President Joe Biden must push for and pass an ambitious and equitable climate policy.
While merely acknowledging the reality of climate change is a significant level-up from the Trump administration, it's clear that President Joe Biden wants to leave a lasting legacy akin to FDR. As we reflect on Biden's first 100 days in office, his climate agenda has racked up early successes — and encountered some roadblocks — with the toughest battles still ahead.
But to go down in history as the president who set our country and the world on track to defeat the climate crisis, Biden must push for and pass ambitious and equitable climate policy.
On Day One, Biden kicked off his presidency by rejoining the Paris Agreement, revoking approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, and launching a review of the Trump administration's environmental rules and rollbacks. Though the oil and gas industry might have been shaking in their boots, progressives and the climate movement watched excitedly as Biden swiftly took these major steps to combat the climate crisis.
Biden kept the momentum going announcing a series of climate-focused executive actions that culminated in a self-described "Climate Week" within his first month in office. From revamping federal procurement policy to calling for the creation of a Civilian Climate Corps and various environmental justice initiatives, these actions marked a shift toward an intersectional approach to the climate crisis.
For years, progressives had been calling for federal action to address climate change at scale while creating jobs and promoting justice — and it seemed that Biden was listening.
In addition to these executive actions, Biden appointed seasoned progressive climate champions to his team, including Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, and Maggie Thomas as the chief of staff of the Office of Domestic Climate Policy. By making these key staffing decisions, Biden signaled to progressives that they would have a voice in the White House.
These early wins matter, but the real test for Biden's climate legacy is ahead. Biden's proposed infrastructure package, the American Jobs Plan, includes significant investments to modernize our infrastructure, promote clean energy usage, and jump-start American energy innovation. If our movement and Biden succeed, the passage of this bill will be the biggest climate investment in U.S. history.
But while the American Jobs Plan is a critical first step, to fully decarbonize our economy in the timeline scientists say can avert disaster, we need a much more ambitious scale of investment.
The 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report indicates we must halve global emissions by 2050 to avoid catastrophic global warming, and, as one of the world's top emitters, America must lead the world in reductions. While the White House announced that America will reduce its emissions to 50% of 2005 levels by 2030 — a significant commitment — we must exceed this pace to transform and decarbonize our society.
Luckily, legislation that matches this ambition already exists, and has backing from both key lawmakers and a majority of voters. The Green New Deal Network has proposed the THRIVE Agenda, which calls for a $10 trillion investment in climate and infrastructure over the next decade. With support from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, the THRIVE Agenda actually more closely aligns with Biden's campaign vision to invest $3 trillion over four years — and voters support the THRIVE Agenda, even in swing states.
In addition to the debate around the size and scope of Biden's marquee climate and infrastructure legislation, there are key political and policy dynamics that will have a disproportionate impact on Biden's climate legacy. For instance, as Republicans put forward their own infrastructure proposal — a mere fraction of what Biden has proposed — both Biden and Democrats in Congress must ensure that critical climate solutions such as the 100% by 2035 Clean Electricity Standard remain in the final version of the legislation, even if it comes at the cost of "bipartisanship."
Though Americans will only gradually encounter the positive impacts of some proposals, such as the Clean Electricity Standard and investments in new clean energy innovation, President Biden has an opportunity to include popular, public, and highly visible investments.
Proposals such as the Civilian Climate Corps, a program to create jobs in the clean economy for young Americans; investments in clean water infrastructure; and the creation of electric public vehicles like school buses and postal trucks will help make a visible and tangible case that government can be a force for good.
When the water coming out of your sink is clean and lead-free, when your daughter is employed by the Climate Corps, when the postal van dropping off your mail is green, a clean economy doesn't feel opaque: It's right in front of you and it's making your life better. This is the kind of case we need to be making again and again if Democrats and progressives hope to have electoral success in the future.
The first several months of the Biden Administration have been promising when it comes to climate, but the real measures of success still lie ahead.
Progressives should feel confident and grounded going into the upcoming legislative fights — the policies we're fighting for are popular, and the moment we find ourselves in is the result of decades of organizing by the people, allies, and movements that came before us. Ensuring that the infrastructure package includes the most ambitious climate provisions possible will determine the fate of Biden's climate legacy — and our planet.
Marcela Mulholland is political director at Data for Progress.
Danielle Deiseroth is senior climate analyst at Data For Progress.