This story was first published in World Resources Institute Insights.
Many Americans are celebrating President Joe Biden’s first year in office. Be anxiousAbout the resurgent COVID-19 pandemic Be concernedInformation about supply chain bottlenecks as well as inflation. Be worriedClimate change and Effeminate that elected leaders don’t seem to be able to make progress in addressing these challenges.
To be fair, some problems, such as the emergence of new virus variants, are beyond any politician’s control and others, such as climate change, have been decades in the making and can’t be solved overnight. While it is not reasonable to judge Biden’s performance based on whether he has solved these problems, it is reasonable to ask how his response to them measures up against prior hopes and expectations.
We should also recognize that although the president has tremendous powers, much of Biden’s agenda requires Congress to cooperate, and securing that cooperation has proven to be a challenge.
The president worked with members of both political parties to pass the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (or Bipartisan Infrastructure Act), but the larger and more consequential Build back Better Act is still stalled. To become law, every senator Democrat and almost every House Democrat must sign off on the final bill without Republican support.
Although the president was able to work with members from both parties to pass Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (or Bipartisan Infrastructure Act), the larger and more consequential BuildBack Better Act remains in limbo.
When it comes to climate change, shortly after last year’s election I laid out Three principles and 10 priorityI hoped that the Biden administration would follow my lead in responding to the climate crisis. Here is a review of the accomplishments, where it is still in progress, and where it has fallen behind.
Is the Biden administration committed to key climate action principles
- Inclusive prosperity. The Biden administration has placed climate policy at center of its “build back stronger” agenda to promote prosperity. committedTo advance equity by ensuring that at minimum 40% of the climate policy benefits go to historically marginalized communities of environmental justice.
- Follow the carbon. The administration is working hard to reduce emissions from all major sector and has focused on transport and industry, as well as electricity generation.
- All hands on deck. Biden adopted the “Climate Crisis: Whole of Government Approach“From his first week in office, he appointed former governors/mayors to his cabinet and encouraged partnership with state and local governments to advance climate solutions.
The Biden administration gets full marks at the level of principles. What about specific actions?
1. Commit to cut total greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50 percent by 2030: Achieved.
Biden established a new April record. National goalTo reduce emissions by 50-52% compared to 2005 levels by 2030. This was done in an updated U.S. nationally decided contribution (NDC), or climate plan, under the Paris Agreement.
2. Pass a major climate smart economic stimulus package to help rebuild from COVID-19: Work in progress.
The bipartisan legislation was passed by Congress Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (or Bipartisan Infrastructure Act)The document contains important provisions to improve the electricity grid and build electric vehicle charging infrastructure. It also supports electric school buses and develops carbon dioxide capture and sequestration technologies.
There are currently more than $500 billion worth clean energy tax credits and rebates for electric vehicle owners. Build Back Better ActThe House passed a resolution titled, but the Senate remains stuck.
3. All passenger vehicles manufactured after 2035 must emit zero emissions.
Biden signed an agreement to reduce emissions by 50% for all new passenger cars sold by 2030. Executive orderDirecting federal agencies to purchase zero-emission light duty vehicles up to 100 percent by 2027. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, (EPA) issued a final ruling. Significantly reducedTreibhausgas emissions starting in model year 2023-2026 passenger cars. We will start work on standards for model years 2027 and later vehicles.
4. Ramp up clean electricity standards to 55 percent by 2025, 75 percent by 2030 and 100 percent by 2035: Off track.
Biden signed an agreement to reaffirm his commitment to 100 percent clean energy by 2035. Executive orderFederal agencies are required to procure 100 per cent carbon-free electricity by 2030. Unless the filibuster rule changes, 60 votes would be required to pass a national clean electric standard. The clean electricity payments program proposal was dropped from the 50-vote threshold BBBA after. Senator Joe Manchin (D. West Virginia) opposed it.
These goals could be met by the House-passed BBBA version tax credits for clean electricity generation and transmission investment. Not enoughTo achieve a 100 percent carbon-free electricity network. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission needs to reform electricity markets in order to make them more fair for clean electricity. The EPA also needs strong standards for power plant emissions (although their fate is still uncertain).
5. Tackle super pollutants. Follow the instructions.
The EPA has Issued regulationsto implement the phase down of hydrofluorocarbons according to the American Innovation and Manufacturing Act. It was part of the fiscal 2021 appropriations bill. Biden was also a key contributor to the launch of regulations by EPA to reduce methane emissions in the oil and gas industries. Global methane pledgeMore than 100 countries pledged to reduce their methane emissions by 30 percent or more at the Glasgow Climate Summit (COP26).
6. To replace fossil fuels with electricity, establish standards for equipment and appliances.
Berkeley, California, became the first place to ban the use natural gas in new buildings in 2019, to combat climate change. Since then, many urban centers, including major cities like San Jose, have followed their lead. New York. At the state level, California’s most recent building code update requires new buildings to be wired for all-electric operation and uses heat pumps as the energy efficiency benchmark for heating but does not ban new gas hookups.
In her 2022 State Policy bookNew York Governor. Kathy Hochul proposed that new buildings should have zero emissions on-site by 2027. The federal government has not taken any significant steps to encourage electrification of buildings to date. behind scheduleUpdate key appliance standards
The House-passed BBBA also includes a $3.5B program. encourage home electrificationThis includes rebates for heat pumps water and space heaters. These rebates would encourage, but certainly not require, a shift away natural gas appliances. The administration should do everything possible to encourage building electrification through setting strong efficiency and emissions standards.
7. Setting emission performance standards for cement and steel: Work in progress
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law makes major investments in carbon sequestration and clean hydrogen production. These investments could help demonstrate methods to decarbonize these highly-emission-intensive industrial subsectors.
In addition, Biden’s Executive order on catalyzing America’s clean energy economy through federal sustainability directs federal agencies to buy low-carbon building materials and achieve net-zero federal procurement by 2045, while the First Movers CoalitionThe COP26 initiative, which enlisted major companies to promote decarbonization of cement and steel, encourages them to commit to purchasing low-carbon supplies of these materials as soon as they become available. These are important steps that the administration should take and make mandatory. Low-carbon product standards.
8. Carbon dioxide removal is being increased: We are on track.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law makes significant investments in wildfire risk reduction, ecosystem restoration, and direct air capture through the establishment of four regional hubs. The Department of Energy has already sent a thoughtful Request for Information to seek input on how to best implement its new large-scale carbon removal program. These efforts would be significantly enhanced by the House-passed BBBA, which would establish a Civilian Climate Corps to support natural carbon removal and increase Section 45Q tax credits to sequester carbon dioxide directly from the air.
9. Reestablish international leadership: We are on track.
Biden joined the Paris Agreement on his first day of office and hosted the Leaders Summit on Climate. While Other countries remain wary about the durability of the Biden administration’s climate policies and the administration and Congress need to take further action on international climate finance, U.S. engagement was clearly in evidence at COP26.
As well as helping to ensure completion of the Paris Rulebook during the climate summit, the U.S. also helped launch the Global Methane Pledge, the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use and the First Movers Coalition on sustainable supply chains. The world is closely watching how the country will proceed. To keep on track, the U.S. must enact the climate provisions in the BBBA to reach its 2030 target. It will also need to significantly increase its international climate finance.
10. Tax Pollution: Off track.
The House-passed BBBA and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law include significant investments in climate-smart technology and incentives to scale up climate solutions. There is no complete climate policyThere is no mechanism to ensure that emissions reduction targets can be met through enforceable emission caps and/or an escalating emissions fee, which ratchets up if the other measures fail. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, and others have been You are tireless in your urgingBiden has not supported the suggestion of a carbon fee being added to BBBA. The fate of the BBBA is uncertain. Methane emissions feesUncertain if BBBA was included in the House-passed BBBA is the Senate.
Biden has done more to address climate change than any American president in his first year as president. Biden is fully credited for making climate change a central part of his economic prosperity agenda. He focused on the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emission and enlisted all levels of government to help. He has set a lofty goal for the United States to reduce its domestic emissions and has made significant progress towards reestablishing international leadership in climate change.
The transition to electric vehicles, curbing methane and HFC emissions, and scaling up carbon removal efforts are all on track. Biden would be graded on a curve if we were to rate his effort. However, the objective nature and severity of the climate crisis means that such leniency is not possible. Evaluated against the harsh climate reality we face, Biden’s accomplishments thus far must be judged incomplete.