Existential threat: Biden takes action to address climate crisis

The ambitious orders establish Biden’s environmental agenda and mark a reversal from his predecessor Donald Trump.

Climate change has been blamed for severe weather conditions such as the deadly wildfires in the US in 2020 [File: Robyn Beck/AFP]

US President Joe Biden has signed a new batch of executive actions placing the climate crisis back on the United States government agenda and elevates science to presidential advisory status.

Climate change has been blamed for severe weather conditions and climate-related catastrophes such as storms, flooding, heatwaves and wildfires in recent years. According to the think-tank Germanwatch, these disasters have killed 500,000 in the last 20 years and have cost the global economy a staggering $2.56tr in the last 100 years.

Biden’s orders on Wednesday map out the direction for the Democratic president’s climate change and environmental agenda and mark a reversal from policies under his predecessor Donald Trump, who sought to maximise US oil, gas and coal output by removing regulations and easing environmental reviews.

“In my view, we’ve already waited too long to deal with this climate crisis,” Biden said at a White House ceremony, noting the threats the nation faces from intensifying storms, wildfires and droughts linked to climate change.

“This is a case where conscience and convenience cross paths, where dealing with this existential threat to the planet and increasing our economic growth and prosperity are one and the same. When I think of climate change and the answers to it, I think of jobs,” Biden added.

US climate envoy John Kerry speaking while White House national climate advisor Gina McCarthy listens during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, US [Kevin Lamarque/Reuters]

Biden directed the Interior Department to pause new federal oil and gas leases on public lands or offshore waters “to the extent possible” and review the program’s climate impacts and taxpayer benefits. The pause will not restrict energy activities on lands that the government holds in trust for Native American tribes.

“The stakes on climate change couldn’t be higher than they are right now,” Biden’s climate envoy, former Secretary of State John Kerry, said in earlier news conference on Wednesday.

“It is existential.”

Protecting federal lands

Biden’s focus on climate change has cheered international partners and environmental advocates.

In a statement, the World Wildlife Fund welcomed the White House’s decision and vowed to help “turn these bold promises into ambitious and effective action.”

“By instituting a holistic approach, the President is ensuring that climate change becomes a priority for every relevant federal agency and the federal government will lead by example.”

The Big Oil lobby, however, expressed disappointment, saying the decision will cost the US millions of jobs and billions of dollars in revenue.

But the Biden administration argued that by tackling climate change, the country will be able to save billions more in the long-term, instead of spending money dealing with natural disasters.

Biden also set a goal to conserve 30 percent of federal land and waters by 2030 to protect wildlife.

The orders affect large swaths of acreage onshore in mostly Western states, as well as offshore drilling acreage located mainly in the US Gulf of Mexico, which combined make up about a quarter of the nation’s oil and gas supply.

The executive orders will affect large swaths of acreage onshore in mostly Western states, as well as offshore drilling acreage located mainly in the US Gulf of Mexico, which combined make up about a quarter of the nation’s oil and gas supply [File: Nick Oxford/Reuters]

The measures have already drawn criticism from some states that depend on drilling revenue and the oil industry and have warned that such moves will cost jobs and economic growth.

“We can’t afford to play games with the millions of hardworking Americans whose livelihoods depend on a vibrant energy sector,” Republican Senator from Texas Ted Cruz said in a tweet.

“President Biden and radical environmentalists are trying to eviscerate our energy independence and our blue-collar economy,” he said.

On Wednesday, Kerry also announced that Biden will host an international climate summit on Earth Day on April 22.

The sweeping new change come with the creation of new interagency climate task force, which will be led by White House domestic climate policy adviser Gina McCarthy.

During Wednesday’s news conference, McCarthy stressed that the executive order makes good on several of Biden’s campaign promises to tackle climate change while also securing good paying union job and achieving climate justice.

“Today’s executive order starts by saying that it is the policy of this administration that climate considerations shall be an essential element of US foreign policy and national security,” McCarthy said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies