By Trevor Higgins, Rachel Chang, & Devon Lespier

From comprehensive legislation to ambitious executive action, the Biden administration has set the United States on a new course of climate action. Not only does this mark a profound break from the policies of the Trump administration, but it also amounts to more action on climate than any other administration in history.

This column details just nine of the many ways the Biden administration has pushed forward its ambitious climate agenda, from boosting the clean energy sector to prioritizing environmental justice.

1. Setting a goal that gets the job done on eliminating emissions Building a 100 percent clean energy economy requires clear goals to guide its critical decisions. The Biden administration is the first to embrace the goal of reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by midcentury in order to stabilize global temperatures at 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming.* That means that the Biden administration’s interim target—cutting U.S. carbon pollution to half of peak levels by 2030—requires reducing annual carbon pollution nearly four times faster than the Obama administration’s interim target did.** Ambitious policy goals drive ambitious policy change.

2. Making policy change happen to deliver on ambitious climate goals
When the Biden administration set the 2030 emissions target, U.S. policy was set to deliver less than half of the pollution cuts needed—so the Biden administration changed U.S. policy. Working with a zero-vote margin in the Senate and a seven-vote margin in the House, President Joe Biden signed into law the Inflation Reduction Act—the most consequential climate legislation in history, winning the votes of every single Democratic member of Congress over the opposition of every single Republican member of Congress. Meanwhile, House Republicans have voted 31 times to repeal climate provisions of the law. As part of the administration’s broader economic agenda, the new legislation makes sweeping investments in efforts to clean up every polluting sector of the economy. The Inflation Reduction Act doesn’t only cut costs for households’ energy use it also amended the Clean Air Act to empower strong protections against carbon pollution—and now, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is advancing a comprehensive suite of standards that cut pollution from power plants, passenger vehicles, oil wells, trucks, and more. Through relentless executive action and landmark legislation, the Biden administration’s new investments and standards have at last put the 2030 climate goals within reach.

3. Spurring a manufacturing renaissance
The science is clear that stabilizing global temperatures will require “rapid and far-reaching” system transitions “unprecedented in terms of scale” in every sector, from energy to industry. The Biden administration has ensured that American manufacturing can lead and compete in the new global clean energy economy, building economic momentum for the transition to clean energy that will be difficult to reverse down the line. For example, investment in U.S. battery manufacturing has nearly tripled since the enactment of the Inflation Reduction Act, rising from $8 billion in the year before enactment to $21 billion in the year after. That’s actual investments already made, not just project announcements—with more on the way.

4. Creating a new generation of clean energy workers
Projects spurred by the Biden administration’s legislative accomplishments are a major driver of job creation in the clean energy sector. In slightly more than a year, the Inflation Reduction Act has already created more than 271,000 new clean energy jobs. This trend is expected to grow more and more each year: In 2030, there are projected to be 1.3 million people who are employed in jobs created thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act. Additionally, the Biden administration’s launch of the American Climate Corps represents a historic step forward in addressing the twin challenges of climate change and job creation within the clean energy sector. Announced as part of a broader initiative to mobilize the next generation of workers in clean energy, conservation, and climate resilience, the American Climate Corps aims to train more than 20,000 young Americans. This ambitious program represents a comprehensive approach to integrate skills-based training with the creation of high-quality, well-paying jobs—leveraging the talents of a diverse generation to tackle pressing climate challenges while also supporting the nation’s transition to a sustainable, clean energy economy.

5. Pursuing environmental justice
On April 21, 2023, President Biden signed an executive order directing every federal agency to work toward “environmental justice for all,” marking a decisive step in improving the lives of communities disproportionately affected by toxic pollution and climate change. This executive action established a new Office of Environmental Justice, launching a whole-of-government approach to address environmental injustice and coordinate efforts across federal agencies. The administration’s efforts include more than 500 federal programs covered by the Justice40 Initiative, aiming to deliver at least 40 percent of the benefits from climate, clean energy, and clean water investments to disadvantaged communities​​ the historic creation of a comprehensive Ocean Justice Strategy and the passage of legislation providing billions of dollars in new funding for clean air and water, healthy communities, and other environmental justice priorities.

6. Protecting public lands and waters
The Biden administration’s America the Beautiful initiative marks a pivotal moment in the nation’s approach to conservation, aiming to conserve 30 percent of U.S. lands and waters by 2030. This initiative is not just ambitious in its scope it’s a strategic response to the climate crisis, with projections indicating that it could protect two to four times more carbon from loss by 2030. In pursuit of this historic initiative, the Biden administration is conserving more than 26 million acres of public lands, and a recent CAP analysis found that the administration has invested more than $18 billion to carry out these goals—an unprecedented level of funding for conservation. The initiative reflects a holistic, community-driven approach, emphasizing collaborative efforts across public, private, and Tribal lands to restore and conserve America’s vast and varied landscapes and waterways.

7. Cutting energy costs for households
For decades, whenever fuel prices go up, the oil and gas industry has done two things: It profits, and it tries to blame climate policy. But the Biden administration has finally torn up the industry’s playbook, pausing the approval of any new terminals for gas exports. Natural gas exports help the industry make greater profits but at the same time harm local communities, the global climate, and domestic energy prices. This landmark decision from the Biden administration shields Americans from a 9 percent to 14 percent increase in natural gas prices, preventing the industry from taking $11 billion to 18 billion in profits from these higher bills. Throughout this decade, the Biden administration’s investments in clean energy will cut household energy costs by more than 10 percent, with cost savings that begin immediately and in every region of the country. And by offering rebates and credits to low-income households, the administration is making sure that everyone who wants to join the clean energy future can afford to do so.

8. Restoring U.S.-China climate diplomacy
Ultimately, global temperatures cannot stabilize until all countries reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, which is why it is critical to translate domestic climate progress into global climate action. In November, President Biden met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in San Francisco, finally prompting meaningful climate action between the most polluting country historically and the most polluting country currently. Following the meeting, China has for the first time pledged to make absolute, economy-wide emissions reductions, a critical step toward global success.

9. Leveraging diplomacy to transition away from fossil fuels
International pledges for climate action under the Paris Agreement are set to move global temperatures from 2.4 C of warming down to 1.7 C. A critical milestone to stabilize temperatures at 1.5 C is the immediate decline of global demand for oil and gas.*** Not only did the United States rejoin the Paris Agreement on day one of the Biden administration, but it has since worked to strengthen the international agreement. Last December, in a year when the United Nations’ climate diplomacy process was led by the head of a state-owned oil company, the Biden administration overcame the influence of the global fossil fuel industry and helped win the first unanimous agreement of all countries to call for a global transition away from fossil fuels. In the more than 30 years of U.N. negotiations on climate change, this was the first time that consensus was won to target fossil fuels.

Serious climate action in the United States has come not a minute too soon. The Biden administration responded immediately to the cascading global crises caused by fossil fuel combustion with a whole-of-government response.
Through executive actions and legislation, this response not only reversed the active harm of the Trump administration, but also amounts to the greatest climate action ever undertaken by any presidential administration. Most importantly, the progress won by the United States under the Biden administration has put the goal of a stable climate within reach and is delivering benefits to people in their everyday lives in ways that can build the support needed to sustain this pace of climate accomplishments for decades to come.
And still, the Biden administration is only just getting started. The administration is preparing to finalize pollution standards on power plants and vehicles, energy standards on furnaces, management plans for old-growth forests, and more. The work of reaching the nation’s new and ambitious climate, justice, and conservation goals has begun.
* For comparison, the U.S. Mid-Century Strategy for Deep Decarbonization published in November 2016 by the Obama administration contemplated an 80 percent reduction below 2005 levels by 2050.
** The Obama administration set a nationally determined contribution under the Paris Agreement to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions to between 26 percent and 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, which requires an average rate of reduction of 1.6 percent annually over the decade from 2016 to 2025. The Biden administration set a nationally determined contribution to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions to between 50 percent and 52 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, which requires an average rate of reduction of 6.0 percent annually over the decade from 2021 to 2030. The rate of emissions reduction required by the Biden administration’s goal is 3.6 times greater than the rate required by the Obama administration’s goal.
*** Authors’ analysis of the World Energy Outlook 2023, a global dataset available for free download. In the International Energy Administration’s World Energy Outlook 2023, total energy supply in 2022 includes 331 exajoules from oil and natural gas in 2030, under the “Net Zero Emissions by 2050” scenario, this declines to 266 exajoules from oil and natural gas, a 20 percent decline in fuel usage.

Trevor Higgins, Senior Vice President, Energy and Environment Rachel Chang, Policy Analyst, Domestic Climate Devon Lespier, Research Assistant

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