United States

United States

US set to rejoin Paris Climate Agreement under Biden

Rejoining the Paris climate agreement was among the first executive orders rolled out by Joe Biden on his first day in office

Joe Biden is due to be sworn in as US president today (20 January)
Joe Biden is due to be sworn in as US president today (20 January)

The US is due to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement following Joe Biden being sworn in as president yesterday (20 January).

Biden won the US election last year vowing to spend $2 trillion on clean energy and sustainability measures and set the country on course to a 100% clean electricity mix by 2035 and to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

He had said he would aim to spur the installation of “millions of solar panels and tens of thousands of wind turbines”, but has not yet provided further details of how he will do this.

However, within hours of being sworn in Biden applied to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement, which calls for signatories to limit global warming well below 2C above pre-industrial levels. 

He deposited the notification to do this with the United Nations today, paving the way for the US to rejoin the agreement in 30 days' time.

CEO of the newly formed American Clean Power Association, Heather Zichal, said: “The president has made clean energy a centrepiece of his Build Back Better agenda because he knows these resources represent America’s path forwards to address climate change, create jobs, and fuel our nation’s economic recovery.”

Biden’s rhetoric around wind contrasts sharply with the outgoing Donald Trump, who claimed wind turbines drive down house prices, kill birds and cause cancer.

Ben Backwell, CEO of the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) said: “The incoming administration clearly recognises that the US has a responsibility to act on climate change.

“The challenge will be to translate climate action into economic gains and positive business transformation, recognised by lawmakers at both federal and state level.

“The wind energy industry looks forward to working with the new administration to deploy renewable energy at the necessary pace to realise a carbon-neutral America by the middle of this century.”

Late last year, chief executive of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) Tom Kiernan told the WindEnergy Hamburg conference that he expects Biden to embed climate action across multiple parts of government.

Biden’s approach of embedding climate action across multiple parts of government will make it harder for future presidents to undo, Kiernan added. Trump rolled back about 100 environmental regulations during his single term.

With both Democrats and Republicans having supported tax credits for offshore wind and acknowledged the sector’s potential, Kiernan expects an extension of the offshore wind investment tax credit (ITC) — which has helped to enable low prices for already-contracted projects. 

He noted that the Jones Act, requiring ships that operate in US waters to be owned by US firms and be crewed by US citizens, would likely remain due to its support in congress. But the offshore wind sector is working closely with labour organisations to ensure their plans comply with the law.

Local content rules stipulating how much of a wind farm should be made in the US are unlikely to be introduced, though Kiernan suggested tax credits could be used to encourage domestic manufacturing. “As soon as companies see positive signals, investment will pour in,” he said.

Kiernan anticipates “thrilling times in the US for clean energy” after AWEA, which has now been merged into the American Clean Power Association, saw record installations of 15-20GW in 2020.

“I think Biden will be an outstanding leader for climate. We have Republican and Democtratic support. A lot of business can be done in the US,” he said.

Meanwhile, Wood Mackenzie’s head of global wind analysis Dan Shreve told Windpower Monthly, that broad climate legislation is not seen as an immediate priority for many lawmakers, given the Covid-19 pandemic and the related economic crisis.

Offshore coordination

Nevertheless, US federal agencies are aiming to coordinate their responsibilities to better facilitate the build-out of offshore wind.

The Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) have signed a framework agreement to coordinate renewable energy activities on the US’ Outer Continental Shelf.

The agreement clarifies each bureau’s roles and responsibilities to promote renewable energy production, the agencies explained.

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