Photo: Joe Biden; Source: Biden's Twitter account

Biden steers U.S. back towards Paris Agreement on his first day

U.S. President Joe Biden has announced America will return to the international Paris Agreement to fight climate change.

The return of the U.S. to the Paris Agreement can be considered as the centrepiece of day-one executive orders aimed at restoring the country’s leadership in combating global warming.

According to Reuters, the announcements also included a sweeping order to review all of former President Donald Trump’s actions weakening climate change protections, the revocation of a vital permit for TC Energy’s Keystone XL oil pipeline project from Canada, and a moratorium on oil and gas leasing activities in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge that Trump’s administration had recently opened to development.

Biden’s orders will mark the start of a major policy reversal in the world’s second-largest greenhouse gas emitter behind China after the Trump administration rolled back environmental regulation to maximise fossil fuel development.

The now sworn-in 46th President of the U.S. promised to put the country on a track to net-zero emissions by 2050 to match the steep and swift global cuts that scientists say are needed to avoid the most devastating impacts of global warming, using curbs on fossil fuels and massive investments in clean energy.

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John Podesta, an adviser to former President Barack Obama who helped craft the 2015 Paris Agreement, said: “We got off track very severely for the last four years with a climate denier in the Oval Office. We enter the international arena with a credibility deficit“.

While environmental advocates were thrilled by the orders, industry groups and conservatives criticized them. One of them, Alaska’s Republican Governor Mike Dunleavy, mocked Biden’s decision to shut down oil and gas work in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, saying the new president “appears to be making good on his promise to turn Alaska into a large national park“.

The American Petroleum Institute, the nation’s top oil and gas industry lobby group, meanwhile, said it believed blocking the Keystone XL oil pipeline was a “step backwards“.

This misguided move will hamper America’s economic recovery, undermine North American energy security and strain relations with one of America’s greatest allies“, API President Mike Sommers stated.

Reuters noted that global counterparts and climate advocates welcomed Washington’s return to cooperation on climate change, but expressed some scepticism about its staying power and its ability to overcome domestic political turmoil.

The United States continues to be the one and only country that has withdrawn from the Paris Agreement, making it, frankly, the pariah of this multilateral agreement“, former U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres said. Biden can regain U.S. credibility by “doing the domestic homework” of ambitious climate action at home.

It is also worth noting that the United States under Obama pledged to deliver $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund to help vulnerable countries fight climate change. It has delivered only $1 billion so far.

As for Biden, he already has a plan to spend $2 trillion over four years to significantly increase the use of clean energy in the transportation, electricity and building sectors.