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Biden’s Climate Plan: A Good Start, But Not A Great Finish

With former Vice President Joseph R. Biden emerging victorious in the 2020 U.S. presidential election, the world is gazing at the President-elect to analyze what his vision for the U.S. and its relationship with the world will be. Within the first days of his administration, the President-elect is planning to tackle our ever-increasing climate crisis. However, while President-elect Biden’s climate change plan is a massive departure from President Trump’s, it still has many pitfalls in its scope like shifting unwarranted blame on China.

In a statement to the nation, the President-elect acknowledged that climate change is posing the greatest existential threat to American public health, community, national security and well-being. To address the issue, he proposed a “clean energy resolution” — similar to the Green New Deal his cohorts at Congress presented but toned down — where he plans to do the following to address the climate emergency and, by example, lead the world to follow suit. 

First, Biden will make sure that the U.S. achieves a 100% clean energy and net-zero emissions by 2050, which he plans to do by signing executive orders and urging Congress to create legislation tailored towards this goal. Second, Biden will pursue smart infrastructure investment to reshape the foundation of American public life, where the new administration aims to build resilient, eco-friendly and efficient buildings, electric grid, and water pipelines. Third, Biden will ensure to the global community that the U.S. is firmly united with them against combating climate change in all sectors by recommitting to the Paris Climate Agreement.

What is notable in Biden’s climate change plan is that he singles out China, acknowledges its role as the No. 1 polluter and promises he will be tough on them. He explicitly mentioned in his statement that China is “far and away the largest carbon emitter in the world” and is exporting and outsourcing its own pollution to various Asian countries through its infrastructure project, the Belt and Road Initiative. He suggested that his administration will make a bilateral carbon mitigation agreement with China to force them to eliminate export subsidies for coal and other high-emission technology. Additionally, Biden plans to seek G20 mutual agreement on ending all export finance subsidies on polluting technologies and resources and offer Belt and Road Initiative countries — mostly developing countries in Eastern Africa, Middle East and South Asia — an eco-friendly and low-emission alternative to high polluting energy sources like petroleum and coal.

However, what is also interesting is that Biden failed to acknowledge that China is already the leading country in renewable energy production — notably wind and solar energy — and also the largest investor in clean and renewable energy, both domestic and outbound. With domestic air and water pollution inflicting damage, which is worth hundreds of billions of USD, to the Chinese economy in terms of decreased labor productivity and increased health-related expenses, China has a grave interest to switch from fossil-fuel economy to clean economy. In fact, China has already invested billions of dollars for R&D and renewable energy deployment. 

China is also leading the world in terms of green technology and product innovation. Chinese solar companies are exporting cheap and cost-effective panels to neighboring countries and dominating those markets. There could be two possible explanations for this, with the first being that Biden is purposefully showing only one side of the story — that China is the No. 1 carbon emitter and polluter — to boost U.S. support for climate change action to defeat China. Second, the Biden campaign officials, including Biden himself possibly, either do not acknowledge China’s success or intentionally fail to mention China’s achievement in clean and renewable energy. Either way, it’s an interesting take.

Biden’s climate change plan is a departure from the current U.S. administration’s plan of climate skepticism and pro-fossil fuel stance; it reverts back to the Obama-era global cooperation of climate change. However, China, which Biden poses as the greatest threat-provider for climate change, has made a great advancement in the past decade on green technology. Due to this, the U.S. should quickly get back on track if it wants to beat China in the “Green Cold War” as well.

Sangho Seog is an Opinion Intern for the fall 2020 quarter. He can be reached at sseog@uci.edu.