Climate science is back at the top of the agenda in the U.S. after Joe Biden set out his ambitious vision for a “clean energy revolution”.
The man due to become the 46th president wants the U.S. to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. And while commentators have noted his vision may fall short of the Green New Deal proposed by some in the Democratic party, the $2 trillion plan has the potential to accelerate the growth of clean energy in the U.S. and beyond.
So what does Biden’s energy policy look like? Here are five things he’s talking about doing.
1. Targeting Net-Zero Emissions by 2050
Making more climate-friendly policy decisions is just part of the story. Biden intends to U-turn current policies that promote fossil fuels, vowing to end federal subsidies, enforce aggressive methane emissions limits for new and existing oil and gas projects, and impose mandatory emission reductions from electric utilities, among other moves.
Some major fossil fuel projects have also been called into question, with Biden stating his intention to cancel regulatory authorization for projects like the Keystone XL pipeline, designed to carry Canadian oil and bitumen to U.S. refineries. He can further channel investment away from carbon-intensive projects by ensuring the Federal Reserve and the broader financial system prioritize projects that take climate change into account.
As part of a host of new legislative proposals, Biden will rejoin the Paris Agreement on climate change and establish a new cross-agency research initiative dedicated to developing technologies to achieve 100% clean energy.
2. Making Historic Investment in Clean Energy and Innovation
Weighing the environmental cost of inaction on climate change against the cost of transitioning to cleaner sources of energy, Biden has proposed federal investment of $2 trillion in clean energy infrastructure, transport, and community development, over a four-year period, increasing to $5 trillion through additional private sector, state and local investments. Funding would come largely from increased corporate tax rates and other tax measures.
Biden’s green energy vision emphasizes the need for environmental justice, with plans to spend 40% of investment funds remedying the inequalities that leave minority, low-income, and indigenous communities adversely affected by climate change and pollution.
3. Holding Organizations Accountable for Pollution
Putting climate change center stage, organizations will have to pay for the environmental cost of their operations and supply chains.
Public companies will need to disclose the extent of greenhouse gas emissions and climate-related financial risks they create. New legislation could make corporate executives personally liable for falling foul of the new rules, with penalties including imprisonment in extreme cases.
This would be in stark contrast to the past few years, during which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) referred the fewest environmental pollution cases to the justice system for three decades.
4. Creating Millions of Well-Paid Clean Energy Jobs
Biden wants to generate 10 million new jobs in clean energy, largely through infrastructure projects and developing a carbon-free economy. This includes revitalizing America’s infrastructure – such as roads, water systems, electricity grids, and broadband networks – and constructing 1.5 million new sustainable homes.
Moves to cut emissions by creating more public transport and encouraging production of hybrid and electric vehicles would also lead to new jobs.
And while plans to switch to a zero-emissions power sector by 2035 would surely boost employment prospects, any gains have to be weighed against job losses in traditional fossil-fuel as these sectors are superseded.
The U.S. shale gas industry supports both jobs and revenue, for example, but the extraction method, known as fracking, has come under fire from environmentalists.
While Biden has not said he’ll ban the practice, there has been talk of preventing new fracking projects on federal land, which is a cause for concern for those employed in the industry.
5. Empowering Federal Agencies to Correct Environmental Injustice
Climate change affects everyone, but its impact on health, economic well-being, and everyday life is greater in minority and low-income communities and on tribal lands, research shows.
To tackle this imbalance, Biden intends to make environmental justice a priority for all federal agencies. Across the U.S., these agencies will be charged with finding solutions to environmental problems that adversely impact these communities. Efforts will be overseen by central government to ensure results.
With Biden as president, fighting climate change will be a top priority. But it remains to be seen how far, and with what level of cooperation from across the political spectrum, his plan can be realized.
Johnny Wood has been a journalist for over 15 years working in different parts of the world – Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. As well as an accomplished features writer he has edited several prestigious lifestyle magazines and corporate publications.