Biden has said that he will begin the process of rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement on his first day in office. This move would certainly send an important signal regarding the US’ intention to return to climate negotiations and the administration’s general support for climate policy. But this is the easy part; a breakthrough on climate policy will require much more. The Paris Agreement, although an important diplomatic step, is a relatively weak vehicle for pursuing real change on climate policy.
The majority of carbon emission reduction pledges are not enough to keep global warming below the target of 2 degrees Celsius and most states are not on track to meet even those pledges. Nevertheless, considering the size of the US economy and its status as the world’s second largest emitter, an ambitious climate agenda on the part of the US would inject significant momentum into global climate negotiations. The Biden team seems more intent than any other administration to date on making environmental policy not only a priority on the domestic level, but also a cornerstone of US foreign policy.
Biden plans to convene a “climate world summit” to push world leaders towards more ambitious, binding, and enforceable commitments. He has said he is open to carbon border adjustment fees or quotas on carbon-intensive goods from countries that do not meet their climate commitments. He has proposed a climate plan to shift the US away from fossil fuels and towards clean energy that would cost more than $2 trillion—about ten times as much as the Obama administration spent on climate policies. The open question for Biden, though, is whether he will get enough domestic and international support to pursue this agenda. He can rely on executive orders to some extent, but where his initiatives require Congressional support, he is likely to face strong opposition.