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Investment Institute
Macroeconomic Research

How can President Biden tackle Climate Change?

  • 21 January 2021 (5 min read)

The challenges Biden will face in reducing greenhouse gas emissions

  • President Joe Biden has pledged to return the US to the top-tier of nations attempting to mitigate climate change
  • Though elected with the second-most popular vote in three decades, Biden’s majorities in Congress are slim. This presents difficulties in passing primary climate legislation, unless more extreme measures are taken
  • The administration may also find it more challenging to tighten regulations regarding emissions than before
  • Biden can play an important role in highlighting the scientific facts which illustrate the need for more action - as well as some of the solutions on offer
  • US public opinion is firmly in favour of the Federal government taking more action – two-thirds think more should be done, including a majority of liberal and younger Republicans
  • A rich community of sub-national actors have already committed to significant actions to reduce greenhouse gases. This alone however is unlikely to be enough

The last four years has seen a meaningful acceleration in individual nations’ commitments to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Sweden, in 2017 and then Denmark, in 2018, were the first countries to legislate for carbon neutrality by 2045 and 2050 respectively. They were followed by the UK in 2019 with a 2050 target. Since then many others have come on board with Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Japan, Canada and Mexico all committing to carbon neutrality by 2050. In 2020 China pledged to see a peak in GHGs by 2030 and reach carbon neutrality by 2060.

Over the same four years however, the US has once again1 changed course on climate change with former President Donald Trump taking the US out of the Paris Agreement and easing many of the Obama-era regulations on fuel efficiency and other environmental regulations. President Joe Biden has campaigned on returning the US to the international mainstream by committing to a 2050 carbon neutrality target and re-joining the Paris Accord. This note reviews the options open to him to deliver on this mandate. We examine the difficulties in delivering climate legislation given that Congress is only delicately poised in the Democrats favour and many Republicans are refusing to recognise a need for action. We also consider shifts in US voter preference, with 67% of Americans now believing the Federal government is doing too little. We also examine the rich network of subnational US actors still committed to tackling climate change.

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