Biden’s Evolution on Climate
U.S. President-elect Joe Biden has become increasingly ambitious in his plans to protect the environment, especially through tackling the climate crisis. As recently as 2019, Washington State Governor (and, at the time, fellow presidential hopeful) Jay Inslee criticized Biden for promoting “middle-ground” climate actions that “are not going to save us.” Flash-forward to 2020, and environmental policy expert Leah Stokes explains that Biden “has really developed into a climate leader” who understands the connections between climate change and the nation’s other urgent issues: the economic downturn, the COVID-19 pandemic, and racial injustice.
Indeed, all four issues take center stage in the Biden-Harris agenda, and they have implications for businesses. With regard to climate action, in particular, Biden and Harris envision several approaches, such as incentivizing retrofits to make buildings more energy-efficient, as well as planting trees to reduce urban heat. By participating in these types of programs, businesses can lower their energy costs, while gaining reputational benefits for being at the forefront of sustainability.
Biden could also enhance the sustainability of firms’ supply chains by renegotiating trade agreements to hold other countries accountable for their climate impacts. Such a move might resemble the E.U.’s recent decision to block a trade deal with South America unless Brazil steps up efforts to address deforestation and fires in the Amazon.
Furthermore, climate action can help foster racial and social justice, given that climate change disproportionately harms communities of color and low-income communities. This may be an alignment opportunity between Biden’s plans and firms’ commitment to corporate social responsibility.
What Can the Administration Actually Accomplish?
Biden and Harris have the potential to usher in change, even if Republicans retain control of the Senate. For example, the administration can rejoin the Paris Agreement without Senate approval; President Obama similarly circumvented the Senate in joining the Paris Agreement, before President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the agreement. U.S. re-commitment to the Paris Agreement is important to efforts to get other major polluters – e.g. China – to also honor their pledged reductions in emissions, which is ultimately required to keep warming to 1.5° C by 2100.
Biden’s ultimate goal is to shift the U.S. to net-zero emissions by the year 2050. Besides rejoining the Paris Agreement, Biden has numerous options for acting on climate, including integrating climate considerations into coronavirus relief (e.g., stimulus money that supports clean energy research) and signing an executive order that requires public companies to disclose greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, the administration can embed climate action within various departments of the federal government (e.g., Transportation, Agriculture, Treasury, Commerce), not just the Environmental Protection Agency, and can work with state, local, and tribal leaders who are already involved in climate change mitigation and adaptation.
Navigating the Changes
Third Partners has been helping businesses navigate corporate social responsibility, climate issues, and sustainability challenges since 2013. Whether or not the Biden-Harris Administration can move legislation forward, Third Partners is ready to help your business prepare for the future through green building, de-risking your supply chain, and measuring and communicating carbon footprint data. Please reach out to us for a consultation.