Beyond COvid: The Digest

What does a Biden victory mean for the environment?

November 10, 2020
SUMMARY
  • Our In Focus section this week looks at the implications of Biden's presidential victory on the fight against environmental breakdown.
  • Read our In Brief and Reflections sections for the latest research and analysis around economic recovery and reform Beyond Covid.
  • To get in touch with feedback or suggestions for next week's Digest, email Michael on michael@beyond-covid.org.

In Focus: What does a Biden victory mean for the environment?

  • The result: Biden’s victory in the US election has far-reaching implications for international cooperation in the fight against environmental breakdown - of particular relevance to the UK as the host of COP26 next year.
  • ~~Overview: A range of climate scientists and policy experts gave their reactions to the Biden-Harris victory to Carbon Brief.
  • US domestic policy: As the world’s second largest emitter of CO2, the US can make a meaningful impact on global emissions with its domestic policy even as a sole mover. Climate Action Tracker estimates that Biden’s climate policy could reduce global heating by 0.1C by 2100.
  • ~~To give an idea of margins, the world is 1C hotter than pre-industrial times, and the Paris agreement aims to limit heating to 1.5-2C. Based on current policies, the world is on track for 2.7C - 3.1C of warming by the end of the century.
  • ~~Key features of the Biden-Harris climate policy domestically are implementing a 2050 net zero target (bringing the US in line with the UK) and implementing a green stimulus response to Covid-19.
  • ~~Green stimulus: Vivid Economics’ comparative analysis of different countries’ Covid-19 recovery packages finds that ‘green’ spending would increase 14-fold under Biden compared to Trump’s plans.
  • Will Biden’s hands be tied? While the final results are yet to be declared, the Democrats’ chances of winning back the Senate appear slim. Republican control of the Senate would likely block the more ‘radical’ aspects of Biden’s plans. (Guardian analysis here.)
  • ~~Bloomberg Green strike a more optimistic tone in their analysis, highlighting regulatory bodies and other routes to change that do not require passing legislation through Congress - though the Guardian piece highlights the conservative majority in the Supreme Court and moderate Republican resistance to extra-legislatory action as potential blockers to these routes.
  • ~~“Worst outcome for the global economy”. Economic historian Adam Tooze argues that a divided US government would lead to financial instability and paralysis. (Foreign Policy)
  • International action. On the international stage, Biden’s rejoining of the Paris Agreement marks a significant step towards meaningful international cooperation in the fight against environmental breakdown.
  • ~~Impact on warming: The Grantham Institute's Dr Rogeli estimates that, taken together, present commitments from the US, UK, EU, China, Japan and others look to shave off 0.5C of projected global warming by the end of the century.
  • ~~“A Brief History of the US and climate negotiations.” To place these developments in their proper historical context, Demand Climate Justice lay out a timeline of the US’s blocking of international cooperation on climate.
  • Green New Deal? The Biden-Harris approach to and framing of climate policy appears to borrow heavily from Green New Deal thinking. The Biden-Harris Transition page foregrounds the need to create union jobs and tackle economic and racial inequality in its climate plans, while Biden’s manifesto details an “environmental justice plan” as one of its three pillars of climate action.
  • ~~Earlier in the year, the Green New Deal lead for the Data for Progress think tank argued that “Biden had endorsed the Green New Deal in all but name”.
  • ~~Narrative expert Anat Shenker-Osorio joined the NEF podcast to discuss the narratives at play during the US election here.
  • Implications for Johnson. The US’s rejoining of the Paris Agreement makes the prospect of success at COP26 next year more likely, which would constitute a major diplomatic win for Johnson.
  • ~~But Biden’s election would also pose diplomatic challenges for the Prime Minister, who the president-elect once described as a “physical and emotional clone of Donald Trump”. In particular, Biden and his staffers are far less sympathetic to Brexit than President Trump has been, signalling an even rockier road to leaving the European Union - in particular the prospect of a UK-US trade deal.

In brief

  • Green Sovereign Bonds. Rishi Sunak announced plans to launch the UK’s first green gilts to fund low-carbon infrastructure projects, alongside new rules requiring premium listed companies to disclose climate related threats to their business and changes to stock market rules to attract tech companies to London in the post-Brexit era.
  • ~~Green Stimulus Now. NEF’s Lukasz Krebel argued that the introduction of green gilts means "there’s really no excuse for the government not to provide a large green and job-creating stimulus as outlined by NEF".
  • ~~Greenwashing? Ben Chu wrote a useful Twitter thread to explore what makes these ‘green sovereign bonds’ green.
  • Green Economic Recovery. Labour challenged the Government to deliver a Green Economic Recovery through urgent investment to support up to 400,000 green jobs, an emergency training programme and a National Investment Bank. (Independent coverage here.
  • ~~Ten-point plan for a Green Industrial Revolution. IPPR released a briefing paper arguing that the government’s ‘ten-point plan’ should be a means to deliver an investment-led economic recovery focused on job-creation – creating up to 1.6 million jobs - decarbonising the economy, restoring nature, and tackling inequality.
  • Democratising the company. Josh Gabert-Doyon of Common Wealth interviewed Isabelle Ferreras on workplace democracy and the firm as a political entity.
  • Algorithmic discrimination. The Institute for the Future of Work published a final report from their Equality Task Force, which explained how data-driven technologies replicate past patterns of structural inequality and proposed a new Accountability for Algorithms Act. (Briefing here.)
  • Key Workers. Referencing research from PIRC’s Alice Martin, the FT’s Sarah O’Connor called for greater protection for key workers (particularly in food production) during the second wave.
  • Fossil Fuel Divestment. The Net-Zero Asset Owner Alliance, an investor group owning a combined £4 trillion in assets, warned companies they invest in “not to finance, insure, build, develop or plan new thermal coal plants or face sanctions, including possible divestment.”

Reflections

  • Vaccines. In light of the promising results from recent vaccine trials, Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at Imperial College London Azra Ghani writes on the challenges on the pathway to vaccinating the global population.
  • Interlinking Crises. Damian Carrington wrote for the Guardian explaining the link between air pollution and Covid-19 deaths.
  • SAGE. Chris Whitty, England’s Chief Medical Officer, spoke to the BMJ in an interview covering his expectations for the Winter, SAGE’s circuit breaker recommendations and more.
  • Indy-SAGE. Sir David King, chair of Independent SAGE, sat down for a Q&A to explain their role during the pandemic.
  • The end of American Hegemony? James Meadway wrote for the New Statesman on the geopolitical implications of deadlock between a Biden presidency and a Republican Senate.
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