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Biden 'Has Not Yet Done Enough' on Climate Emergency in First 100 Days, Campaigners Say

"Now is the time for Biden to back up his progressive messaging with climate action that will actually stop the crisis at the scale that science and justice demand."

President Joe Biden delivers remarks during day two of the virtual Leaders Summit on Climate at the East Room of the White House April 23, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Anna Moneymaker-Pool/Getty Images)

President Joe Biden delivers remarks during day two of the virtual Leaders Summit on Climate at the East Room of the White House April 23, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Anna Moneymaker-Pool/Getty Images)

After running on vows to boldly tackle the climate emergency and winning a wide range of endorsements, President Joe Biden has taken some necessary steps during his first 100 days to meet or exceed his campaign promises—but he needs to go much further, according to some climate experts and advocacy groups.

"There is still time for President Biden to become the climate leader that our country—and the world—desperately needs."
—Charlie Jiang, Greenpeace USA

Ahead of Biden's Wednesday night speech to Congress on the eve of his 100th day, Greenpeace USA issued a progress report based on the scorecard the group used to grade 2020 presidential candidates. In the new report, Biden only receives 30 of a possible 100 points measuring his administration's "progress toward phasing out fossil fuels and enacting a Green New Deal."

Biden scores only a 12 out of 50 on the fossil fuel section. Greenpeace analyzed his progress on leading a managed phaseout of fossil fuel production, protecting workers and communities, ending subsidies as well as leasing on public lands and waters, banning exports, implementing a climate test for federal permits, holding polluters accountable, respecting Indigenous sovereignty, advancing environmental justice, and hiring officials who aren't connected to the dirty energy industry.

The second section, for which Biden gets an 18 out of 50, notes that he has not endorsed the Green New Deal Resolution recently reintroduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) nor the THRIVE Agenda, but his first infrastructure proposal—the American Jobs Plan—and "some of his public statements do capture the spirit of the original GND."

Greenpeace considered Biden's progress on committing to near-zero greenhouse gas emissions before 2050, advancing climate resilience, strengthening worker protections and the right to organize, elevating frontline leadership in policymaking, achieving 100% renewable electricity by 2035, eliminating fossil fuel vehicles by 2040, cutting emissions in the agricultural, buildings, and industrial sectors, and rejoining the Paris agreement—the only category for which he got the highest possible score.

"Biden has taken bolder steps to tackle the climate crisis than any president in history. Still, he has not yet done enough," said Greenpeace USA climate campaigner Charlie Jiang in a statement. "The bar for action is not set by what pundits deem possible nor the records of past administrations—it's set by science and justice."

"Science demands we rapidly phase out fossil fuel extraction and transition to 100% renewable energy. Justice demands we invest in the communities who have borne the brunt of pollution and the workers who depend on the fossil fuel economy," he said. "The stakes are too high to fight for anything less."

"The bar for action is not set by what pundits deem possible nor the records of past administrations—it's set by science and justice."
—Jiang

Jiang added that "there is still time for President Biden to become the climate leader that our country—and the world—desperately needs. Phasing out fossil fuel production and holding polluting corporations accountable present Biden's best chance to advance climate, racial, and economic justice all at once."

Greenpeace USA does not endorse candidates, though in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) led not only its scorecard but also the Sunrise Movement's climate report card. The youth-led movement endorsed Sanders, but—like the senator—later supported Biden.

When Biden won in November, Sunrise Movement co-founder Varshini Prakash noted that he "was not our generation's first choice for president," but ultimately, "he listened, welcoming us in—including inviting me to serve on his climate task force." Looking ahead, she had said that "he must do everything in his power and use every tool at his disposal to immediately address the climate crisis."

Nearly six months later, Sunrise on Tuesday joined with Justice Democrats, United We Dream, and Battle Born Collective to release a progress report (pdf). The groups gave Biden grades on several topics, from the Covid-19 pandemic, gun control, and healthcare, to the minimum wage, the asylum system, and various foreign policy issues, including the Afghanistan War and the Iran nuclear deal.

Biden's "climate whole of government approach" has been "satisfactory," the groups concluded, highlighting his re-entry to the Paris agreement and commitment to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% by the end of the decade as "critical steps towards meeting our global responsibility in tackling the climate crisis," while warning that neither goes far enough.

"The president has also created an Office of Domestic Climate Policy, given heads of agencies various directives to restore climate considerations in their missions, and has purged important scientific advisory boards of hostile actors. This whole of government approach to addressing the climate crisis was something progressives were strongly advocating for, and Biden's actions thus far are a welcome development," the report says. "However, the real measure of Biden's success on climate still lays ahead with the upcoming infrastructure package. Overall, the inclusion of major climate provisions in the infrastructure bill is a significant step forward from the previous era's Democratic Party politics of pitting of 'the environment vs. jobs.'"

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The report adds that Biden's work on climate investment "needs improvement," welcoming that climate is incorporated into the American Jobs Plan but also emphasizing the need for "more expansive and aggressive climate investments." The groups also urge Biden to embrace the Civilian Climate Corps (CCC) for Jobs and Justice Act proposed by Ocasio-Cortez and Markey, which would create a modern version of a New Deal-era program.

"Nearly 100 days into the Biden presidency, we cannot wait any longer for the administration and Congress to act on the mandate they were elected on," Sunrise's communications director Zina Precht-Rodriguez said in a statement. "No more empty promises. Legislate like our lives depend on it."

"We need a $10 trillion of investment over the next decade to end the unemployment crisis and put millions of people to work in good, union jobs stopping the climate crisis," she said. "In addition to direct public employment through a CCC, Biden must do everything in his power to pass a clean energy standard to advance environmental justice and support a bold transition to renewable energy as well as the PRO Act to ensure all jobs created are indeed good, union jobs where workers are protected and guaranteed the right to organize."

Precht-Rodriguez said that "while Biden still rides the wave of our 'climate action equals jobs' rhetoric, the truth is, he hasn't been relentless on passing popular climate legislation. Setting climate targets and adopting a Rooseveltian governing approach to crises is a precursor, but it isn't enough."

Like Jiang, she emphasized that "now is the time for Biden to back up his progressive messaging with climate action that will actually stop the crisis at the scale that science and justice demand."

"Pretending that we can keep drilling for oil and gas for eternity is delusional."
—Basav Sen, IPS

Basav Sen, Climate Justice Project director at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), agreed that the administration is doing well with some elements of climate policy, but in other areas, "they need to abandon old-school thinking and go much further."

"They have come to the very welcome realization that addressing the climate crisis will require government spending and regulation—it cannot rely on weak 'market mechanisms' like cap and trade or carbon taxes," Sen told Common Dreams by email. "They have (at least rhetorically) embraced environmental justice as something that can't be siloed, and must be woven into the entire plan to address climate change."

The administration has also "let go of the false jobs vs. environment narrative," he added. However, it needs to "spend more on climate action" and "be serious about ending fossil fuel extraction, with an ambitious timeline, and a commitment to just transition for workers and communities. Pretending that we can keep drilling for oil and gas for eternity is delusional."

Sen expressed concern about a continued reliance on fossil fuels that is based on "dangerous wishful thinking" about carbon removal technologies, which "are inordinately expensive and pretty much infeasible to scale up at the speed needed" as well as opposed by environmental justice communities.

Last week, while marking Earth Day with a Leaders Summit on Climate, Biden released an International Climate Finance Plan that disappointed some progressives. Sen said Wednesday that the president needs to "face up to the fact that U.S. trade and global finance policy are impediments to climate action."

"The commitment to ending funding for fossil fuels in U.S. foreign aid is a welcome beginning (even though it has some loopholes)," he said, "but it doesn't address such issues as the adverse impact of Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions and intellectual property provisions in trade agreements on global climate action, or the ideology of austerity that still underlies lending by international financial institutions."

Sen said that Biden's recently announced goal to halve emissions by 2030 "is far from enough" and encouraged the administration to "commit to paying our fair share for climate mitigation and adaptation in the Global South," calling current commitments "woefully insufficient."

"This isn't charity, this is responsibility," he explained. "As the world's largest cumulative greenhouse gas polluter, we owe this to Global South countries who are facing serious consequences of climate change even though they've contributed so little to its causes."

He also urged the administration to demilitarize. "Colossal U.S. military spending is a waste of resources, reflecting warped priorities," he told Common Dreams. "It doesn't address the things that actually make people in the U.S. and elsewhere unsafe and insecure."

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