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April 23, 2021

Throughout his presidential campaign, President Biden put a premium on reclaiming America’s climate leadership. However, the actual history of the United States in climate negotiations has generally been one of undercutting ambition. So for the U.S. to truly claim climate leadership, Biden will need to do more than break with Trump policies. 

As part of that effort, he recently hosted an Earth Day summit convening heads of state and senior government officials from 40 countries — major emitters as well as the most vulnerable — to talk about climate action over the next decade. This timeline is critical as we only have a few years to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C. 

At the summit, the Biden Administration put forward two new climate plans: its new Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), or formal pledge of action under the Paris Agreement, and a new plan for international climate finance. 

While these initial commitments are more ambitious than what has been seen previously, they, unfortunately, fall well short of what is needed to meet the Paris Agreement goals. To claim climate leadership, we need the Biden Administration to:

1. Commit to a Fair Shares NDC

The U.S. NDC is far too weak. The NDC should be scaled up to the equivalent of reducing 195% of our emissions by 2030. Considering we are the world’s biggest historical emitter and are a rich country, it is not surprising that our fair share is greater than what we can do at home — especially based on our capacity and historical responsibility. A fair share NDC would call for a 70% reduction of our emissions here at home and provide financing to enable the remaining cuts in developing countries to meet the rest of our fair share. 

Additionally, the Biden administration must commit to climate finance to help frontline communities in poorer countries adapt to the climate crisis — and to compensate communities that have suffered permanent loss and damage from climate impacts (more on this in the next section).The Biden NDC only focuses on mitigation here at home and isn’t even sufficiently ambitious at home, aiming for only a 50-52% reduction.

2. Put real money on the table right now

The Biden administration’s climate plan amounts to about $5.7 billion per year by 2024. This is a deeply inadequate figure, barely enough to cover a minimal Green Climate Fund pledge much less the full scope of climate finance that must be provided in order to support climate action in poorer countries. The Fair Shares NDC calls for $800 billion by 2030 as a down payment towards the U.S. fair share of finance. This is large compared to the administration’s plan, but consider that in the President’s budget request, the U.S. military is penciled in for nearly $800 billion in the next fiscal year alone. 

Developed countries have repeatedly failed to follow through on funding commitments. Announcements about public-private partnerships and hollow promises from big banks and corporations are a distraction from this fundamental fact None of these will deliver the global transformation we need or meet the needs of frontline communities. We need to start putting real money on the table to build trust as we work towards meeting our full fair share. 

3. Engage in the transition to agroecology as a real climate solution

The Biden administration has been promoting carbon offsets and carbon markets for agriculture, but these are false solutions at best. Numerous expert and scientific studies have determined that agroecology is the only viable pathway to support countries’ efforts on climate mitigation and adaptation in the agriculture sector, while ensuring food security and the right to food in the face of the climate emergency. Agroecology is the application of ecological concepts and principles to the design and management of food systems. It ensures a truly sustainable agricultural model that moves beyond industrial agribusiness, which relies on fossil fuels and chemicals, and it also centers the rights of people who produce that food while supporting economic and political structures that fulfill those rights. 

Through diversification and increased biodiversity, agroecology builds the resilience of agricultural systems so they can adapt more easily to changing climate conditions. By promoting methods such as composting and mulching rather than the use of toxic pesticides and fertilizers, agroecology contributes to soil health and reduces the amount of greenhouse gases released in the process of producing agrochemicals. With the right to food at its core, agroecology is a powerful tool for dismantling agribusiness’s corporate power, which has promoted fossil fuel-based agriculture, wasteful overproduction, extreme labor exploitation, and globalization of food that is an overlooked culprit in the climate crisis. 

Stepping into action

The Biden administration has been emphasizing environmental justice here at home and talking about a just transition for impacted communities. We need that domestic talk turned into action, and we also need the administration to start bringing that justice lens to international climate policy. It’s simply too late to continue business as usual, including by going along with what has historically passed as “U.S. climate leadership”. We need the U.S. government to take the climate crisis seriously. It can start by doing its fair share.