President-elect Biden – much to celebrate and do on climate and covid

It is a great relief that the majority of American people have elected Joe Biden as President and Kamala Harris as the first woman to become Vice President in American history. The past four years have been chaotic for the international community, with the most powerful nation on earth being run by an ignorant, narcissistic, punitive, divisive liar. 

But the nightmare is not over just yet. The ignorance, inequality and belief in American exceptionalism, so successfully tapped into by Donald Trump, will mean every move will be criticised by right-wing media and contested by what appears likely to be a Republican-dominated Senate. 


It seems almost impossible for Biden to do anything to arrest the onslaught of Covid-19 on a population which values so highly the freedom of not being locked down. The states where Trump did well – North and South Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Mississippi, Nebraska, Louisiana – topped the per capita infection rates. With 10 million cases and daily case numbers at an all-time high of over 132,000 and rising, most states are reopening. Largely unenforced masks and distancing are clearly not enough to turn the pandemic around, especially going into winter.

US infectious diseases expert, Dr Fauci said, there was little appetite for a lockdown in the US and warned that at the current rate of increase in hospitalisations, rationing of health care would have to be ‘looked at’. Wealthy, populous states like New York are better served for ICUs than the country’s Midwest. 

Dr Fauci should now be backed by a government that values science and will follow good public health advice

Climate change

The Democratic Party has an ambitious agenda on climate action compared to Liberal-National Party in Australia although Biden’s articulation of that during the campaign was at best confusing despite (or perhaps because of) his 44 years in politics. Driving climate action to a populace deeply divided on this in many ‘red’ states will be difficult. We look forward to the fact that in 76 days President Biden will formally re-join the Paris Agreement as the second-largest greenhouse emitter in the world after China.

Biden also committed to a climate world summit in the next 100 days to urge other leaders to go beyond current commitments. Unlike Scott Morrison, Biden will set progressive targets, starting by 2025 at the latest, to reach net zero emissions by 2050. If it happens it will be a big test for our government which generally likes to fall in line with the US. Trump and Morrison were in lock step when it came to reviving the fossil fuel sector.

Just as in Australia, US states are well ahead of the federal government in advancing emission cuts whilst also protecting their economies. 41 states managed to do both between 2005 and 2017, the top five by more than 30% each.  

Last year, for the first time, the US consumed more energy from renewables than from coal whilst growing their GDP.

The Biden win should be a warning that Australia’s target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by 26-28% by 2030 will be found wanting. Foreign leaders are already pressuring the Morrison Government to set targets that will help reach zero emissions – that pressure will only increase on January 20 when the new president is sworn in.

With hope, Australia can join world leaders such as President Biden in genuinely addressing the climate emergency and regain our place as a leader in this area.

The Biden Climate Plan:

  1. Ensure the U.S. achieves a 100% clean energy economy and reaches net-zero emissions no later than 2050. On day one, Biden will sign a series of new executive orders with unprecedented reach that go well beyond the Obama-Biden Administration platform and put us on the right track. And, he will demand that Congress enacts legislation in the first year of his presidency that:  
  • establishes an enforcement mechanism that includes milestone targets no later than the end of his first term in 2025
  • makes a historic investment in clean energy and climate research and innovation
  • incentivizes the rapid deployment of clean energy innovations across the economy, especially in communities most impacted by climate change.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

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