Tag Archives: biden

Biden’s COP26 speech shows real climate ambition. Can he deliver?

The global climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, seen as the most important climate talks since the 2015 Paris Agreement, began with speeches by world leaders, including US President Joe Biden, who said the climate crisis is “ravaging the world.” Developed countries need to take the lead and address their climate responsibility, he added — emphasizing that the US is ready to lead by action. 

Image credit: UN

Biden tried to clarify the position of the US, noting that a lot has changed in the past few years.  He said that ‘American people, four or five years ago, weren’t at all sure about climate change, whether it was real’. Now, things seem to be very different. A recent Pew Research Center analysis found 60% of Americans see climate change as a major threat to the well-being of the United States. Biden also emphasized that he rejoined the Paris Agreement on climate change on his first day in office — a major U-turn from his predecessor, Donald Trump, who at times referred to climate change as a “hoax”.

“I guess I shouldn’t apologize, but I do apologize for the fact that the United States — the last administration pulled out of the Paris accord,” Biden told the delegates at COP26.

The summit, COP26, gathers governments, civil society, and media for two weeks to discuss ways to further increase climate ambition and deliver on the Paris Agreement to limit the global average temperature increase to 2ºC. With the current government pledges, the world is set on a 2.7ºC warming trajectory — and few countries are even respecting these pledges. This can still be addressed, but the window of opportunity is closing, hence the sence of urgency.  

Biden reaffirmed the US government plan to reduce emissions by 50% to 52% below 2005 levels by 2030, “demonstrating the world” that the US is not only “back at the table” but also leading “by the power of example.” He said “this hasn’t been the case” before he was elected but said to be “working overtime” to show climate leadership. 

“We have a brief window to raise ambition and meet the task,” Biden said, speaking at the opening segment of the summit. “Glasgow must be the kick off of a decade of ambition innovation. Climate change is affecting the world, it’s not something hypothetical. It’s already costing our nations trillions of dollars and affecting people.”

Biden told delegates that the US wants to become a net-zero emissions economy no later than 2050, saying the government will soon introduce a long-term decarbonization strategy. He also touted his legislative plans, still awaiting approval by his fellow Democrats in Congress, to allocate $500 billion to address climate change.

The plan consists of new and expanded tax incentives to promote clean energy technologies and it would mark “the most significant investment to deal with the climate crisis” that the US has ever done, Biden said. The investment would be “enough” to allow the US to deliver on its climate targets by 2030, Biden added. 

While every country has to do its part, Biden said developed countries have to support developing ones so they can deliver on their climate pledges. He said the US has “an obligation” to help them, especially with funding. In fact, Biden wants to provide $3 billion in financing per year by 2024, something that will have to pass by Congress. 

Falling short

But rhetoric is one thing, and actually acting is another. For starters, per capita US emissions are already about two times higher than the average in Europe, and even if Biden’s good intentions are true, we’ve seen with the past administration just how quickly progress can be reversed.

For many climate activists gathered outside the venue that hosted Biden and other 120 world leaders in Glasgow, the US is also failing to live up to its words. They questioned the fact that his climate plan is still stuck at Congress and that his administration has so far been reluctant to scale back oil and gas drilling in the US, instead of granting new permits.

Manish Bapna, president and CEO of the NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), said in a statement that it’s “unjust” that those who least created the climate crisis have to pay the highest price for its consequences. He said the US has to build on its promise and provide the resources developing countries need to address the growing costs of the climate crisis.

Biden’s speech was one of the first ones after the official opening of COP26, in which leaders acknowledged the distress over the escalating climate crisis. UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres said “we are digging our own graves” due to the failure to address emissions, while British prime minister Boris Johnson said children not yet born will be the ones judging us. Hopefully, action will live up to these big words.

It took some time, but the EPA finally acknowledged humans are causing climate change

It’s obvious to say at this point that climate change is caused by humans and the greenhouse gas emissions we produce. Well, for the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it kind of wasn’t.

For the first time ever, the agency publicly and officially acknowledged that human activities from fossil fuel extractions to agriculture are behind the growing greenhouse gas emissions. This was part of a climate report that was due in 2017 but was delayed by the Trump White House ever since.

The Climate Change Indicators report describes the extent to which glaciers are shrinking, sea levels are rising and flooding is increasing. The impacts are being felt by Americans “with increasing regularity”, it plainly states. Under Trump’s time in office, the report wasn’t updated, as it had been under former President Obama. 

But even during Obama’s time, the EPA had never attributed global warming to human activities directly, a press officer for the agency told the BBC. That’s why this is such a big deal and represents a shift for the US – in line with more ambitious climate policies already announced by President Biden earlier this year. Simply put, it’s officially acknowledging what everyone — including EPA researchers — already knew.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement that tackling climate change “isn’t optional” at the EPA and that the agency will move “with a sense of urgency,” making clear to the entire country the dangers of the rising temperatures in the United States. 

“We want to reach people in every corner of this country because there is no small town, big city or rural community that’s unaffected by the climate crisis,” Regan said in a statement. “Americans are seeing and feeling the impacts up close with increasing regularity.”

An updated report

For its report, the EPA used a set of 54 separate indicators which, taken together, paint a grim picture of the effects of climate change in the US. It covers everything from Lyme disease (which is becoming more prevalent in some states where deer ticks can survive) to the more severe drought in the Southwest that threatens water availability. 

The agency found that heat waves are happening three times more often in the US than they did in the 1960s, averaging six times a year. As a consequence, people are using more their air conditioners to stay cool in summer, which has doubled the energy use in summer over the past half-century, increasing emissions and triggering a vicious cycle.

Permafrost has also started to melt since 1978 at almost every location measured in Alaska, the report showed. The most significant temperature increases were registered in the northern parts of the state. EPA also found that coastal flooding is happening more often at all the 33 locations studied in the Pacific, Atlantic and Gulf coasts. 

Kristina Dahl, a senior climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told The Washington Post that the report collects data published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “It’s a really important clearinghouse of this kind of information,” she added.

Announcing the new report, the EPA said the data shows how the US has entered unprecedented territory, in which climate effects are more visible, changing faster and becoming more extreme. The indicators present “multiple lines of evidence that climate change is occurring now and here in the US,” the agency said in a statement.

The climate gap

The newly published data illustrates the gap between the current administration and Trump’s when it comes to climate policy. President Biden has made reducing greenhouse gas emissions one of his top priorities, arguing that a shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources would generate new and well-paid jobs and would help the country on multipple fronts. 

While Trump questioned the idea that fossil fuels were warming the planet, Biden has already introduced a set of policies for further climate action. This includes a new climate pledge (also known as NDC), promising to reduce the country’s emissions by 50% to 52%. This meant doubling the previous pledge made by Obama in 2015. 

In March, the Biden administration had already relaunched a first version of the EPA’s website on climate change, which had gone dark under Trump. In 2017, the Trump administration asked to remove all climate change reference from government websites, including the EPA, the Energy Department and the State Department. 

A recent report by the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative (EDGI) showed that the use of the term “climate change” fell by 40% across federal environmental agency websites during Trump’s term in office from 2017 to 2021. The report also showed that access to EPA’s website dropped 20% during that time. 

Money is still the elephant in the room when it comes to climate change

What will it take to finally get decisive climate action done? Well, on the one hand, more ambitious climate pledges from governments. But on the other hand, and perhaps even more important aspect, is money. Research shows that in the long run, climate investments can save money and create jobs — but you have to put the money down.

Image credit: Flickr / Ivan Radic

Developed countries have a historical responsibility over climate change, as their economies were the ones to develop faster and consequently trigger the global rise in emissions we see now; they basically got developed in the first place by burning a lot of fossil fuel (some more than others).

That’s why the United Nations and climate experts argue countries have common but differentiated responsibilities regarding climate change, and it’s up to the richer countries to help the less-well-off become sustainable as quickly as possible..

More than a decade ago at the Copenhagen climate summit, poor countries were promised $100 billion a year in climate finance from 2020. That commitment was repeated in the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement. The amount includes resources to build resilience to the climate impacts and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

But the money hasn’t exactly come in as planned, ad progress has been slow. As calculated by OECD, in 2018, the total had reached around $79 billion, and most of the growth over the previous four years had been in the form of loans. And now the pandemic has made things more difficult, with money being redirected away for other purposes. It’s starting to reach a tipping point.

Lidy Nacpil, coordinator at the Asian Peoples’ Movement on Debt and Development, told The Guardian: “We are at a point where we know what needs to be done to reverse the climate chaos and it boils down to this simple principle: wealthier countries, who emit more now and historically, can and should do more with their emissions reductions and delivery of climate finance.”

Biden’s climate finance

The Biden administration in the US finished today a virtual summit on climate change in which it pledged to double US international climate finance by 2024 and triple funding for adaptation. This comes after years of the exact opposite from former president Trump, who cut off climate funding from the US to developing countries. 

“Good ideas and good intentions aren’t good enough, we need to ensure that financing will be there to meet the moment on climate change,” the US president Joe Biden said at leaders’ climate summit he convened on Earth Day – in a bid to restore US credibility of tacking the climate crisis. 

While no figures were disclosed, administration official Leonardo Martinez-Diaz told Climate Home News that the baseline was around $2.8 billion, with $500 million of that going on adaptation. The total would be around $15 billion a year, adding in contributions to multilateral development banks and private finance. 

For climate experts, this isn’t nearly enough. Joe Thwaites of the World Resources Institute, told Climate Home News that the plan was “not particularly ambitious”, while Brandon Wu, director of policy and campaigns at ActionAid USA, said the numbers were “very low” and far from the $800 billion this decade campaigners said the US should contribute. 

“The US has made an important start, but must do much more if it wants to become a leader on climate finance. Provision of finance to vulnerable countries is a central pillar of the Paris Agreement, and such investments are key to building credibility and influence to unlock more ambitious climate action from other countries, delivering benefits at home and abroad,” Thwaites said.

The Biden administration committed yesterday to reduce its emissions by 50% to 52% from a baseline of 2005 emissions. This is nearly double the target set by the Obama administration in 2015 – which the US wasn’t on track to meet in the first place. The goal will soon be formalized as Nationally Determined Contribution submitted to the UN.

Companies must rise up to the challenge

At Biden’s climate summit, business leaders such as Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg addressed political leaders, along with the chief executives of major financial institutions, including: Jane Fraser, chief executive of Citigroup; Marcie Frost, chief executive of the pension fund Calpers; and Brian Moynihan, chairman of Bank of America.

“We can’t beat climate change without a historic amount of new investment. We have to do more, faster to cut emissions,” said Bloomberg, who has donated millions over the years to promote replacing dirty-burning coal-fired power plants around the world with increasingly cheaper renewable energy.

Meanwhile, Bill Gates called for innovation in technology to meet President Biden’s and global goals for avoiding catastrophic climate change.

“Just using today’s technologies won’t allow us to meet our ambitious goals,” Gates, the Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist, said via video.

Biden said the production of solar panels, wind turbines and electric cars, along with upgrades to electricity grids and to buildings to make them more energy efficient would “create millions of good paying jobs around the world” and bring down emissions. John Kerry, Biden’s climate envoy, said the shift to clean energy provided “extraordinary possibilities.”

But a part of that innovation essentially boils down to (once again) money.

Private-sector money tends to flow where the potential profits are easiest, such as renewable energy projects in middle-income countries, not to the most vulnerable places that need it most. Plus, projects that build resilience to the climate crisis, such as early warning systems for flooding, usually don’t get a lot of funding. 

If the best we can do is take climate action where that’s profitable directly, that’s simply not good enough. Tackling the climate crisis will require a cross sector effort. While countries have to significantly reduce their emissions right now, finance has to significantly improve from the developed to the developing countries. And in the meantime the private sector has to build up to the task. It’s going to be an uphill battle, but it’s one that we’d best try to win. 

The US is back in the climate game: Biden promises 50% emissions reductions by 2030 at Earth Day climate summit

After years of climate inaction, the United States has finally pledged to slash emissions – a pledge that will require sweeping changes to the US’s energy and transportation sector in just a few years. 

Image credit: Leaders Summit

President Joe Biden spoke at a virtual summit with the world leaders, outlining an aggressive target to reduce its emissions by 50% to 52% from a baseline of 2005 emissions. This is nearly double the target set by the Obama administration in 2015 – which the US wasn’t on track to meet in the first place, according to an analysis by Climate Action Tracker.

The 2030 climate goal will be formalized in a document known as the Nationally Determined Contribution, or NDC. This is a public commitment to address climate change made by each country that signed the 2015 Paris Agreement, which the US formally left last year under the Trump administration and reentered this year.

Countries agreed under the Paris Agreement to keep the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, while also aiming at 1.5º if possible. This half-degree would make a huge difference for the environment, but achieving it means global emissions will have to reach a peak as soon as possible and decline quickly.

“Scientists tell us that this is the decisive decade – this is the decade we must make decisions that will avoid the worst consequences of the climate crisis,” Biden said at the summit. “We must try to keep the Earth’s temperature to an increase of 1.5C. The world beyond 1.5 degrees means more frequent and intense fires, floods, droughts, heatwaves and hurricanes.”

A new commitment 

When the Paris Agreement was first created during the Obama administration, the US pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 25% below 2005 levels by the year 2025. Plans got derailed by former president Trump’s dismissal over climate change and its decision to roll back many federal efforts to reduce the country’s emissions. 

The US is the second-largest emitter of carbon dioxide (CO2), producing about 5.41 billion metric tons in 2018. China emits nearly twice that amount, but on a per capita basis, it is far behind the US. Climate experts have repeatedly said the world’s major economies need to scale back their emissions to limit the rise of global temperatures and avoid the worst effects of the climate crisis. 

Right after taking office, Biden restored dozens of environmental safeguards abolished by Trump and agreed to rejoin the Paris Agreement. Now it was time to update its NDC. Campaigners and climate experts had pressured the government to set a goal of at least a 50% reduction in emissions, to which Biden has now official committed. 

In a statement, the US government said the target is consistent with the 1.5ºC goal of the Paris Agreement and will help the country become carbon neutral by 2050. The government said to have analyzed how each sector of the economy could reduce emissions, consulting with all sectors so to have everyone on board with the target. 

The federal, state, local, and tribal governments have “many tools” available to work with civil society and the private sector in order to meet the new target, the government said. Emissions can be reduced from the transportation sector, forests and agriculture, energy and industrial processes while creating good-paying jobs. 

“Many would think that that’s not doable. But I would argue that there’s opportunities for us to be able to be very aggressive in what it is going to take for that opportunity,” Biden’s national climate adviser, Gina McCarthy, told NPR hours before the start of the climate summit. “This is not a challenge that we should shy away from.”

Biden has already said he wants the US electricity grid to run 100% on clean sources such as solar and wind by 2035 in order to meet its goals, anticipating a massive increase in renewable energy and electric car production. Nevertheless, he has shied away from mandating all vehicles to be zero emissions, as governors have asked him.

Back in the game, but still short

The virtual climate summit, set to continue on Friday, was called by Biden as a way to renew the leadership of the US on climate change and rally other world leaders to set their own aggressive targets — after other countries were understandably concerned after the US lack of action under Trump. Countries will also meet in November at the UN climate summit COP26 to continue discussing how to accelerate climate action. 

At the summit, South Africa’s President Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa said everyone was “delighted to have the US back” on climate action, while United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Biden’s new climate commitment was “game-changing” and offered a blunt retort to those who question the need to address climate change. 

However, the level of excitement wasn’t shared by civil society organizations in the US. Brandon Wu, director of policy and campaigns at ActionAid, said in a statement that the new climate target is “deeply insufficient to meet the realities of the climate crisis,” asking instead for 70% emissions cut by the Biden administration by 2030. 

Sriram Madhusoodanan, US Climate Campaign Director at Corporate Accountability, said in a statement that the proposed NDC “just doesn’t cut it” and that the US should “own up” to its historical responsibility for “fueling” the climate crisis. That would mean “bold, deep and real” emissions cuts by the Biden administration, she added. 

Meanwhile, Jean Su, the Energy Justice Director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said the new climate pledge “falls woefully short” of what’s necessary to tackle the climate emergency. The US is “the largest historic polluter” and has to do “its fair share”, also proposing a 70% emissions reduction instead of the current 50%. 

Manish Bapna, Interim President and CEO of the World Resources Institute (WRI), said in a statement that in order to re-establish itself as a global leader, the US has to complement its emissions reduction target with a larger financial support for developing countries. This could unlock further global action to tackle the climate crisis, she added. 

Further commitments.

As Biden, other world leaders offered similarly dire assessments of the threats posed by the climate crisis but only a few outlined aggressive new targets. Canada committed to cutting emissions by 40% to 45% by 2030, an increase from the previous 30% target, while Japan pledge to reduce emissions 46%, up from its earlier goal of 26% by 2030.

Two of the world’s biggest emitters that also attended the summit, China and India, didn’t outline new targets, which is perhaps an even greater concern. They emphasized their current commitments, such as China’s carbon neutrality goal by 2060, and said they face larger obstacles to get climate action on track compared to the US and other Western countries. 

Ahead of the climate summit, European lawmakers and member states reached a deal to reduce emissions by “at least 55% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. This is lower than the 60% the Parliament had earlier proposed. EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the commitment pus the EU on a “green path” to become the 1st climate-neutral continent. Per capita, CO2 emissions in Europe are already almost two times lower than in the US.

Comparing climate pledges is tricky as it depends on the year you start counting on. The US will measure its reductions from 2005, which is when the country’s fossil fuel emissions reached a peak. But European countries do it mostly from 1990, when emissions started to drop because of the collapse of the polluting Communist economies. 

A study by the Rhodium group estimated that if every country would meet its goals, the per capita emissions of the US would decline and converge with China’s by 2030. But both countries’ per capita emissions would still be twice that of Europe’s. That’s why environmentalists have argued the US should have picked a more ambitious target.

Getting to at least 50% emissions reductions by 2030 would require the US to adopt sweeping new policies and cut emissions every year at an unprecedented rate, studies have shown. Actions could include more wind and solar power, convincing people to buy more electric cars and forcing fossil fuel companies to cut emissions of methane.

Still, none of these measures have been approved by Congress yet, so there’s a long way to go. But the biggest uncertainty is the fact that Biden’s term in office ends in 2024. What would happen if a new president like Trump is elected who rejects climate action? Only future will tell whether Biden’s goal is met. For everyone’s sake, we all hope it succeeds.

What to expect from Biden’s global climate change summit on Earth Day

United States president Joe Biden is hosting a virtual climate change summit on April 22 (Earth Day) and 23 ahead of major UN climate talks later this year. While more than forty leaders are expected to attend, the biggest focus will be on Biden himself and the new climate pledge (NDC) the US government is expected to announce at the summit. 

Image credit: Flickr / Chesapeake Bay Program

The four-year presidency of Donald Trump witnessed the US climate action fall way behind what was expected. Biden now hopes to show the rest of the world that the country is once again ready to lead in the fight against climate change. And as the world’s second greenhouse gas emitter behind China, the world needs the US on board.

The summit will focus on the economic advantages of climate action: elevating the economic benefits of climate action, including job creation, as well as the importance of mobilizing public and private finance, addressing the need for adaptation and resilience to climate impacts, incorporating nature-based solutions and deploying transformational technologies. It’s a lot to swallow, but the stakes have never been higher.

Pete Ogden, of the UN foundation and a former senior director on climate under the administration of former president Barack Obama, described the summit as “the most anticipated global climate moment since the Paris Agreement” was adopted in 2015. 

“This summit is not an end-point, but it is a very important opportunity for re-alignment [with the Paris goals] and to make some real progress. The US and their [2030 climate plan] being a part of that,” he told reporters last week.

What’s the state of the fight against climate change?

Countries agreed under the Paris Agreement to keep the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, while also aiming at 1.5º if possible — a half degree which would make a huge difference for the environment. This means global emissions will have to reach a peak as soon as possible. 

But we are still falling short of climate action; very short. Since 2015 global greenhouse gas emissions have continued to grow, with a billion tons of CO2 added to annual figures between 2015 and 2018, according to the Global Carbon Project. This increase is mainly dominated by emerging economies such as China and India.

Countries would have to collectively increase their climate action threefold to be in line with the 2ºC goal of the Paris Agreement, UN estimates. Meanwhile, to be in line with the 1.5ºC target, they would have to do so fivefold. The world is now heading to global warming of about 3ºC based on the current climate pledges.

As emissions rise, so does the global temperature. Last year’s temperature reached a 1.2ºC increase above pre-industrial levels, with a 20% chance of exceeding 1.5°C by 2024. Breaking that limit would bring trigger all sorts of severe consequences on the planet such as further coral bleaching, heat waves, floods, and sea-level rise.

How can the summit help?

The summit is supposed to encourage countries to make stronger commitments—known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs)—under the Paris Agreement and “keep that 1.5-degree goal within reach,” according to a White House statement. Countries have to review their NDCs every five years, increasing their ambition. 

This update was supposed to happen in 2020, with leaders expected to announce more ambitious targets during an annual climate conference (COP26) in the United Kingdom. But the COP26 was pushed back to November 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, with many countries pending to update their NDCs – including the US. 

Biden committed to announce a new emissions-reduction target at the summit. For climate experts, his administration should commit to cut emissions 50% below 2005 levels by 2030. Analysis shows this target can be achieved cost effectively with existing technologies, providing a major boost in jobs and innovation across a range of sectors

“Clearly the science demands at least 50%” in reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, Jake Schmidt, a climate expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a leading environmental group, told AP.  The 50% target “is ambitious, but it is achievable” and it’s a good climate message. “People know what 50% means — it’s half,” he added. 

Over 1,000 scientists called Biden to cut emissions in half by 2050, claiming the goal is scientifically feasible and necessary to avoid the worst effects of climate change. Meanwhile, a group of major businesses with more than $1.4 trillion in combined annual revenue rallied behind an ambitious new climate pledge of the US under Biden.

Jennifer Morgan, Executive Director of Greenpeace International, said in a press conference: “Climate leadership means President Biden aggressively reining in fossil fuel corporations, which he has not yet done. To be regarded as a climate leader, Biden has to phase out fossil fuels at home and abroad, and support other governments to follow suit.”

Who is coming to the summit?

Biden has invited the leaders of the world’s highest-emitting countries, including Chinese President Xi Jinping, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and Russian President Vladimir Putin. He also invited the leaders of some countries that strongly affected by the effects of climate change, such as Bangladesh, Jamaica, and Kenya.

What have top emitters pledged so far?

  • China: President Xi Jinping announced last year that China is aiming for carbon neutrality by 2060. This means that the amount of carbon removed from the atmosphere equals or exceeds that which is emitted. The country also pledged to reach peak emissions before 2030 but it hasn’t presented yet its updated NDC 
  • United States: The US left the Paris Agreement under the Trump administration but rejoined earlier this year. It previously committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28% percent from its 2005 level by 2025. A new NDC that doubles that amount is now expected this week, as well as a concrete carbon neutrality objective by 2050. 
  • European Union: The third emitter after China and the US, the European bloc already submitted its updated NDCs, which sets a goal of cutting emissions by 55% of its 1990 level by 2030, higher than its original target of 40%. It’s a progress, climate experts agree the goal is still incompatible with the Paris Agreement 1.5ºC goal by the end of the century.
  • India: The fourth-largest emitter, India pledged in its first NDC to reduce its emissions per unit of gross domestic product (GDP), a ratio known as emissions intensity, by 33 to 35% from its 2005 level. It also committed to renewables accounting for 40% of its energy matrix by 2040. The government hasn’t presented an updated NDC yet. 

“Climate facts are back”. EPA brings back climate change to its website

Following a four-year break during the Trump administration, climate change information is now fully back on the website of the United States government’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The move is part of President Joe Biden’s promise to “bring science back” and take more ambitious climate action.

The website of the EPA as it is now.

In 2017, former President Donald Trump demanded the removal of all climate change references from government websites — including EPA, the Energy Department, the State Department, and beyond. Trump repeatedly doubted climate change, even calling it a “hoax,” and rejected the US taking further climate action during all his time in office.

This was not with cost. A recent report by the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative (EDGI) showed that the use of the term “climate change” fell by 40% across federal environmental agency websites during Trump’s term in office from 2017 to 2021. The report also showed that access to EPA’s website dropped 20% during that time. Trump wanted to remove an important piece of science from government websites, and he succeeded.

But now, science is back.

In a video statement, EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan, who was confirmed last week, said: “Climate facts are back on the EPA’s website where they should be. Considering the urgency of this crisis, it’s critical that Americans have access to information and resources so that we can all play a role in protecting our environment, our health, and vulnerable communities.”

The revamped website has two messages on an image carousel on the home page:

The climate crisis is an EPA priority and public understanding of the implications of the crisis is essential to addressing it. While the information on the site is still limited, there’s already useful and interactive data available, such as geographical software to learn about the indicators of climate change.

A section focuses on the importance of environmental justice. Visitors can search across a map of the US and pull up reports with information on cancer risk, air pollution, proximity to hazardous waste, and more. In New York City, for example, visitors can see that a large part of the city’s population lives close to hazardous waste and wastewater discharge.

The site also includes executive actions signed by Biden concerning climate change, and the links to previous EPA reports and other related federal agencies such as NASA and the national oceanic and atmospheric administration (NOAA) were restored. Still, EPA officials promised that more content will soon be available, urging visitors to “return in the coming weeks as we add new information and features.”

“Americans in every corner of our country are seeing and feeling the effects of climate change,” Regan said in his video statement. “Combating climate change, it’s not optional, it’s essential at the EPA. We will move with a sense of urgency because we know what’s at stake. We know that tackling the climate crisis is the single best opportunity we have to strengthen our economy.”

President Biden made climate change a cornerstone of his presidential campaign and acted fast to deliver on his promise. He signed a set of executive orders that covered a range of environmental initiatives – including restoring the US to the Paris Agreement on climate change and suspending new oil and gas leases on public lands and offshore waters.

The US will be hosting on April 22 (Earth Day) a virtual climate leaders’ summit as a way to persuade major emitters to strengthen their national climate commitments (known as NDC). But that will only be credible if the US leads the way with a new and more ambitious target – which is expected to be officialized at the summit next month.

Should we double-mask to prevent COVID-19? Fauci (and others) say yes

Variants of the novel coronavirus are spreading around the world, including the more transmissible one from the UK that has been detected across the US, Europe, and pretty much everywhere in the world. This triggered a discussion among health experts over the quality of face masks, with some, including White House advisor Anthony Fauci, suggesting the use of two masks at once as an extra layer of protection.

Image credit: Flickr / Baker County

There are no specific studies yet on how well face masks work against new variants of the virus — we’re not even sure exactly what makes the new variant more transmissible. But as researchers are trying to unravel these questions, Fauci says that wearing two face masks at once “likely” provides more protection than just wearing one. This hasn’t been recommended yet by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) at this point.

A mask “is a physical covering to prevent droplets,” Fauci told NBC’s TODAY show. “So, if you have a physical covering with one layer, you put another layer on, it just makes common sense that it likely would be more effective. That’s the reason why you see people either double masking or doing a version of an N95.”

The practice suggested by Fauci generated buzz when people were seen wearing two masks at president Joe Biden’s inauguration Wednesday. Pete Buttigieg, who is Biden’s nominee to run the Transportation Department, and poet Amanda Gorman, were seen wearing surgical masks underneath cloth masks, among others.

Doing so actually provides larger protection, according to a commentary on mask-wearing published earlier this month. The surgical mask acts as a filter and the cloth adds an extra layer and helps with fit. Wearing two masks would especially help in places where it’s difficult to keep social distance, such as a store.

Other experts agreed with Fauci. “The more layers you have covering your nose and mouth means less virus you’re able to disseminate into the population. And then the more layers you have between you and the environment, the fewer viral particles are going to get into your system,” Thomas Duszynski, head of epidemiology education at Indiana University, told Huffington Post.

Previous studies from last year showed multilayer cloth masks can block up to 50%-70% of fine droplets and particles and limit the spread of the virus. The CDC has so far recommended people to wear masks with at least two layers of tightly woven cotton fabric, such as quilting fabric or cotton sheets.

Disposable surgical masks, made from a plastic-derived material, have been reported to be more effective at filtering particles than most cloth masks. Meanwhile, N95 respirators, designed to fit close to the face, filters 95% of airborne particles. But they aren’t recommended for the general public and should be reserved for health workers.

The key is to strike a balance between comfort and effectiveness, scientists argue. “If you put three or four masks on, it’s going to filter better because it’s more layers of cloth,” Dr. Scott Segal, chair of anesthesiology at Wake Forest Baptist Health in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, told NBC. “But you’ll be taking it off because it’s uncomfortable.”

Fauci’s suggestion comes at a time of changes in the US regarding the face mask policy. As soon as he took office, President Biden signed a set of executive orders that orders to wear masks on federal property, as well as on airplanes, trains, buses, and airports. “Masks have become a partisan issue, unfortunately, but it’s a patriotic act,” Biden said.

Acceptance of face coverings has come a long way over the past year, as US citizens increasingly use them. A survey in December by the Kaiser Family Foundation showed more than 70% of those surveyed report wearing masks every time they leave their home. This is 21 percentage points higher than a similar survey done in May.

What does Biden have in store for science? Expect changes on COVID-19 and climate change, for starters

The United States will see big changes in its main policies on health, climate change, and the COVID-19 pandemic among many other areas over the next months, as Joe Biden is expected to take office on 20 January.

While some of these planned changes depend on Congress approval, others will be passed more directly through executive presidential orders.

Image Credits: Flickr Stingrayschuller.

The general trend: reversing damaging action

The four-year presidency of Donald Trump witnessed a dismantling of many environmental regulations and a step back from the US’ position as a leader in climate and health — even science itself. Biden will have the opportunity and the challenge to reverse many of the policies introduced by the Trump administration that scientists and researchers claim were damaging to science.

A democrat who previously served as a vice-president, Biden vowed in the campaign to increase test-and-trace programs to help bring the coronavirus under control alongside his vice-president Kamala Harris, the first woman to be VP in the US.

Some measures will take time, and some will come on his first day at the White House. Biden already anticipated the enactment of a set of executive orders to rejoin the Paris Agreement on climate change and the Worth Health Organization (WHO), among other issues, marking a big gap from the policies set by Trump.

“Instead of dog-eat-dog, maybe we will have a modicum of international cooperation, greater adherence to laws and treaties, more civility in politics across the globe, less ‘fake news’, more smiles and less anger,” Pervez Hoodbhoy, a physicist and nuclear-proliferation specialist based in Islamabad, told Nature.

Acting on COVID-19

Biden’s transition team already unveiled the 13 members of what will be his Covid-19 task force once he takes office. The task force will consult with state and local health officials on how to best prevent coronavirus spread, reopen schools and businesses, and address racial disparities in the impact of the pandemic.

Some of the members of the task force include Luciana Borio (former Food and Drug Administration official and biodefense specialist), Rick Bright (former head of the vaccine-development agency BARDA, fired by the Trump administration), and Atul Gawande, surgeon and recently departed CEO of Haven Healthcare, a not-for-profit health body.

“Dealing with the coronavirus pandemic is one of the most important battles our administration will face, and I will be informed by science and by experts,” Biden said in a statement. “The advisory board will help shape my approach to managing the surge in reported infections; ensuring vaccines are safe and effective.”

While President Trump has repeatedly downplayed the COVID-19 pandemic, opposing local efforts and even suggesting cutting down on tests, Biden’s team has committed to increasing test-and-trace programs. The new administration vowed to work side-by-side with state- and local-level officials to implement mandates nationwide and strengthening public-health facilities.

The president-elect has also promised to make decisions grounded in science. This also a sharp contrast with Trump, who sidelined government scientists at public-health agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), shunning scientists and science alike.

Biden announced plans to reopen the lines of communication with other countries and international organizations.

“Joe Biden and Kamala Harris understand that no country can face our current challenges alone, and hopefully will re-engage and help re-form key science-based multilateral institutions,” Marga Gual Soler, an adviser on science diplomacy and policy to the European Union, told Nature.

What to do with face masks will be one of the first tests for Biden. His team already concluded they can’t impose a national mask mandate from the White House, they will need to work with governors and mayors on this end. But the White House could ask for the use of masks on federal property and during interstate transportation. Still, they need to gather support from governors and work on persuasive messaging.

Image Credits: Phil Roeder.

The same applies to testing, another key decision for the new president. Michael Mina, a Harvard epidemiologist and expert in medical testing for viruses, said the new administration should invest in simple, do-it-yourself coronavirus tests that could be distributed across the country to tens of millions of households.

On their transition website, Biden and Harris said they want to double the number of drive-through testing sites and establishing a Pandemic Testing Board, an organizing body that will direct the production and distribution of “tens of millions of tests.” They also want to deploy a US Public Health Corp to protect at-risk populations.

They plan to invest $25 billion in the manufacture and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, hoping to guarantee a free vaccine to every American. Clinical data for any approved vaccine will be publicly released. The new administration also wants to prevent price gouging for approved COVID-19 treatments.

Environment action

Biden will move to restore dozens of environmental safeguards Trump abolished and launch what could be one of the boldest plans on climate change the US has ever seen. While some programs may find resistance from Senate Republicans, the country is on track to make a big change in its environmental policy.

The new administration has plans to develop renewable energy even further, restrict oil and gas drilling on public land, block pipelines that transport fossil fuels across the country and encourage other countries to cut their emissions even further. It’s all part of a large package Biden is getting ready and will see the light in January.

Under Biden, the US will rejoin the Paris Agreement on climate change, which has the goal of keeping global temperatures below 2ºC and ideally below 1.5ºC. Biden has promised measures to put the US will on track for net-zero emissions by the middle of the century. Scientists have said this would have big implications for the Paris goals.

Image credits: Diane Greene.

An analysis by Climate Action Tracker, a non-profit organization, said Biden’s climate plan could put the Paris Agreement’s goals “within striking distance”. If fulfilled, the US would reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by about 75 gigatons of carbon dioxide by 2050, decreasing global warming by 0.1°C by the end of the century.

The US is the world’s second-biggest polluter, behind China. Trump decided to leave the Paris Agreement, which became official one day after the presidential election. The move signaled to the world that the US wouldn’t lead the fight against climate change anymore, with critics saying this undermined other nations’ effort.

Biden said he will not allow fracking on federal land. Fracking is a drilling process in which chemicals are injected into rocks to liberate natural gas and oil and is controversial because of its environmental impact. However, about 90% of it occurs on state or private land, so most operations won’t be affected.

He has also vowed to eliminate carbon emissions from the electric sector by 2035 and spend $2 trillion on investments ranging from weatherizing homes to developing a nationwide network of charging stations for electric vehicles. If he can’t implement it through Senate, he’ll rely on executive orders to advance his agenda.

Candidates are already being considered for the top environmental posts under the new administration. Mary Nichols, who has implemented many of the nation’s most liberal climate policies, is a leading contender to head the EPA. The former secretary of state John F. Kerry may get involved with climate policy.

Andrew Light, a former senior climate official in the Obama administration, said Biden is focused on lowering emissions and increasing jobs. “There will be a big push on electric vehicles, a big push on efficient buildings, both residential and offices, a big push on creating a new kind of civilian conservation corps and doing a lot of nature-based solutions on climate change,” he told the BBC.

It remains to be seen how much of his plans Biden will actually be able to accomplish. However, one thing’s for sure: US science will witness a very different presidency.

While it waits for election results, the US formally withdraws from Paris Agreement

With its presidential elections in full swing, the United States has become the first nation in the world to formally withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change. President Trump had announced the move in 2017, but United Nations rules meant that it comes into effect today.

Credit Flickr Matt Johnson

The Paris Agreement was drafted in 2015 to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change. It aims to keep global temperature rise well below 2ºC above pre-industrial levels, and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.51C.

The delay of the US exiting the agreement is due to the baked-in complex of its rules, so written specifically due to the possibility of a country deciding to exit. In the past, internal US politics had influenced other climate pacts as well, such as the Kyoto Protocol, signed in 1997. The Clinton administration couldn’t secure Senate backing for it.

No country was allowed to leave the climate agreement before three years had passed from the date of ratification (after at least 55 countries representing 55% of global emissions had ratified it). This happened on 4 November 2016. Still, member states had to serve a 12-month notice period on the United Nations prior to exiting.

“Being out formally obviously hurts the US reputation,” Andrew Light, a former climate change official in the Obama administration, told BBC. “This will be the second time that the US has been the primary force behind negotiating a new climate deal – with the Kyoto Protocol we never ratified it, in the case of the Paris Agreement, we left it.”

Although this has been long in the making, there’s still a sense of disappointment among climate diplomats and environmental activists, who believe that climate change is the biggest global challenge we’re facing and that the US should be leading the fight against it. The US now represents around 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

“The decision to leave the Paris agreement was wrong when it was announced and it is still wrong today,” Helen Mountford from the World Resources Institute (WRI), an environmental organization, told BBC. “Simply put the US should stay with the other 189 parties to the agreement, not go out alone.”

President Trump had made leaving the Paris Agreement a key part of his election platform in 2016. He included it into a vision of a revitalized US with booming energy production, especially coal and oil. His understanding was that the climate deal was unfair to the US, allowing developing countries like India to continue using fossil fuels. As Trump announced the decision to leave the Paris Agreement in 2017, a number of states and businesses have pledged to continue cutting carbon and to try and make up for Trump’s decision. They presented America’s Pledge program, through which states and cities would help cut US emissions by 19% compared to 2005 levels by 2025.

Now, climate activists and delegates are worried that the US withdrawal will see other countries adopt a go-slow attitude, at a time when scientists are saying that climate efforts should be speeded up. Countries such as Saudi Arabia and Russia have shown a willingness to side with US efforts to push back on climate science.

“They are biding their time, they are saying that if the US is not in then we don’t need to rush to do anything at this time’,” Carlos Fuller, lead negotiator from the Alliance of Small Island States, told BBC. “I think they are hedging their bets to see what kind of a better deal they can get out of it, and not actually withdraw.”

But the US involvement in the Paris Agreement isn’t necessarily over. The country could choose to return, and Democratic candidate Joe Biden has promised to do just that “on day one” if he wins the election. If he were to do so, the US could officially resume its leadership role under the Paris Agreement in mid-February.

What the US vote means for the world’s climate

How the US elections go will likely play a critical role in how much hotter the world gets in the coming years, climate experts agree. President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden have opposite views on climate change. No matter which one of them gets elected, they will have a big hand to play in shaping the world’s climate.

Credit White House

President Trump notified the United Nations a year ago that the US would be renouncing the 2015 Paris Agreement, and the US will formally leave the agreement just one day after the presidential election. Due to the clauses in the international pact, November 4th is the earliest a that the US can withdraw (one year after the decision was officially announced).

This means the US, the world’s second-largest climate polluter, will be the first country to exit the agreement, which forces countries to pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The world has already warmed by 1ºC compared to pre-industrial levels and is on track to reach warming between 3ºC and 4ºC.

Democrat candidate Joe Biden has pledged to put the country immediately back in the Paris agreement. This doesn’t require congressional approval and would take three months, from November to the January inauguration. If the US pulls back into the agreement, other countries will be less likely to back out too.

In the last debate, Biden vowed to set a goal of zero net carbon emissions for the US by 2050. This means the country would not put more greenhouse gases into the air than it takes out. More than a dozen countries, including top polluting such as China, have already made similar pledges and more are expected to come.

“Losing most of the world’s coral reefs is something that would be hard to avoid if the U.S. remains out of the Paris process,” climate scientist Zeke Hausfather of the Breakthrough Institute in Oakland, California, told Associated Press. “At the margins, we would see a world of more extreme heatwaves.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said this week in a visit to the Maldives that the Trump administration has done its “fair share” to reduce carbon emissions. He said the US reduced emissions through “creativity, innovation, and good governance” instead of imposing “state-driven and forced rulesets.”

Carbon emissions from the US dropped by less than 1% a year from 2016 to 2019, until plunging (probably temporarily) during the pandemic, according to the Department of Energy. More than 60 countries cut emissions by higher percentages than the US over that time, according to international data.

Using a “Climate Deregulation Tracker,” researchers at Columbia University in New York have tracked more than 160 significant rollbacks of environmental regulations over the past three years of the Trump administration. These cover everything from car fuel standards, to methane emissions, to light bulbs.

“Other countries around the world are obsessed with the Paris Climate Accord, which shackles economies and has done nothing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” White House spokesman Judd Deere told AP in a statement. “President Trump understands economic growth and environmental protection do not need to conflict.”

Trevor Houser, a climate modeler for the independent Rhodium Group, compared a continuation of the Trump administration’s current emission trends to what would happen if Biden worked toward net-zero emissions. He found that in the next 10 years, the US under a Trump scenario would emit 6 billion tons more greenhouse gases than under Biden.