What does the US election mean for the climate?

By Chris Winward

 

The result of the US election is clearly a win for anyone who cares about the climate. Joe Biden has made it clear that he intends the US to re-join the Paris agreement and has pledged $2tn to spend on clean energy. But how much of an impact will the election result have on the global response to the climate crisis?

To answer this, we must acknowledge all aspects of the global situation. 2020 has been dominated by the impact of Covid-19, which has shutdown economies triggering widespread economic turmoil. Since the first wave of lockdowns in the spring, the concept of a green recovery has gained traction among government leaders across the world, with the notable exception of Donald Trump.

However, new leadership in The White House brings good reason for optimism with regards to implementing effective global action to stop climate change. Trump’s consistent failure to take climate change seriously has to date been a stumbling block as leaders grappled with how to reduce emissions and justify the policies to voters. Motivation to make ambitious changes may have been limited by the fact that the US, the country with the largest GDP and the second biggest emitter of carbon emissions, failed to commit to taking action.

With Biden being elected, it looks like this barrier is soon to be overcome. He appears to understand the science behind climate change and his commitment to re-joining the Paris agreement, and his pledge to spend budget on clean energy means the US will once again be committed to reducing carbon emissions.

It is essential that governments have a long-term vision for the development of renewables and the role this technology has to play in reducing carbon emissions. As investor interest in renewables soars following from the concept of a green recovery creeping into the everyday news bulletins, renewable energy technologies are becoming increasingly independent of government derived funding for the building of new infrastructure.

However, I would argue that renewables still need a supportive policy environment to allow them to be truly effective in combatting climate change. For example, in the production of biomethane as an alternative to natural gas derived from fossil fuel, policies must ensure that renewables can compete on a level playing field and are not undercut by their fossil fuel equivalents.

My perception is that Biden will enable the US to start transitioning towards a greener economy, which in turn will impact the collective global effort to reduce carbon emissions. However, we must not fall into the trap of complacency while the US catches up.