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Biden’s victory offers new hope for environmentalists

President-elect has vowed to bring US back into Paris climate agreement that Trump exited, while Democrats have set 2050 as a target to make country carbon-neutral

Illustrative: Smoke rises from a coal burning power plant in Colstrip, Montana, July 1, 2013. (Matthew Brown/AP)
Illustrative: Smoke rises from a coal burning power plant in Colstrip, Montana, July 1, 2013. (Matthew Brown/AP)

PARIS, France (AFP) — Joe Biden’s victory over US President Donald Trump has brought hope to climate warriors who now see a better chance to save the planet through massive projects to limit global warming.

Activists and scientists feared further climate change destruction from another four years of Trump in denial in the White House.

His defeat totally changes the landscape.

The veteran Democrat leader has pledged to take the United States back in to the Paris climate agreement that Trump forced the country to leave, and which happened officially only on November 4.

The Democrats have drawn up a $1.7 billion plan to turn the US carbon neutral by 2050.

“Joe Biden’s historic election win is the first step towards avoiding climate catastrophe,” tweeted Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace International.

“The American people are demanding a climate champion in president-elect Biden and in Kamala Harris,” his vice president, she added.

Executive director of Greenpeace International, Jennifer Morgan in Madrid, Spain, December 13, 2019. (Paul White/AP)

France’s former prime minister Laurent Fabius, who chaired the Paris agreement negotiations, cheered Biden’s success, saying it “raises new hopes in the indispensable fight against climate change.”

“Now is the moment to relaunch global, concrete and coordinated climate action” ahead of next year’s COP15 conference on biodiversity and COP26 on climate, Fabius urged.

‘Tipping point’

For Laurence Tubiana, one of the architects of the Paris accords, “The Biden-Harris Administration has an historic opportunity to enact one of the world’s largest green stimulus efforts, to accelerate the US economy toward sustained emissions reductions while rebuilding and creating a fairer society.”

To stay within the Paris deal’s 1.5 degrees Celsius warming limit since pre-industrial times and cut the growing ferocity of wild weather, greenhouse gas emissions need to be slashed almost 50 percent by 2030, UN climate experts say.

That will require radical economic reform on a global scale, a challenge experts hope will be more within reach under a Biden presidency.

The Climate Action Tracker group put out a statement saying the election outcome could prove “a tipping point” that puts the Paris agreement’s 1.5 degrees Celsius limit “within striking distance.”

That would, however, need the US to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 and for Europe, China and Japan to also keep their climate commitments.

Laurence Tubiana, French Ambassador for Climate Change, heads a panel during the launch of the 2050 Pathways Platform, at the COP22 climate change conference, in Marrakech, Morocco, November 17, 2016. (Mosa’ab Elshamy/AP)

Said Johan Rockstrom, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research: “If the US adopts net-zero emissions by 2050, we would have the four largest economic regions in the world aligning with science and showing the path towards a safe, clean and modern future.”

‘Sobering reality’

Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann declared himself “cautiously optimistic” with Biden at the helm.

“But make no mistake. The sobering reality is that even if every country meets their commitments under the Paris agreement (and many, including the US and EU are currently falling at least a bit short), that gets us less than half way to where we need to be.”

“I.e. on a path to limiting warming below 2C (let alone the more stringent 1.5C many are now calling for),” Rockstrom said.

Biden’s room for maneuver will depend greatly on his ability to push through ambitious climate legislation.

And for that he will need the US Senate, which may yet stay under a Republican majority. Two seats will have a run-off election in the state of Georgia on January 5.

Without the Senate, Biden will have to count on the multitude of non-federal bodies from the states and cities to companies in the effort to meet previous Paris targets. According to Climate Action Tracker that means by 2025 a 26-28 percent reduction in emissions from a 2005 base.

US President-elect Joe Biden speaks, in Wilmington, Delaware, November 7, 2020. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

With the Paris agreement’s fifth anniversary next month, the green lobby is hoping at the very least for a return of American leadership to the climate front.

“By re-entering the Paris Agreement on Day One, President-elect Biden can boost confidence in the international cooperation and begin to restore US standing the world,” said World Resources Institute president Andrew Steer.

“This is a new day for the climate, the environment and the American people… a better tomorrow is possible,” the think tank head added.

However, Potsdam Institute co-director Ottmar Edenhofer warned: “Generations to come can either remember the Biden-Harris Administration as one that failed great expectations — or as one that really served the US people, and the world.”

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