On paper, Joe Biden already looks to be a better climate ally than Boris Johnson

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Jonathan Bartley
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Theresa May has accused Boris Johnson of abandoning Britain’s position of “global moral leadership” in an article to mark the inauguration of Joe Biden as the US president (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Theresa May has accused Boris Johnson of abandoning Britain’s position of “global moral leadership” in an article to mark the inauguration of Joe Biden as the US president (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Rarely has a US inauguration drawn so much attention around the world as that of Joe Biden as the 46th president.

It’s not just the chaos of Donald Trump’s attempted coup but the climate calamity of his four years in the White House that concerned citizens around the world will hope to see reversed.

As well as taking the US out of the Paris Climate Agreement, Trump loosened regulations on toxic air pollution, scrapped Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan that aimed to cut emissions by 32 per cent by 2030, issued an executive order for a 30 per cent increase of logging on public land and approved major oil and drilling operations to take place, amongst many other severely environmentally damaging actions.

His single term with oil men in key cabinet positions, climate lies from official spokespeople, and cash handouts to the fossil industry set us back years in the global task to tackle the climate crisis.

Biden’s climate team seems deliberately chosen to provide a stark contrast to these dinosaurs. He has put together a team, led by the experienced climate tsar John Kerry, which is diverse, youthful and skilled.

Janet Yellen, as the first woman in US history to be treasury secretary, is a trusted operator and has viewed climate change as a threat for decades. She intends to tax carbon emissions. Meanwhile, Governor Jennifer Granholm, who in 2015 started the American Jobs Project, which promotes policies to create jobs in batteries and other forms of advanced energy technology, will become only the second woman ever to be appointed secretary of energy.

Biden’s immediate promise on election to take the US back into the Paris Climate Agreement was preceded with a pledge for a massive $2tn (£1.5tn) climate package to escalate the use of clean energy, as well as electrifying the US transport and building sectors. This sort of spending will not only create jobs lost through the Covid closures but will also transform the US economy in a way most countries can only dream about. Boris Johnson’s pitiful £12bn pledge for his 10-point climate action plan looks tokenistic by comparison.

Alongside revoking Trump’s damaging environmental policies, Biden must deliver on his campaign promises - to prepare America for further natural disasters such as floods, droughts, and fires and dive head first into getting his nation on the path to a carbon-neutral society.Another of the incoming president’s first executive actions is expected to be the revocation of a permit to build the Keystone XL pipeline. This $9bn (£6.6bn) project, which would move oil from Alberta in Canada to Nebraska, was a promise which formed part of Trump’s presidential campaign and caused environmental uproar. Its cancellation would be a welcome victory for environmentalists in the US - and stands in stark contrast to the UK government’s decision to allow a new coal mine in Cumbria.

Before becoming president, Biden described the climate and ecological crisis as the “existential threat of our time”, and he is putting in place the people and the funding on a scale to match this rhetoric. Can our own prime minister live up to that level of ambition at the G7 summit held in Cornwall this summer? A meeting of world leaders where climate will be on the agenda and President Biden will be in attendance? Or in Glasgow at the UN COP26 conference in November?

Of course, while many of Biden’s promises are stirring a sense of hope around the world he will be judged on his actions. The US is still a country addicted to oil and Biden and his team will néed the courage to stand up to the vested fossil fuel interests.

And his current target to become carbon neutral by 2050 leaves the world with a 50/50 chance of falling into runaway climate change. A Green New Deal would reduce emissions much more quickly and ensure a just transition for workers and disadvantaged communities, as called for by the US Green Party.

This is the last decade in which we can prevent the devastating consequences of climate change to our planet. President Biden has set high ambitions and we can only hope that he lives up to them.

Jonathan Bartley is co-leader of the Green Party of England and Wales

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