Next Steps to Save the Global Environment

Daniel Farber

Jan. 13, 2021

This post was originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission.

Donald Trump's hostility domestic environmental regulation is notorious. He also stalled or backpedaled on the international front. Here are seven steps that President Biden could take to remedy the situation.

  1. Rejoin the Paris Agreement. The U.S. needs to immediately rejoin the Paris Agreement. It also needs to update its climate target because we can do a lot more than we thought possible even four years ago to reduce emissions. Technology has improved, renewable prices have fallen, and the car industry is prepared to embrace electric vehicles.

  2. Rejoin the WHO. Leaving the World Health Organization (WHO) in the middle of a pandemic was crazy for many reasons — among them, its effect on the environment. As I wrote in a post at the time, WHO does important work in many countries on controlling dangerous levels of air pollution, cleaning up toxic substances, providing safe drinking water, and yes, limiting carbon emissions. Rejoining the WHO is a no-brainer.

  3. Rebuild the State Department. Trump has wreaked havoc on much of the apparatus of government, but nowhere has the damage been worse than the State Department. The department is our primary channel for international cooperation on the environment, as well as many other matters. It will take a herculean effort to get it back on its feet and working again.

  4. Work with China and India on Climate Change. The Trump administration halted bilateral discussions with China and India about climate change. Given that China is the world's largest emitter, and India is expected to catch up quickly, working with these countries is essential to controlling climate change. There are other issues in China-U.S. relations that will be tricky to address, but that shouldn't stop us from working together on a problem that seriously impacts both countries. Our relationship with India is less fraught, and we should be able to make progress more readily.

  5. Stop Blockading International Efforts. Last year, the Trump administration blocked an accord among Arctic nations on climate change. It has also blocked the G7 nations from coordinating on climate policy. We need to promote, not sabotage, international climate cooperation. This is something Biden can do without needing any help from Congress.

  6. Adopt a New Oceans Policy. Little more than a year after taking office, Trump rescinded an executive order on oceans by Barack Obama, which had emphasized ecological sustainability. His new executive order slashed all references to the environment, except for one mention of sustainable use of the Great Lakes. Like the withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, this is something the new president could fix on Day One.

  7. Ratify the Kigali Amendment. The Kigali Amendment orchestrates a global phaseout of HFCs, which are potent greenhouse gases. The U.S. led the negotiations. Kigali is supported by the industry and by a dozen Senate Republicans. Yet the Trump administration can't bring itself to submit the treaty to the Senate. The omnibus law passed in December contained provisions that implement Kigali. If we can avoid turning this issue into another partisan food fight, Biden should send the Kigali Amendment itself to the Senate for formal ratification.

Despite Trump, the United States remains an essential player in the international sphere. International environmental cooperation requires getting agreements between diverse countries with potentially conflicting interests. Doing so successfully can't be accomplished overnight. The seven steps discussed above would, however, at least restart the process.

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