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The pause on a large portion of emissions during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic gave us the opportunity to reflect on the impact we have on the environment. Although there was a temporary reduction in greenhouse gas emissions during this time, the United Nations predicts that global temperatures will rise three degrees Celsius by the end of the century. This change would mean a definite increase in the number of floods, fires and other natural disasters across the world.

We are already seeing the effects of climate change more recently with the California wildfires and Texas power outages. Although President Biden is an improvement from Trump’s reign of terror over the American environment, he still needs to be held accountable for reaching the climate standards that we so desperately need. 

One of the first things Biden did as he took office was reenter the U.S. in the Paris Climate Agreement. Our withdrawal from the agreement at the direction of Trump was an embarrassment to the U.S. and decreased the trust many countries placed in Americans to be doing their part. This distrust is largely justified-the US is responsible for 15% of CO2 emissions, only second to China’s 28%. With the world’s largest economy and the third-largest population, the U.S.’s reentry into the Paris Climate Agreement can do more for the world than many other countries can. On the global scale, Biden bears the burden of proving to other countries that the U.S. is committed to reaching our shared goals. 

Biden also announced that the U.S. would change its infrastructure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% by 2030. By 2050, the U.S. would be emitting net-zero greenhouse gas emissions. Biden maintains that even without Congressional approval, many of these goals can still be reached. 

Sign at a climate change protest
Photo by Markus Spiske from Unsplash

However, a lot of Trump-era policies will take years to be reversed and the environmental effects of these policies will take even longer to come undone. While this isn’t Biden’s fault, he needs to ensure that his own executive orders and Congressional legislation are strong enough so that it cannot be easily undone by future administrations.

The President’s negotiation skills will be put to the test as Democrats maintain just an eight-person majority in the House and an even split in the Senate, with Vice President Kamala Harris acting as the tiebreaker. Biden’s willingness to compromise with on-the-fence Republicans will be pivotal in driving forward his many climate goals. 

States have been making improvements in implementing their own climate change policies, which will ultimately help reach national goals. Biden should continue these efforts by supporting state and local governments in adopting a policy that complements nationwide recommendations. Especially important will be Biden’s persistence and reach to the communities that are worst hit by the climate crisis, such as minorities and people of low income. His approach in assisting these communities will test his strength as a thoughtful and compassionate leader.  

As we hear more about Biden’s policy plans, we need to keep in mind that politicians across both aisles love to put out lofty promises to please the public. President Trump’s loss in the election gave climate activists a surge of hope, but going forward, in the Biden administration, accountability will be key.

Tanya Kurnootala is a sophomore at VCU majoring in biology. She enjoys writing about issues that enrich the female perspective, with a focus on politics and women's health.
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