The most striking thing about US President Joe Biden's massive plan to accelerate the fight against climate change, which was launched on Wednesday, was not just that it practically reversed his predecessor's stance on the issue.
It is that the Biden government's ambitious efforts to combine global climate activism with old-fashioned populism represent a new approach that environmentalists and politicians say could actually work.
At a press conference in the White House, the new president made no secret of the fact that he was amalgamating his populist offer to "buy Americans" with plans to avert the "existential threat" of catastrophic global climate change. Biden pointed out that despite the return of bipartisanism to the Capitol and predictable Republican claims that such plans would damage the economy, he sees a new path to success in getting his venture through a near-frozen Senate.
"When I think of climate change, I think of … Jobs," said Biden. "Today is Climate Day in the White House, which means today is Jobs Day in the White House."
The president claimed that under his plan, "millions" of Americans will be able to get new jobs by "upgrading our water systems, transportation, and energy infrastructure to withstand the effects of extreme climates." One of its executive orders directs federal agencies to source carbon-free electricity and clean, zero-emission vehicles in order to create "well-paid union jobs" and promote the clean energy industry. Using all of the government's purchasing power would force gasoline-powered cars to obsolete faster and could create "1 million new jobs in the American auto industry," Biden said. He also suggested expanding the network of charging stations for electric cars nationwide.
In addition, major developed and developing countries – China in particular – are on board in a way that decided not too a decade ago, when then-President Barack Obama's green field of employment fell flat at home and developing countries led by China were undermined became the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009. Obama was left with a voluntary, non-binding commitment from other countries to curb emissions under the Paris Agreement of 2015 (which Biden, who reversed the move of former President Donald Trump, quickly rejoined).
One big difference: clean energy, from wind power to electric cars, has become much more competitive with conventional energy sources due to technological advances.
"All of this has been made possible by economic realities, where wind and sun are growing dramatically and the cheapest vehicles are electric," said Nigel Purvis, who led US environmental diplomacy under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. "Who doesn't want a Tesla today? What we're selling to developing countries is a vision of the world that we should create together, and one that they find attractive, unlike when Obama took office."
What the Biden team didn't offer this week, and what's still murky, are hard-forecast numbers for new green jobs. A White House spokesman was asked to provide some estimates, referring to several outside studies, including a July 2020 study by Rewiring America, a new nonprofit climate activist, which found that "an aggressive citizen" could kill up to 25 people Millions of new jobs could be created committed to electrifying all aspects of our economy. "He also cited a January 2018 study by the Environmental Defense Fund that found that another 4 million jobs had already been created:"with wind and solar jobs that surpass those in coal " from improvements in renewable energy to improvements in energy storage and an advanced power grid to greater efficiency and advanced vehicles and modes of transport.
The spokesman said major unions like the AFL-CIO, United Auto Workers and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers have backed Biden's climate proposals in conjunction with his "Buy American" agenda, which will cost trillions of dollars in total. He added: "If the unions did not believe that we were creating good jobs for their members, they would not support our plan."
On Thursday, none other than General Motors, the country's largest automaker, announced that it was committed to being carbon neutral by 2040.
Still, Biden will face stiff political opposition domestically, particularly after the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada was canceled and state and waterway gas and oil leases were interrupted. Instead, Biden said, it would "create a quarter of a million jobs, for example to close off the millions of abandoned oil and gas wells that pose a persistent threat to the health and safety of our communities."
That won't wash away for many on Capitol Hill. The Republicans quickly declared war on his grand plans, repeatedly calling them "job killers." "With the cancellation of the pipeline, the president closed the door to thousands of American jobs with the stroke of a pen," said Mitch McConnell, chairman of the Senate minority, in the Senate on Thursday. “According to one study, just making decisions about states will cut nearly 1 million American jobs by next year. It's one hell of a way to start a presidency: mass layoffs of our own citizens. "
The Republicans in the House were just as vehement. "America is a world leader in power generation and a major exporter of oil and natural gas, which strengthens our national security and fuels our economy for hard-working families," said Steve Scalise, Louisiana, Republican of House, along with 30 Republican members of House Energy Action Team, in a statement on Wednesday. "In less than a week, the Biden administration put these jobs and services at risk."
But Biden's support for hydraulic fracking, or fracking – one of the key technologies that made America energy safer – will help his cause on Capitol Hill. And billions more dollars are being invested in new green technologies – including through projects like the $ 1 billion Breakthrough Energy Ventures fund founded by Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and other deeply pocketed tech titans – than in Obama -Era. The $ 900 billion stimulus package, passed late last year with bilateral support, also provided billions of dollars in renewable energy and technology to remove carbon from the atmosphere – something badly needed to address the worst of the effects of climate change to avert.
Innovators in this latter area are confident. "Carbon capture (and direct air capture specifically) is likely to become a multi-trillion dollar industry," said David Elenowitz, founder of Zero Carbon Partners, a relatively new investment firm focused on emerging businesses that use technology Develop a reduction in CO2 emissions. "And if the US takes the lead in funding this area to cut costs, like it did with solar and wind, it could mean tremendous growth in industry and jobs over time."
Additionally, some climate experts say the political environment is very different from the last time Biden made such plans, when, as Obama's vice president, he also made the government's stimulus plan as a green job creator to produce what Obama nominee said in 2008 there would be a total of 5 million jobs. That didn't quite work out: Several studies later showed that not nearly as many emerged when the stimulus wore off.
Biden now wants the United States to embark on an "irreversible path to a zero net economy" by 2050, which means a country removes as much carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases as it adds to the atmosphere. This is in line with once unruly nations like China, which in an amazing reversal from a decade ago now have their own 2060 target for the same outcome (though some doubt Beijing's sincerity as it still mines and burns more coal than any other Country).
In November 2019, the European Parliament declared a climate emergency and called on the European Commission to make the Paris Agreement even more ambitious by aiming for a temperature increase of only 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to the 2 degrees anchored in the agreement. The Commission has since developed a European Green Deal that sets a goal for Europe climate neutral by 2050.
International pressure could also change the political climate in Washington, especially with a president who loves working abroad. Even some conservative Democratic senators like Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema have made climate change a central issue. And while Biden has to convince Democratic Senator Joe Manchin from coal-intensive West Virginia, the 50:50 split in the Senate (with Vice President Kamala Harris as a tie) makes a major climate policy possible through budget balancing only requires a simple majority.
In a statement, Manchin said he supported some of the government's new goals of "advancing innovative energy technologies to combat climate change." However, he indicated his opposition to the elimination of oil and gas wells and warned that the president's "Executive Orders" also oblige the Biden government to focus on reinvesting in communities where traditional energy jobs have been lost like many in West Virginia. I intend to keep the administration to that. "
Biden's plans, announced along with Climate Specialist John Kerry and former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Gina McCarthy, now the domestic climate expert, represent a complete reinvention of the executive's approach to climate change. Biden ordered a national intelligence service assessment of the security effects of climate change. He raised Kerry to a position on the National Security Council and made climate policy an integral part of national security decisions.
"This is really a fundamental change and not a minute late," said David Bookbinder, climate attorney at the Niskanen Center, a center-right think tank in Washington.
Ultimately, the president's big bet is that the new economy and broad new international consensus on the climate crisis will overturn him. Because what has also changed since the Obama era – and the four-year interlude in which Trump denied that global warming had even occurred – is the sense of urgency created by forest fires, rising sea levels and increasingly severe hurricanes the past few years has become terribly real years.
"What you need to consider is the extent to which the goal posts themselves have moved away from Paris," said Todd Stern, Obama's chief climate negotiator and one of the chief architects of the Paris Agreement. In 2018 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate ChangeThe United States Panel in charge of assessing climate science concluded that the Paris target of limiting temperature rise to less than 2 degrees Celsius was not enough.
"We only have a decade left to arrive at a non-catastrophic result," said Purvis, the former climate diplomat. “I think there is better coordination at home and abroad than there was a decade ago. At home, the climate issue was widely supported as an issue the Democratic Party advocates with a wide range of Democratic interest groups, from unions to Wall Street to the auto industry and the US Chamber of Commerce.
"Internationally, there has never been a more substantial agreement among the major economies about which world they want and how they will get there." By the G7 summit in June, each country will commit to decarbonising by the middle of the century. "
Jan. 28: This story was updated with a comment from the White House.