Joe Biden promised the US would re-join the Paris Agreement as soon as he became president, but how can he deliver his ambitious Plan for Climate Change & Environmental Justice if his Democratic party has no majority in the Senate? Even if thwarted in Washington, states and cities can help him make America green.

The plan for climate change, released last July, pledges to spend USD2 trillion over four years to help the US have net-zero emissions by 2050 by tackling power generation, transport emissions and building efficiency. But not only could the Senate frustrate legislation, there will be competing fiscal priorities for rebuilding the economy after the pandemic.

However, Mr Biden can seek to reverse Trump-era climate and energy measures, including coal mining and power-plant emissions and regulation of the oil & gas industry, including issues on methane, pipelines, fuel efficiency standards and offshore drilling. Some of that may be achieved through executive orders.

And even if he is stalled in Washington, state governments have considerable power over local policies and expenditure: nearly 50 US cities have set goals of 80 per cent emission reductions by 2050 with over 400 mayors endorsing the Paris Agreement.

In response to the withdrawal from that agreement in 2017, the governors of 24 states and Puerto Rico formed a Climate Alliance with strong emissions reduction pledges (net-zero for Michigan, California, New York, Nevada and Hawaii) and many also aim for all renewable energy.

Many other state coalitions exist and the Biden plan acknowledged the importance of cities in achieving climate goals and their work over the past four years in the absence of federal support.

City authorities are well placed, given their potential for faster decision-making and control over specific budgets. We expect an increase in US city plans that prioritise meeting local climate ambitions as cities become ‘climate-smart’.

States and cities can thus ensure that if the climate agenda stalls in the capital, local agendas for greater resilience and decarbonisation can continue. And their ambition can be supportive for businesses involved in low-carbon power, cleaner transport and green buildings.

These industries can also benefit from global efforts to address climate change – and these efforts will be underpinned by the world’s largest economy having a leader committed to combatting climate change and to the goals of the Paris Agreement.

Mr Biden has pledged to help lead the rest of the world in reaching climate goals. US officials will now likely participate in preparatory meetings for the COP26 meeting, postponed to 2021 by the pandemic, that will set global ambitions targets and he has promised a climate world summit within his first 100 days in office.

First published 11 November 2020.

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