US election result re-injects hope into the Paris Agreement

What’s happening? The election of Joe Biden as US president could bring the Paris Agreement climate targets “within striking distance” and could reduce global warming by approximately 0.1C, according to analysis by Climate Action Tracker.

Why does this matter? Those concerned about the environment will no doubt be buoyed by the result of the US election, with the world’s second-largest emitter now set to be back at the climate change negotiating table.

It was highlighted in 2017, when President Donald Trump announced the US would leave the Paris Agreement, that, should he only serve one term, the agreement’s rules meant a new US leader could put the US back in the accord. While the US officially withdrew from the accord a mere day after its presidential election, President-elect Joe Biden has since been able to pledge to simply re-join on his first day in office.

In advance of the COP26 climate summit, delayed a year to November 2021 due to Covid-19, countries are due to announce their updated pledges on climate action (known as Nationally Determined Contributions – NDCs). The US’ previous NDC was framed around the – eventually repealed – Obama Administration Clean Power Plan, and targeted a 28% reduction in emissions by 2025, tracking 80% by 2050.

It’s likely its new NDC will be based on Biden’s plans to decarbonise the US economy, which includes a target for US to be running on 100% clean energy by 2035. Analysts, however, expect the NDC won’t be formally announced until Q3 2021.

Biden has stated his ambition for the US to get to net-zero emissions by 2050. This would put 63% of global emissions under net-zero targets. Perhaps more importantly for the Paris Agreement and COP26, the Biden-Harris transition website also says Biden is working to “lead an effort to get every major country to ramp up the ambition of their domestic climate targets”.

Lateral thought from Curation – While US political leadership on climate has been lacking during President Trump’s time in office, on a corporate and subnational level action has continued – bolstered by initiatives such as We Are Still In among others.

Previously, we’ve highlighted how the absence of government action has meant the US’ largest corporates have become the de facto determinants of environmental standards in the country. BlackRock is one example of a significant voice that outlined plans to tackle climate earlier this year, though how much it will engage in this through meaningful engagement in coalitions including Climate Action 100+ has been questioned. The re-emergence of political leadership on climate in the US will mean such commitments from the US corporate world will now be held more closely to account.

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