Policy paper

From Expectation to Action


By Geneviève Pons, Director General, Europe Jacques Delors and former Director of WWF EPO, and Paola Tanguy, Policy Analyst, Europe Jacques Delors.

Joe Biden's victory has raised the hopes of climate and environmental defenders both in the United States and across the world as a crucial year for climate and biodiversity issues looms... Click To Tweet

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’ victory has raised the hopes of climate and environmental activists both in the United States and across the world. First and foremost, it has come as a major relief for Europeans to see science and reason making a comeback in the White House. Throughout his campaign, Biden forged an ambitious climate change plan to put the United States back at the forefront of the international environmental agenda. Since his victory, the President-elect has made several suggestions in this direction, including a promise to re-join the Paris Agreement on the first day of his presidency, as well as the appointment of former Secretary of State John Kerry as special envoy for climate within his Administration.

In view of these ambitions, and ahead of a crucial year for climate and biodiversity issues, the expectations of the international community – particularly for those on the other side of the Atlantic – are high. For the UN Climate COP26 in Glasgow, the UK is calling on many countries to increase their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement. China, followed by Japan and South Korea, and later by South Africa and Canada, recently announced a commitment to follow the EU in its 2050 goal to achieve carbon neutrality, albeit by 2060 for China. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic will also require that the link between biodiversity loss and health issues be put at the forefront of the UN Biodiversity COP15 negotiations for a new global deal on nature, which will be hosted by China in 2021.

While Europeans are currently working on the implementation of a European Green Deal, the incoming United States Administration faces a difficult road ahead to first redo many of the rules undone in recent years. They will then have to catch up on the environmental backlog accumulated, and finally regain credibility with their rediscovered allies in the fight against climate change and environmental degradation.

The first hurdle in doing so for the president-elect is winning a majority in the Senate, for which the run-off elections of the State of Georgia –with historically unfavorable results for the Democrats– will be decisive. Without this majority, Biden’s envisaged greening of the United States will be tricky to achieve, but not impossible. In such a scenario, Biden’s room for maneuver would be more limited to presidential prerogatives, such as Executive orders and rulemaking through federal agencies. Another difficulty lies in the significant influence that several large oil and gas states have in the democratic electorate. Individual State and private sector action will thus be critical, but be more of a soft power exercise for the Biden team.

In this paper, we will delve into topics related to the environmental ambitions of the new Biden Administration, including internationally significant agreements on climate, biodiversity, the ocean, and trade. Our objective is to analyze the potential restructuring of EU-U.S. cooperation ahead of the major environmental negotiations to come. •••