America’s race to net zero

New Statesman

Does Joe Biden’s climate plan go far enough?

On 22-23 April the Biden administration is hosting a global climate summit to mark Earth Day, named after the largest ever environmental demonstration, staged in the United States 51 years ago. As Joe Biden nears the end of his first 100 days in office, the summit celebrates the re-entry of the US into global climate politics and is a key test for a government that has defined the environmental crisis as central to its programme.

It is also an important shift in focus. So far, the Biden administration’s agenda has been dominated by disaster management. Efforts have been devoted to rolling out the vaccine bequeathed by Donald Trump’s Operation Warp Speed and delivering a third, huge round of fiscal relief to American firms and households. Ahead of the climate talks, the president has to deliver something more long term: a credible commitment to cutting at least 50 per cent of emissions by 2030 and to achieving net zero by 2050.

The crisis-fighting has worked. After a slow start, the vaccine roll-out has been impressive, transforming America’s outlook on the virus. The $1.9trn Covid relief bill was forced through Congress on 11 March against unified Republican opposition. On top of the previous rounds of economic relief, it adds up to the largest fiscal package in history – sized at more than 25 per cent of GDP. Provoking fierce criticism from Clinton-era veterans such as Larry Summers, it represents a sharp break with the fiscal orthodoxy defined by the Clinton and Obama administrations.

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