Almost four years after Donald Trump's announcement of the United States' withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Joe Biden's administration has finally delivered on its promise to fight climate change. This return of the world's largest economy, the second largest emitter of CO2, means that almost every nation on the planet is now part of the agreement signed in 2015.
Nearing his first month in office, Biden made his debut on the global stage by participating in two forums, the virtual G7 summit and the Munich Security Conference, determined to resume the traditional leadership role of the United States in the West and leave behind the isolationism of former President Donald Trump.
The participation of the United States, the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases after China, is seen as central to any attempt to reduce CO2 emissions and curb global warming.
Nearly a month and a half after a mob of radical Trump supporters attacked the US Capitol, Joe Biden immediately decided to return to the Paris agreement. "We can no longer delay or do the bare minimum to address climate change," Biden insisted Friday at the White House during his first major foreign policy speech at the Munich Security Conference. "This is a global existential crisis. And we will all suffer the consequences," he added.
The Paris Agreement requires all Parties to do their utmost through Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and to step up their efforts in the coming years. This includes an obligation for all Parties to report regularly on their emissions and implementation efforts. There will also be a global stocktake every five years to assess collective progress towards achieving the purpose of the agreement, and to report on further individual actions by Parties.
The central objective of the Paris Agreement is to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping the global temperature increase this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and to pursue efforts to further limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. In addition, the agreement aims to enhance the ability of countries to cope with the impacts of climate change and to ensure that funding flows are consistent with a low level of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and a climate-resilient pathway.
But the ambitions of the agreement are mainly non-binding, with each country developing its own measures. A point Barack Obama and John Kerry insisted on when they signed the agreement in 2015, worried about political opposition in the US.
During his election campaign, Joe Biden warned that climate change is "one of the greatest threats" to the country and announced that it would be at the top of his list of priorities, along with the fight against the Coronavirus and economic recovery.
Biden's green agenda for the election proposed a two trillion dollar clean investment plan to help the US achieve net zero emissions by 2050, meaning that by that date the US economy will only be able to expel as much greenhouse gas into the atmosphere as its sinks (mainly forests) are able to absorb. It also promised 100% emission-free electricity generation by 2035.
The powerful and symbolic decision, launched by Biden above all to the international community, was complemented by another series of decisions to reverse the environmental impact of the Trump Administration, which carried out a systematic deregulation with a hundred or so measures.
One of the doubts that the new US administration will have to clear up is its contribution to international climate finance, which should help the least developed countries deal with the consequences of climate change. However, the US has been reducing its contributions to climate finance since 2017. Now, with the change of government, it is expected that the funds it allocates to this chapter of international cooperation will increase.
For his part, former Secretary of State and former White House candidate John Kerry, now the US climate envoy, has called on the world's states to raise their climate ambitions at the UN summit to be held in Glasgow (Scotland) in November. Before that, Biden plans to hold another climate summit on 22 April to coincide with Earth Day.
The Paris Agreement aims to limit global temperature rise to two degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial revolution levels, and to continue efforts to limit this rise to 1.5 degrees. The current political momentum is moving towards greater environmental ambition at a time when the consequences of climate change are becoming increasingly visible. A recent study states that 480,000 people have already died this century as a result of natural disasters related to extreme weather events.