by Lauren V. Williams
“I could hardly urge other governments to act aggressively on climate change if the United States didn’t lead by example,” Barack Obama wrote in his latest book, A Promised Land.
Obama goes on to detail the difficulties of uniting the world in the fight against climate change when the United States couldn’t agree on any action itself. In the absence of American leadership, most countries are now well below their targets for carbon emission reductions and the planet is hurdling towards catastrophe. However, as Biden unveils his historic climate and infrastructure bill, his concrete actions to revolutionize the American economy may spur a wave of global action.
Biden’s infrastructure bill exemplifies his willingness to transform staples of American life into a cleaner future. As Biden turbocharges the electric vehicle market with half a million new charging stations, he pledges to convert 20% of yellow school buses away from fossil fuels. Biden plans to mandate American utility companies to include a large percentage of energy to come from renewables, catapulting the country towards his 2035 goal of a carbon free electricity grid. He’s also investing billions to build energy-efficient homes, squash CO2 emissions in agriculture and research carbon capture technology.
The United States faces a lot of competition to be the world leaders in climate action. While Biden has pledged to cut emissions by 50% in nine years, the UK has legally obliged itself to slash emissions 78% by 2035. Similarly, the EU is planning to significantly increase its previous pledge of 55% emissions reductions by 2030 in the coming days.
However, for all countries, their actions must follow their promises. Although UK has significantly decarbonized its electricity generation, their transportation, agriculture and heating industries have not changed. At this rate, they will miss their targets by over 300 million tons of carbon. Similarly, the EU must significantly increase its buildup of wind and solar power generation if they plan to meet their 2030 targets.
Ultimately, the United States is currently in the best position to be the global leader on climate change. Although Congress and the White House are still negotiating, it’s widely expected that Biden will keep his promise to pass a climate-focused infrastructure bill this fall.
This won’t just send a message to the rest of the world. As the only country with a large enough economy, it may catalyze the world’s largest emitters into action.
China has only promised to decrease emissions after 2030, well after when most scientists recommend. Coal mining still remains a way of life in many regions. As the country focuses heavily on growth in the next decade, its plans to build new coal plants haven’t abated. Therefore, it remains to be seen whether US climate envoy’s John Kerry recent agreement with Chinese leaders to cooperate on climate change will be productive.
Perhaps the best catalyst to change China’s behavior is Biden’s reimagination of the US economy. Biden’s infrastructure bill can spark technological innovation, revitalize American supply chains and propel American competitiveness all in a greener, more sustainable way. As the climate crisis worsens, America’s example versus China’s abdication will be a stark contrast to other countries looking for leadership.
Within a hundred days, Biden has reestablished American leadership around the world by exemplifying a domestic government response to the pandemic. Now, he’s positioning the United States to lead the world through its next crisis. However, Biden and other leaders across the world should heed the warning that the pandemic gave them. A problem this large, of life and death, can’t be pushed away indefinitely. Without drastic action now, we may be in a catastrophe later.