With the incoming U.S. administration of Joe Biden vowing to embark on an extraordinarily ambitious international climate agenda, the world is reaching a tipping point as far as climate is concerned.
The president-elect has announced the U.S. will return to the Paris climate agreement on day one in office. The incoming administration has also released a transition website that puts climate change as a top priority.
The Paris agreement on climate change bound nations to hold global temperature rise to well below 2C, with an aspiration of 1.5C.
Biden’s climate policies are in sharp contrast to those of President Donald Trump. Trump has been keen on global “energy dominance.” Maintaining the nation’s status as the world’s No. 1 oil and natural gas producer has been a significant objective of the departing administration of Trump.
Biden, however, has promised to transition away from fossil fuels. During the last presidential debate in late October, Biden underlined that fossil fuels must be replaced by renewable energy sources over time, with the U.S. moving toward net-zero emissions.
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The president-elect proposes to make U.S. electricity production carbon-free by 2035 and to have the country – the world’s second-largest polluter after China – achieve net-zero emissions by the middle of the century.
That doesn’t mean the end of the fossil fuel era. Even Biden admits that.
After the TV duel, Biden clarified that fossil fuels wouldn’t be eliminated until 2050. He emphasized that “we’re going to still need oil. We’re gonna still have combustion engines.”
The global climate camp is energized by Biden’s election. His climate plan could put Paris agreement targets within striking distance, Helen Regan said in a piece for CNN.
Biden’s plans to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and make a $1.7-trillion investment in a green recovery from the COVID-19 crisis would reduce U.S. emissions over the next 30 years by about 75 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide or its equivalents.
Calculations by the Climate Action Tracker (CAT) show that this would be enough to avoid a temperature rise of about 0.1C by 2100.
“This could be a historic tipping point: with Biden’s election, China, the U.S., EU, Japan, South Korea – two-thirds of the world economy and over 50 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions – would have net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century,” Bill Hare, CEO of Climate Analytics, a CAT partner organization, said in a statement.
“These commitments are very close, if not within, 1.5C-consistent pathways for this set of countries and for the first time ever, puts the Paris agreement’s 1.5C limit within striking distance,” Hare said.
If nothing is done to stop global warming, the world is set to warm by 2.7C by the end of the century. CAT says this would bring more extreme storms, heatwaves, greater sea-level rise and, for many parts of the world, worse droughts and rainfall extremes.
Wildfires, unprecedented floods and droughts have been some of the common manifestations of rising global temperatures.
With rising sea levels, countries such as the Maldives could disappear altogether. Snowpack in the Himalayas is melting. Floods are becoming frequent in Pakistan and India. Ice in Greenland and Antarctica is melting six times faster than in the 1990s, some reports say. Hurricanes are becoming stronger and more frequent, apparently due to climatic changes.
“Global warming is an existential threat to humanity,” Biden said during the last debate.
We will see, in the wake of stiff resistance from the oil lobby, to what extent he backs up his words.
Toronto-based Rashid Husain Syed is a respected energy and political analyst. The Middle East is his area of focus. As well as writing for major local and global newspapers, Rashid is also a regular speaker at major international conferences. He has been asked to provide his perspective on global energy issues by both the Department of Energy in Washington and the International Energy Agency in Paris.