Hours after being sworn in as president of the United States, Joe Biden made his first significant moves in the White House, including signing an executive order to rejoin the Paris climate agreement.
As a result, the US will officially return to the historic commitment to limit warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius in 30 days. The US left the agreement on Nov. 4, 2020, the day after the presidential election, under the direction of former president Donald Trump.
“A cry for survival comes from [the] planet itself,” Biden said in his inauguration speech, “a cry that can’t be any more desperate or any more clear.”
The Paris agreement has always been more a symbolic commitment than a substantive one. For the Trump administration, ditching the accord indicated that the US was relinquishing its role as a climate leader to instead double down on being a nation that relies on fossil fuel extraction. Now, under the Biden administration, the move — part of a flurry of early actions reversing Trump’s agenda on everything from immigration to the pandemic response — symbolizes that the country is more committed than ever to tackling the climate crisis.
Even before Biden signed the executive order, the climate community started heaping on the praise.
“Welcome back to the Paris climate agreement,” tweeted French President Emmanuel Macron.
“In rejoining the Paris agreement, President Biden will immediately signal that it’s a new day for US engagement on climate change,” Helen Mountford, vice president of climate and economics at the World Resources Institute, said in a statement. “To regain trust and credibility, this action must be followed by an ambitious US climate target for 2030 and significantly scaled up climate finance for vulnerable countries.”
The need for action has never been more urgent, as the world is on track for a catastrophic warming of more than 3 degrees Celsius compared to preindustrial levels if nothing changes. Last week, scientists announced that 2020 effectively tied 2016 as the warmest year on record. In the US, last year’s barrage of hurricanes and wildfires resulted in a record number of disasters causing at least $1 billion in damage.
Biden campaigned on the most aggressive climate platform of any presidential candidate, including repeatedly committing to rejoining the Paris agreement on the first day of his presidency.
Since Biden won the election, the incoming administration named addressing climate change among its top priorities and immediately began laying the groundwork to enact sweeping changes.
The transition team announced in November that John Kerry, Barack Obama’s former secretary of state, would serve in the newly created position of special presidential envoy on climate. In this role, Kerry will oversee the country’s international climate talks, including its participation in the Paris agreement.
Then in December, the transition team unveiled plans for a newly created White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy, headed up by Gina McCarthy, Obama’s former Environmental Protection Agency head.
Though the Democrats now lead the Senate by a slim majority, Biden is expected to rely more heavily on executive orders and new regulations to enact his climate agenda. Passing bold legislation through a sharply divided Congress, where many Republican members still question the urgency of the crisis and support continued reliance on fossil fuels, is expected to be a steep challenge.
As part of Biden’s initial climate actions, he is directing federal agencies to review various climate rules finalized under the previous administration relaxing vehicle fuel economy and emissions standards, methane emissions standards, and appliance and building efficiency standards. He is also reestablishing the Interagency Working Group on the Social Cost of Greenhouse Gases and revoking the presidential permit for the Keystone XL oil pipeline.