Biden Administration Unveils America’s Boldest Climate Policy To Date

President Biden signs executive orders on climate change. Image: Screenshot/The White House

by Miro Korenha, ODP co-founder

Yesterday, on #ClimateWednesday, President Joe Biden signed a comprehensive series of executive actions to address the climate crisis both domestically and through U.S. foreign policy. The scope of the executive actions was extensive, but they focus on several (ok, many) key goals:

  • Centering climate change in U.S. foreign policy and national security considerations. This includes the 17 U.S. intelligence agencies coming together to assess climate risks. Additionally, the President will host a Leaders’ Climate Summit on Earth Day, April 22, 2021.
  • Halting new oil and natural gas leases on public lands or offshore waters “to the extent possible.”
  • Leveraging the buying power of the federal government to procure carbon pollution-free electricity and emissions-free vehicles.
  • Pushing for the elimination of fossil fuel subsidies.
  • Accelerating clean energy and transmission projects and creating new jobs.
  • A commitment to protecting at least 30 percent of U.S. lands and oceans by 2030.
  • Establishing a Civilian Climate Corps Initiative.
  • Centering environmental justice across federal agencies and creating a White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council and a White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council.
  • Basing public policy decisions on the best available science while protecting the independence of scientists.

Why This Matters: As President Biden said before he signed the EOs, “In my view, we’ve already waited too long to deal with this climate crisis, we can’t wait any longer.” These actions reaffirm what he said on the campaign trail, that a Biden administration would prioritize climate action and treat it as an intersectional issue.

What’s more is that climate envoy John Kerry made it clear that reentering the Paris Climate Agreement is not enough: the domestic policies behind the commitment are what give it credence.

The Reality: Not only will the Biden administration have to supercharge the climate initiatives set in motion during the Obama administration, but they’ll also have to undo the environmental policy damage done by the Trump administration.

Then there’s the question of how much of Biden’s climate policy agenda can be achieved through legislation versus executive action. While that’s yet to be seen, even the most progressive Democratic senators feel hopeful that conservative Democrats and even moderate Republicans can get behind initiatives that benefit their home states.

The Message: President Biden stated yesterday that “Today is Climate Day at the White House, which means today is jobs day at the White House.” This has been a consistent message from the President on the campaign trail, among his surrogates, and now by his appointees. John Kerry and national climate advisor Gina McCarthy artfully echoed at their press conference that the Biden administration prioritizes job creation, a just transition, and a commitment to supporting fossil fuel workers.

Democrats have struggled to brand their climate goals thus far. Yet, the Biden administration is leading by example and setting the tone for how the party should convey climate action to the American public.

On Conservation: While most people think that the solutions to climate change are rooted in the energy transition, we cannot hope to achieve meeting the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement without protecting nature and focusing on the carbon sequestration potential of land, wetlands, oceans, etc. Establishing a federal commitment to 30 by 30 prioritizes conservation and takes action against the concurrent biodiversity crisis. According to PWC, over half the world’s total GDP – is moderately or highly dependent on nature and its services and, as a result, exposed to risks from nature loss. Protecting nature is crucial to supporting a true economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic as well as acting on climate.

As Brian O’Donnell, Director, Campaign for Nature, said in a statement of the Biden EOs:

We rely on nature for our food, our water, our shelter.  Nature produces the world’s oxygen and regulates our climate.  For too long we have acted as if nature’s bounty was inexhaustible.  Now, the world is facing a biodiversity crisis with up to one million species threatened with extinction including varieties of butterflies, sea turtles and conifers.  The largest driver of this crisis is habitat loss.

President Biden, through today’s announcement setting a national target to protect 30% of our lands and oceans, is providing the leadership we need to safeguard nature.  We will never regret saving too much nature, we will only regret the failure to do so. 

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