A Win For The People, But A Win For The Planet? A Look Into Joe Biden’s Plans For A Net-Zero Economy

Sophie Robinson

With Donald Trump’s pivotal loss to Joe Biden in the recent US election, the world has watched on with a sense of optimism for the future of one of the world’s most powerful countries. Biden’s win has been seen as emblematic of a hopeful future, since he has unravelled many of the policies made during Trump’s administration, taking a dynamic and liberating approach to the beginning of his presidency.

In his first three weeks in office, Biden has made important social advances in issues such as racial equality, LGBTQ+ rights, the coronavirus pandemic and immigration policies.

He has restored faith after what have been described as Trump’s ethical failings in many areas of American politics, promising a vastly different, but more progressive ‘American Dream’.

However he has also committed to making substantial changes to Trump’s environmental policies, with his inauguration speech making the climate crisis a priority.

On his first day in office, Biden reversed Trump’s decision to leave the Paris Climate Agreement

As climate change continues to threaten the globe, Biden has acknowledged that the US “desperately need[s] a unified national response to the climate crisis” to navigate the future of global environmental management.

Although he has made promising assertions thus far, the effects of environmental policymaking are far more long term than changes to social policies, with some of his promises not expected to be fulfilled until 2050.

So far, Biden has put heavy emphasis on the need for global cooperation when tackling the climate crisis, claiming that he intends to employ America’s allies to decelerate the effects of global warming.

On his first day in office, Biden reversed Trump’s decision to leave the Paris Climate Agreement, taking on the responsibility to aid the international goal of limiting global temperatures to a maximum of 1.5? above pre-industrial levels.

In pursuit of this objective, Biden has pledged to “establish an enforcement mechanism to achieve net-zero emissions by the end of his first term in 2025”, involving processes of incentivising and investing in the
clean energy sector.

At present, only 18% of existing US electricity production methods involve renewable sources, with 19% sourced from nuclear power

However, in order to achieve net-zero, there needs to be a balance between greenhouse gas emissions and the amount removed from the atmosphere.

For greatest efficiency, Biden must put emphasis on both of these concurrently, by striving to decrease current emission rates and put systems in place to reduce greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere.

In terms of reducing emissions, Biden ultimately aims to “make US electricity production carbon-free by 2035”.

At present, only 18% of existing US electricity production methods involve renewable sources, with 19% sourced from nuclear power, therefore making Biden’s promise of 100% decarbonised electricity production a tall order, especially within a 14 year set period.

Therefore, rigorous systems will need to be put into place during Biden’s first term as president to achieve such ambitious goals. However, even if net-zero is achieved by Biden’s measures, the problem of climate change will not be solved completely, especially as almost 90% of global carbon emissions come from outside of US borders.

Consequently, this highlights the need for international cooperation in the approach to tackling climate change.

In regard to reducing the greenhouse gas levels already in the atmosphere, Biden has established the importance of Carbon capture and storage (CCS).

This involves the process of capturing carbon dioxide during electricity generation before it is released into the atmosphere, with up to 90% of carbon captured using CCS.

Biden’s immediate emphasis on environmental preservation… is reassuring after Trump’s ongoing indifference towards climate change

Currently, there are 10 Carbon capture and storage facilities in the US, however Biden wants to accelerate the development of carbon sequestration technology.

Although CCS can have a key role in achieving a net-zero economy, it has its downsides. For example, it is sometimes seen as a distraction from the need to convert to renewable energy, rather than fixing the problems caused by burning fossil fuels, as ultimately, renewable energy sources are net-zero without the pressures of additional carbon sequestration.

Furthermore, CCS requires huge amounts of energy, with some estimating that it uses 30-60% extra energy, as well as doubling the cost of electricity. This would seem incredibly unproductive at a time where the demand for energy is increasing.

Overall, Biden has proposed a progressive but demanding goal of achieving a net-zero economy. Although not completely impossible, he will need to implement rigid initiatives before the end of his term to ensure that the future of US electricity production adheres to net-zero measures.

However, Biden’s immediate emphasis on environmental preservation is
extremely refreshing to see and is reassuring after Trump’s ongoing indifference towards climate change.

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.

Sophie Robinson

Featured image courtesy of jlhervàs via Flickr. Image license found hereNo changes were made to this image. 

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