Former Vice President Joe Biden is the President-elect of the United States.
Now the work begins to handle the intergovernmental handoff, figure out who will fill key positions, and create the to-do list.
However, it is not yet clear who will control the Senate. This could become the biggest obstacle to Biden's government, especially its ambitious agenda to combat climate change.
His proposal calls for an aggressive move to clean energy, carbon neutrality by mid-century, and massive federal investment to drive these changes. Compare this to President Donald Trump, who did not come up with a plan to combat climate change and actively undermined existing policies to limit greenhouse gas emissions.
But Biden's most ambitious ideas – specifically the use of $ 1.7 trillion in government funds – require Congress to get involved, and it's not clear whether it will have a willing majority. Even a narrow democratic majority could be thwarted by the filibuster.
Biden is also likely to undo most, if not all, of Trump's environmental setbacks with his executive powers. Trump has repealed or weakened 125 environmental regulations, such as protecting endangered species, assessing environmental risk for infrastructure, and opening up protected wilderness to fossil fuel development and deforestation.
Some of the most notable setbacks relate to greenhouse gas reduction rules, such as the Clean Power Plan, energy efficiency standards, and fuel consumption regulations for cars and trucks. Many of these rollbacks are also tied to ongoing litigation between state and federal courts that can take months to resolve.
President Trump failed to come up with a plan to combat climate change and was actively undermining existing measures to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Almond Ngan / AFP via Getty Images
Just unraveling this mess could keep Biden's hands full. "It's not just about turning the clock and going back from Trump to Obama," said Barry Rabe, a professor of public policy at the University of Michigan who studies environmental policy. "It could actually take an entire term to reverse this reversal."
And without drastic measures soon, the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will continue to increase, the planet will continue to warm and catastrophes exacerbated by climate change will take ever greater tolls on the US economy.
Without Capitol Hill, a President can do a lot from the White House. The question is how quickly the Prime Minister can get these things done and how much of them will endure through another administration.
Biden has a strong list of measures to combat climate change
Even if Biden reversed Trump's climate change policies, it would only bring the US back to where it was four years ago. At this point, greenhouse gas emissions in the US were unchanged and the country was not on track to meet its climate change goals under the Paris Agreement.
To make up for lost time and move forward, the US needs more action to limit greenhouse gases and facilitate the transition to clean energy.
However, as Vox's David Roberts explained, Biden is unlikely to be able to pass this agenda through Congress as part of a Green New Deal package. Congressional Republicans like Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell have already dropped evidence that they plan to stall a Biden's agenda if he wins the White House.
This means that a step-by-step approach may be required.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is likely to lead Senate Republicans to block President-elect Biden's climate agenda. Jon Cherry / Getty Images
“I think one big strategy that will be important for a Biden government without a Democratic Senate is to have a range of climate policies instead of relying too heavily on a single policy – remember, you don't all Laying Eggs In The Same Approach, ”Ann Carlson, professor of environmental law at the University of California at Los Angeles, said in an email.
Some of those tactics could include stricter efficiency standards for equipment, stricter fuel economy rules for vehicles, and appointing members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to incorporate climate change into energy policy, according to Carlson.
The Biden campaign seems to have recognized this too. One of the questions in the climate survey that Vox asked as part of the Biden campaign was how Biden intends to use the powers of the presidency to score points on the board.
Campaign spokesman Jamal Brown told us that Biden has drawn up at least 10 executive measures to follow up on:
Require aggressive methane pollution limits for new oil and gas operations.
Leverage the federal government's procurement system, which spends $ 500 billion annually to drive 100 percent clean energy and zero-emission vehicles.
Ensure that all U.S. government facilities, buildings and facilities are more efficient and climate friendly, and use purchasing power and supply chains to drive innovation.
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transport – the fastest growing source of US climate pollution – by maintaining and implementing existing Air Pollution Control Act and developing stringent new fuel economy standards to ensure 100 percent of new sales for light and medium-duty vehicles are electrified and annual improvements for heavy-duty vehicles .
Doubling the liquid fuels of the future that will make agriculture an important part of the solution to climate change. Advanced biofuels made from materials like switchgrass and algae can create jobs and new solutions to reduce emissions on airplanes, oceangoing vessels, and more.
Save consumers money and reduce emissions through aggressive new equipment and building efficiency standards.
Commitment that any federal infrastructure investment should reduce climate pollution and require federal approval to account for the effects of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.
Request to public companies to disclose climate risks and greenhouse gas emissions in their operations and supply chains.
Protect biodiversity, slow extinction rates, and harness natural climate solutions by conserving 30 percent of America's land and water by 2030.
Protect America's natural treasures through permanent protection of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other areas affected by President Trump's attack on states and waters, establishment of national parks and monuments that reflect America's natural heritage, and ban new oil and gas permits for public areas and waters as well as change in license fees to take climate costs into account and the establishment of targeted programs to improve reforestation and the development of renewable energies in federal states and waters with the aim of doubling offshore wind by 2030.
These actions are only part of how Biden plans to address climate change, and there can be more. There are also more controversial executive actions Biden could potentially take, such as revoking approval for the Keystone XL pipeline or denying export licenses for oil and liquefied natural gas.
However, executive action alone will not be enough to get the US on the road to a climate neutral economy by 2050. The private sector – energy companies, manufacturers, corporations – must act too, which may require a combination of incentives. Regulations and advances in technology.
While climate change is a high priority for Biden, it will also face the Covid-19 pandemic and will affect the government's response to the virus, which is currently killing more than 1,000 Americans every day. Balancing the two crises of Covid-19 and climate change will be a daunting task.
Biden's domestic climate change agenda could stall in court, but he can press for further action worldwide
The idea behind executive action is to use authorities under existing laws rather than adopting new ones.
Although executive orders do not require congressional approval, they can still be challenged in the courts. For example, in 2016 the Supreme Court continued to implement Obama's Clean Power Plan, which aimed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. Trump later overturned the plan and replaced it with a much weaker regulation.
The judicial landscape would be even less hospitable to Biden than to Obama. With a 6-3 Republican majority in the Supreme Court and more than 200 appointments from Republican federal courts in the past four years, lawsuits from states and industries that were the subject of executive action could block any movement related to climate change. However, when these measures overcome legal challenges, they become a far more permanent policy.
This is not the breakthrough moment many have been hoping for, and we will be stuck within the narrow confines of bipartisan climate change solutions, at least for a short time. That makes our work more difficult, but all the more important. 7/7
– Zeke Hausfather (@hausfath), November 4, 2020
One area where Biden has a lot of scope for climate change is foreign policy. Biden has already promised to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement as soon as he takes office. From there, Biden wants to use the weight of the US as an economic and diplomatic actor to induce other countries to do more against climate change.
"He will go to great diplomatic efforts to get every major country to step up the ambitions of its national climate goals, including convening a world climate summit to directly involve the leaders of the world's great carbon-emitting nations to get them to join the United States when they make more ambitious national commitments that go beyond the commitments already made, ”Brown told Vox.
While the US is the largest historical greenhouse gas emitter and currently ranks second in terms of emissions after China, it only accounts for 15 percent of humanity's current emissions production. This means that in order to combat climate change, other countries would have to be encouraged to curb their own emissions and switch to clean energy.
There are also other international agreements on climate-related issues such as the Montreal Protocol, which sets limits to fluorocarbons, a class of potent, heat-trapping gases.
The US can also use its power as a major economy to influence trade rules by using agreements to hold trading partners accountable for their contribution to climate change.
But the Covid 19 pandemic is also big here. International collaboration will be needed to limit the spread of the disease between countries, and a major international climate meeting has already been postponed due to the pandemic. Many countries are also facing their own economic crises and could take a back seat to concerns about climate change.
The good news: Americans are more motivated than ever to tackle climate change
Biden drew heavily on his experience as Vice President during his campaign, but it's clear that 2021 won't be like 2009. While there will be an ongoing economic crisis and some demand for economic stimulus, Congress could be an even bigger obstacle now than it was then.
On the flip side, if Biden is sworn in, he will take the reins of a country far more motivated to address climate change than his previous change of government. According to surveys in the USA, combating climate change continues to have a high priority. Since Trump stepped out of the Paris Agreement, a coalition of states, cities and corporations has taken steps to pursue their own greenhouse gas control goals. They were also in the trenches that challenged Trump's rollbacks and created a legal framework for state and local action against climate change.
"For four years we have been fighting hard against efforts by the Trump administration to degrade critical safeguards (for the environment) and reverse highly competitive advances," California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement on the US withdrawal from Paris accord this week.
Climate activists project flames and commentary on the side of the Trump International Hotel in Washington DC on Oct.21. Jemal Countess / Getty Images for Climate Power 2020
In the meantime, some of the major industrial blocs that opposed climate change policies have begun to break apart. Earlier this year, five automakers – Volvo, Ford, Honda, BMW, and Volkswagen – reached an agreement with the state of California to impose stricter emissions limits on themselves and resisted efforts by the Trump administration to relax those rules.
Some appliance manufacturers have opposed Trump's efforts to relax efficiency standards for appliances like dishwashers. Large energy suppliers also rely heavily on clean energy. For example, Arizona Public Service, the largest utility company in Arizona, has pledged to produce all of its electricity from carbon-free sources by 2050, even though the state has no mandate to do so. Even large oil companies are starting to grapple with a world where carbon emissions must be limited.
These divisions could provide an opportunity for Biden to form coalitions to take action against climate change and from there move the holdouts to do more. But such alliances are fragile and it will take finesse to keep such a group from falling apart. "I think Biden can assume he would have some industry support," said Rabe. "This would take really careful political work to hold this supportive coalition together."
Are you helping keep Vox free for everyone?
Millions of people rely on Vox to understand how Washington policy choices, from health care to unemployment to housing, can affect their lives. Our work is well-sourced, research-oriented, and thorough. And that kind of work requires resources. Even after the economy recovers, advertising alone will never be enough to support it. If you've already contributed to Vox, thank you. If you don't, you are helping us keep our journalism free for everyone by making a financial contribution of just $ 3 today.