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Biden issues order to combat climate change 'at home and abroad'

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The U.S. will develop new commitments under the Paris Agreement on climate change as part of an executive order that President Joe Biden signed on Jan. 27.
Source: White House

U.S. President Joe Biden has laid out his plans to form aggressive international climate commitments and step up the federal government's role in combating climate change.

The broad executive order released Jan. 27, which includes a directive to suspend new oil and natural gas leases in federal areas, reflects Biden's goal to "tackle the climate crisis at home and abroad," the White House said in a press release.

The action follows Biden's issuance on Jan. 20 of several orders aimed at addressing climate change, including one that instructed federal agencies to review rules finalized under the Trump administration and consider tougher replacement regulations.

"It's a whole-of-government approach to put climate change at the center of our domestic, national security and foreign policy," Biden said during a briefing to unveil the new executive order. Biden also signed a concurrent memorandum on scientific integrity in policymaking and an order creating a presidential council of advisers on science and technology.

The new climate order makes climate considerations an essential element of U.S. foreign policy and national security, shifting away from the Trump administration's decision to largely ignore climate change in its international and domestic security decisions.

As part of that effort, the U.S. will "promote a significant increase in global ambition" under the Paris Agreement on climate change, which Biden started the process of reentering on his first day in office. The new order kicks off the process of developing the U.S.'s nationally determined contribution under the Paris pact, as well as a climate finance plan.

Under the 2015 Paris deal, the U.S. originally committed to cutting economywide emissions by 26% to 28% from 2005 levels by 2025. But climate experts have said the U.S. could step up its ambitions in order to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, one of Biden's campaign climate targets.

To reach the midcentury targets scientists have concluded that the world must cut global emissions in half by 2030 to avoid the worst impacts of global warming, Biden's international envoy for climate change, John Kerry, said Jan. 27 during the World Economic Forum.

Halving emissions "means we have to phase out coal five times faster than we have been," Kerry said. "It means we have to increase true tree cover five times faster. It means we have to ramp up renewable energy six times faster. It means we have to transition to electric vehicles at a rate 22 times faster. All of that is achievable if we plan, if we invest and if we tap the forces of the market place."

The Jan. 27 order reaffirmed that Biden will host a Leaders' Climate Summit on Earth Day on April 22 and that the U.S. will reconvene the Major Economies Forum to coordinate commitments on climate change and economic growth.

In addition, the order directs the Director of National Intelligence to prepare a national intelligence estimate on the security implications of climate change and the State Department to submit a transmittal package to the Senate for the Kigali amendment to the Montreal Protocol. The Kigali amendment is a global agreement to gradually reduce the consumption and production of hydrofluorocarbons.

During a White House press briefing on the climate order, National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy said the Biden administration hopes the U.S. will announce its new nationally determined contribution to the Paris Agreement by the Earth Day summit.

'Whole-of-government approach'

Along with its international focus, Biden's latest climate action creates a central office in the White House to coordinate the president's domestic climate agenda. The order formally establishes the White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy, which will be lead by McCarthy.

The order also establishes the National Climate Task Force, bringing together leaders across 21 federal agencies and departments to "enable a whole-of-government approach to combatting the climate crisis," the White House said.

Biden's order also calls for the federal government to use its purchasing power to buy "carbon pollution-free electricity and clean, zero-emission vehicles," including for the U.S. Postal Service. That directive along with a Jan. 25 executive order to boost federal purchases of U.S.-made goods could create a million new automotive jobs, Biden said.

The president's new plan also directs federal agencies to increase the resilience of their facilities and operations against climate impacts and requires relevant agencies to report on ways to improve their climate forecast capabilities. The order seeks to ensure that all federal infrastructure investments reduce greenhouse gas emissions and that the government works to accelerate clean energy and transmission projects that require federal permit approvals "in an environmentally stable manner."

The order repeated Biden's goal to achieve net-zero emissions economywide by 2050 and have a carbon-free electricity sector by 2035, targets that the order said could be achieved partly through the federal government's procurement efforts.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said it opposed the federal lands and water energy ban but welcomed other parts of Biden's order.

"The U.S. Chamber applauds President Biden's 'whole of government' approach to combatting climate change," the group's senior vice president of policy, Marty Durbin, said. "The impacts of climate change are far-reaching and it will take smart policies across a wide spectrum of issues to achieve meaningful global emissions reductions while also supporting economic growth and job creation."