Tuesday 24th November 2020. Well, at last, it looks like things are a little clearer in the United States. Today, it was announced that Joe Biden can begin the official transition to power. It has been a very odd three weeks since the election on 3rd November. First, it was waiting for enough of the results to come in for Biden and Kamala Harris to be provisionally announced as the winners. In the end, they won reasonably comfortably with over 5 million more votes than Trump, and a pretty good advantage in the electoral college. Since then, though, we have seen a sustained legal challenge from the Trump team to the results in many of the key states. The challenges often seemed bizarre and were nearly all thrown out by the courts. Even now, having allowed the transition to begin, Trump is vowing to fight on. But unless something very remarkable happens it does look like Biden and Harris will now take over on 20th January 2021, and Joe Biden will become the 46th President of the United States.
So what might this mean for the environment? Well, Biden and Harris have already signaled a major change in policy is about to happen. On the 4th of November, the day after the election, the United States officially left the Paris Agreement, the only country to have done so. But Biden has said that he will rejoin straight away- apparently, it is a fairly easy process. He has a whole raft of executive orders concerning the environment planned, which will reverse some of the damage caused by Trump. However, the problem with executive actions is that they can just as easily be reversed in four or eight years when a new president comes in. Ideally, the Democrats would need to control the Senate for Biden to be able to pass legislation, particularly on a partisan issue like climate change. But at present, the Republicans have 50 seats to the Democrats 48. There are two seats outstanding in Georgia, where their rules mean that there will be a run-off on January 5th. If the Democrats won those seats then both parties would have 50 seats and the casting vote would go to Vice President, Kamala Harris. So those elections in early January will be fairly crucial.
There have been a number of major signals already that the Biden/Harris administration will be putting the environment, and very definitely climate change, higher up the government agenda than ever before. Soon after Biden was announced as the winner of the presidential race he had discussions with the leaders of the UK, France, Germany, and Ireland. In all cases, climate change was firmly on the agenda. He has made it abundantly clear that things are about the change very rapidly. Just yesterday, his appointment of John Kerry as a special presidential envoy on climate change was widely seen as a significant step forward. Kerry is a former Secretary of State and was a key architect of the Paris Agreement which he famously signed for the United States in 2016. accompanied by his granddaughter. Hardly anyone in the world knows as much about international climate change policy, and he is totally committed. You can watch Kerry’s first speech as the new envoy HERE.
Internationally, there have been a number of other signs that 2021 could be a key year on climate change. China has set its 2060 target for carbon neutrality. Japan and South Korea are also on board. The European Union has always been positive, and Boris Johnson announced last week his ten-point plan for the UK, and that there would be a ban on petrol and diesel car sales from 2030. So all eyes will turn towards the COP26 climate change meeting in Glasgow in November 2021. In many respects, the delay of a year caused by the COVID-19 pandemic may be advantageous, as Biden, Harris and Kerry will give the meeting the focus it deserves. So 2020 has been a pretty dreadful year, but the prospects for 2021 are looking much better. I hope so.
Dr. Martin J Hodson
JRI Operations Director
Photo: Martin Hodson