Climate expert hopes for bold steps from Biden

United States President-elect Joe Biden is moving forward on commitments he made during the election campaign. He's appointed John Kerry to the new post of Special Presidential Envoy for Climate. Kerry played a key role in negotiating the 2015 Paris Agreement as Secretary of State during Barack Obama's second term.

NHK World spoke to an expert at the World Wide Fund for Nature about the major climate challenges facing the Biden administration.

Mariana Panuncio-Feldman says she watched the US election closely. Although incumbent President Donald Trump continues to insist the voting process was rigged, Panuncio-Feldman's believes "the American people have spoken."

She says it was a clear message that the public needs the federal government to reengage in the global effort to address the climate crisis.

Mariana Panuncio-Feldman
Mariana Panuncio-Feldman is the senior director for international climate cooperation at the WWF.

Increasing awareness

Panuncio-Feldman's interpretation of the transition of power is backed up by trends she's seen at state and local level. An initiative administered by the WWF, called "We Are Still In," came into nationwide collective force in 2017 after Trump announced he was pulling out of the Paris Agreement. Coalitions committed to climate action now represent nearly 70% of all Americans.

Panuncio-Feldman says Biden made climate change a key part of his platform. "The US is a divided society on many issues," she says. "But what we are seeing is that public support for climate is actually crossing the partisan divide. The situation is shifting on the ground as climate issues become very real for Americans."

Action from day one

Biden says he'll rejoin the Paris Agreement on day one of his administration. His plan would invest $1.7 trillion dollars over ten years into achieving a clean-energy society, becoming a country with net-zero emissions no later than 2050. He's also hoping to leverage state and private sector investments.

Panuncio-Feldman says: "What the country needs from him is a comprehensive climate policy -- sector-specific policy levers that can accelerate the change in different sectors of the American economy, not only setting the right compliance targets but also providing incentives to unleash innovation and the leadership of many actors in society."

There could be pushback against Biden's initiative, especially from the conventional oil and gas sector. Another challenge he might face is resistance from a potentially Republican-controlled Senate when seeking to pass legislation. But Panuncio-Feldman is optimistic. She says Biden's administration will have a strong foundation to build upon -- public awareness.

Real and present threat

People on the US west coast are still suffering the aftereffects of wildfire season, with a record four-million-acres-plus burned in California alone. And some states are now being hit by floods and other types of natural disaster. "Climate change is no longer a theoretical concern," says Panuncio-Feldman. "It's no longer an issue of the future [and] that's shifting people's minds."

Flooding in Oklahoma
Scientists in the US cite climate change as a factor in record numbers of natural disasters.

World leaders on the same page

Several days before the US election, Japan made a pledge to be carbon neutral by 2050, joining a growing list of countries aiming to stave off the worst effects of climate change. China announced it would step up its efforts to achieve carbon neutrality before 2060.

For climate experts like Panuncio-Feldman, the transition of power in the US and environmental announcements from other parts of the world evoke the image of a rowboat crew finally starting to row in the same direction:

"Knowing that the second-largest emitter in the world through its federal government will be back in the Paris Agreement, it is time to really take advantage of what every leader in every society has to offer to get us where we need to go faster, and further together."

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