With Joe Biden now set to become the 46th president of the United States, is the future of sustainability set to change? What each candidate stood for with regards to sustainability and the climate crisis were explained in our Trump Vs Biden election guide, but since both parties and ideologies around climate change are going to be present in congress, will America get back on track with its climate journey?
After a contentious election in the United States, Joe Biden has won enough electoral votes to become the president elect. Set to take office on 20 January, 2021, he has already been tasked with trying to heal a very divided nation in the midst of a global pandemic, with overlying threats such as climate change affecting not only the country but the world. Despite securing the presidency, and the house of representatives, the democratic blue wave that was predicted by some to sweep across the nation didn’t necessarily happen. The senate looks to remain majority republican, which means president-elect Joe Biden will not be able to put forth legislation at will with a complete majority government. His dealings with Republican Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell might not see the sustainability deal that the United States desperately needs.
Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, who was just elected for a seventh term, has long been against government policies on climate action. He had long prioritised supporting his state of Kentucky’s coal mining communities and called former President Obama’s environmental policies and actions “an attack on coal and coal communities”. He once stated that “Coal miners risked their lives to fuel our country and our growth into a world power”. He has since softened his stance by admitting that he does believe humans burning fossil fuels may have a negative impact on the environment. However, despite this, he hasn’t put forward any alternative climate action plans and the republican party generally remains against climate change as they continue to receive donations from corporations that burn fossil fuels.
Not only will republican officials have to get on board towards a net zero future, but some American citizens will have to as well. Rejection of science has seen growth in recent years, especially among republican politicians and republican voters, with more people believing President Trump’s previous claims that climate change is a hoax. A study conducted by the Cambridge Globalism Project indicated that the U.S. had the 3rd highest percentage of climate deniers in the rich world behind Indonesia and Saudi Arabia.
What are Joe Biden’s options? His first steps should involve taking actions that wouldn’t require other congressional action. Actions like reinstating the United States into the Paris climate accord, that the nation officially withdrew from last week, as well as reinstalling environmental protection policies that were established when Joe Biden was vice president before president Trump rescinded them are some easy options. Joe Biden has already committed to reinstating the U.S. in the climate accord so it is highly likely he will reinstate these environmental regulations as well. Joe Biden could further use his executive order powers to overrule the republican senate in some cases, although subsequent lawsuits would be filed and might not yield any change.
A republican controlled senate would almost certainly strike down Joe Biden’s proposed climate action plan of spending almost $2 Trillion over the next 4 years. Investment in upgrading buildings to make them more energy efficient or spending on public transport as well as green financial incentives could see bipartisan agreement. In general, infrastructure has seen bipartisan agreement and could also see corporate support from companies who occupy buildings looking to reduce expenses through sustainability. Biden and McConnell have worked together in the past and have common ground on certain issues, although sustainability might not be one of them. If Joe Biden can prove that sustainability for America is profitable and can create jobs, both parties can agree on sustainable changes.
Joe Biden will have a busy couple of weeks getting his transitional team together, creating an executive branch and trying to unite a divided nation under a set of bipartisan causes. Education on the benefits of reducing carbon emissions is still needed not only in government but around the country as well. Only time will tell what the future for sustainability in America will be, but Joe Biden and the United States congress collectively have the potential over the next few years to take serious action against climate change.