In early June 2017, President Trump announced the US withdrawal from the Paris agreement, as a part of his "American first" push; according to Trump, the Paris agreement would undermine the American economy and place the US at a disadvantageous position. Though he also stated that he would like to renegotiate a better deal for the US, leading States in Europe said, that the Paris agreement is irreversible. Biden has now reversed the Trump's withdrawal from the Paris agreement, and announced the US' re-entry.

Second, the controversial Keystone energy project. Though the idea of a gas pipeline from Canada to the US transporting crude originated in 2008, there have been multiple objections to expanding this project over the years. Besides the climate change activists within the US, who opposed the project on larger climate change issues, there have also been protests from the local communities and Native Americans over the pipeline routes, as the pipelines expanded. According to a Wall Street Journal report, "farmers, ranchers and Native American groups along the proposed route also opposed the pipeline, because it would have traversed ecologically sensitive areas and aquifers important as sources of drinking water and irrigation supplies."

Third, the support for Trump's policies. While Biden has taken a bold step to re-enter the Paris agreement and revoke the Keystone pipeline extension permit, he would face opposition to implement them. From the US Congress to industrialists and business communities, a section within the US supported Trump's policies to withdraw from the Paris agreement and go ahead with the Keystone pipeline expansion to boost the American economy.

What does it mean?
Biden's reversal of Trump's inward-looking and disastrous climate change policies are much needed to take the Paris agreement forward. The decision taken on the first day shows Biden's urgency and also underlines a plan on how the US would approach the climate change issue.

From a global perspective, the return of the US to Paris agreement is much wanted. John Kerry's appointment as the Climate Envoy should give a new push to the climate change debate and actions globally. One should also welcome Kerry's initial statement on the subject, as he underlined the wasted years. Now with Biden at the White House, US and rest of the world have to take the process forward, as the climate clock is ticking.

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