"A cry for survival comes from the planet itself. A cry that can’t be any more desperate or any more clear.”
Biden spoke these words one year ago in an inauguration speech that promised action on the crises of our time: a raging pandemic, crumbling democracy, and a global climate in distress.
The administration swept into office with a climate mandate, recommitting the US to the Paris Climate Accord and implementing a pause on oil and gas leasing on federal land as promised on the campaign trail.
Then, the reality of climate-wrecking industries’ hold over the US political system set in, and the first year of the Biden administration has been marked by setbacks dangerous for the planet. Senator Manchin and Republicans effectively set fire to the president’s promised Build Back Better framework including key climate provisions, even as greenhouse gas emissions rose 6 percent last year and the country was hit by 20 separate billion-dollar climate disasters.
his second year, Biden must draw on his full executive authority to curb the
power of polluters and help protect people and planet. The Build
Back Fossil Free
coalition, of which Global Witness is a member, has been calling for Biden to
embrace the full scale of the climate emergency since Day One by exercising his
legal authority outlined in the Climate
President Action Plan.
Here are three things he can do now.
1. Declare a climate emergency
declaration of a climate emergency is not solely a symbolic act recognizing the
urgency and severity of the climate crisis; under the National Emergencies Act,
such a declaration would enable additional presidential action and unlock
resources such as the promotion of rapid clean energy development per emergency
2. Direct the Department of Energy (DoE) to curb gas exports
the Trump administration, the Department of Energy (DoE) doled out permits for gas exports. A simple opportunity for the DoE to curtail
gas exports is through a reversal of an obscure last-minute Trump administration rule. This rule drives the rubberstamping
of gas export permits by categorically exempting them from environmental review.
The DoE could reinstitute the required environmental impact analysis of
proposed gas exports and ensure they consider not only greenhouse gas emission
from shipping, but also downstream emissions, where fossil fuels are burned.
Late last year, Biden’s DoE announced its plans to rewrite the Trump rule, an important
test about whether they intend to change course and start incorporating
environmental and climate impacts of US gas exports in their policy.
3. Hold fossil fuel actors accountable for climate disinformation and greenwashing
Fossil fuel companies are increasingly greenwashing their operations, using social media and PR firms to mislead consumers about how climate-friendly their operations are. Just last fall, a landmark Congressional hearing took place in which six fossil fuel industry executives testified, and were ultimately issued subpoenas, regarding the industry’s widespread, decades-long practice of spreading disinformation. Meanwhile, a slew of court cases are ongoing in cities and states around the country to hold Big Oil and Gas accountable for their role in climate destruction.
Biden likewise has a crucial role to play in standing up to corporate abuse of power. For instance, he can direct federal regulators at the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the industry’s practice of misleading consumers with deceptive advertisements.
So far, this administration is not doing its part to alleviate the planet’s cry. A recent analysis from Evergreen Action, an environmental group which has been tracking the administration’s follow through on campaign commitments, concluded that despite some progress, the White House has not gone far enough fast enough to tackle the mounting climate crisis.
In fact, the US has the potential to unleash major climate destruction on Biden’s watch: Unless the US changes course, it is on track to flood the world with fossil gas, pumping out five times more new gas than the next largest producing country and more than doubling gas exports over the next decade. There is simply no new gas production that is compatible with Paris Agreement goals of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius – making this trajectory a direct contradiction of Biden’s commitments.
is why 2022 must see an end to the delay and equivocation. Biden has the
executive authority to change this dangerous course; it is beyond time to wield
Listing image: Build Back Fossil Free protestors at COP 26 in Glasgow. Photo by Jasmin Qureshi / Global Witness