Ok, let’s try that again. After a four-year interruption, if not a retreat, the world can soon restart its journey towards the Herculean goal of decarbonisation. When Joe Biden enters the White House on 20 January 2021, the USA is expected to restore its superpower posture and standing in the face of the climate crisis.
The USA will rejoin the Paris Agreement it formally left just a few weeks ago. This is fantastic news, as without the second biggest emitter on board (and the top one in historical terms) the UN treaty, based on voluntary emission reductions, just makes no sense. Other things will take time. The new president will need to undo dozens of environmental regulations, mostly former president Barack Obama’s executive orders, already undone by the previous administration. If he decides to phase out the US fossil fuel subsidies (which the IMF estimated amounted to a staggering US$649 billion in 2017), he will need more time still.
It’s rumoured that Biden will personally attend the 26th Conference of the Parties (or COP26) in Glasgow this year, which was postponed because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Curiously enough, had the UN climate summit been held last November, as originally scheduled, it would have turned into another dead end. During the eight years of the George W Bush administration, as well as during the past four of Donald Trump’s administration, the USA’s reluctance hampered every effort to reach an international consensus. The Kyoto Protocol was signed under President Bill Clinton and the Paris Agreement under President Obama. The next White House tenant, with the help of his ‘climate envoy’ John Kerry, will hopefully inject new life into the 2021 UK-hosted summit.
It’s true that while climate diplomacy was in a stalemate, the energy markets showed a remarkable push forward. According to the International Energy Agency, renewables will account for almost 90 per cent of new electricity generation in 2020, putting wind, solar and hydropower on track to become the largest power source in 2025. Yet, in order to keep global temperatures ‘well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels’, as prescribed by the Paris treaty, markets alone aren’t enough. We need far-sighted politics.
A return to normalcy is to be welcomed by our planet’s biosphere, the only one we have. From this point of view, 2021 doesn’t start on New Year’s Day. It starts on the 20th. Happy New Year.