President Joe Biden's biggest climate threat lies in his own backyard. The United States is reasserting its global leadership on the environment with a virtual gathering of about 40 world leaders, kicking off on Thursday. But Biden's predecessor, Donald Trump, revealed how easily US vows can be undone.
The reality TV star's administration rolled back or ditched dozens of rules that limited air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, protected wetlands and restricted oil drilling. He also pulled the United States out of the 2015 Paris agreement made up of nearly 200 countries. Biden's climate summit, in contrast, should see Chinese President Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin of Russia and Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil in attendance, despite ongoing tensions. With Glasgow's COP26 climate looming this autumn, Japan has just increased its emissions-reductions pledge and the United States is hoping that states like Canada will follow.
Biden will set an example on that front. He will announce that the United States will cut greenhouse gas emissions by up to 52% below 2005 levels by 2030, almost doubling what President Barack Obama promised in the Paris accords. Beijing's recent five-year plan only calls for Chinese emissions to peak before that date.
Unfortunately, America's rivals know a Republican presidential win in 2024 could pause or reverse Biden's pledges and new environmental rules. His whole-of-government approach, with new climate-focused positions at Treasury and elsewhere, can also be dismantled.
Congress is one avenue, albeit a difficult one, to avoid a complete 2024 volte-face. That's why Biden's administration is focused on environmental provisions of a $2 trillion infrastructure plan now. That includes requiring power companies to have some production from renewable energy and spending $174 billion on promoting electric vehicles and charging stations.
Biden also seems aware of 2024 risk. While his executive actions can be undone by another president, the quicker they come out now the more chance they become entrenched. A week after taking office, he issued orders imposing moratoriums on new oil and gas lease permits on federal land, and revoked the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline.
Companies can also assist. Firms from Citigroup to Amazon.com are on board with new climate initiatives. During the Trump years, some automakers declined to adhere to a rollback of fuel efficiency standards. Biden can't completely stop successors from undoing climate progress, but he can put plenty of roadblocks in their way.