How History Will Judge Joe Biden

The main challenge for the president-elect is not about which direction to take. That is evident. The bigger issue is the speed of the energy transition to decarbonization.

It is clearly spelled out in his election agenda. Joe Biden says that there is no global challenge more urgent for the United States than climate change.

It is therefore mainly on this issue that the Biden presidency will be judged by historians. But the main challenge is not about which direction to take. That is evident. Several large organizations, states, businesses, including oil companies, and municipalities have made long-term commitments to carbon neutrality this year.

Not to mention investment funds, which are increasingly asking businesses to clearly explain their climate plans before the investment firms invest their billions.

For Biden, the bigger issue is the speed of the energy transition to decarbonization.

Some Democratic activists are in a hurry as they remember all the time that has been wasted under the Trump administration, where the future of the climate was the last priority.

Biden has before him a formidable coalition of research laboratories, academics, manufacturers, nongovernmental organizations [and] specialized media who are pushing hard for a complete transition, for an acceleration of efforts to decarbonize the economy.

They are doing so to maintain hope of meeting the goals of the 2015 Paris climate agreement, including limiting global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

In the field of energy, this coalition is mobilized to not only remove coal and oil from the energy mix, but also the gas produced from hydraulic fracturing technology.

However, this gas has greatly contributed to decarbonizing the American electricity production network since 2006 by replacing the more polluting coal, and has allowed the United States to limit its dependence on hydrocarbons from the Middle East.

But this gas emits methane, a more harmful byproduct than carbon dioxide. The coalition of those “most in a rush” therefore wants to limit expansion of, or even ban hydraulic fracturing.

And there are the more pragmatic members of this coalition who have also set themselves the goal of ending greenhouse gas emissions within 30 years, but at a more moderate pace, giving greater consideration to developments in technology.

It will be a challenge for Biden’s White House to reconcile these two positions, especially since his victory is less resounding than that anticipated by the polls. The split vote makes the adoption of a carbon tax, for example, appear unlikely.

An Economy Called To Transform Itself

Nevertheless, the Biden approach heralds a new era for the U.S. economy through a “clean energy revolution,” according to his election agenda.

Internationally, the United States will return to the Paris climate agreement, an essential move, as this agreement has become a symbol of the fight against climate change.

Now in the United States, Team Biden is planning an impressive investment of $2 trillion in the first term, or $500 billion a year, a budget close to that of the U.S. military.

This investment is targeting zero emissions for the American electricity grid starting in 2035: a significant commitment since fossil fuels (coal, gas) currently contribute more than 60% of electricity production nationally.

The Biden plan also includes adopting zero-emission standards for new buildings, tax incentives to promote energy efficiency and the purchase of electric vehicles.

Biden will have to maneuver skillfully. He has promised to govern for all Americans and, of course, there will be opposition to his plan.

The main issue is the human, economic and social costs of this transition from hydrocarbons to renewable energies, while allowing for the maintenance of quality jobs (“good-paying jobs,” insists Biden) for the benefit of affected workers.

If the Biden plan unfolds as planned, the American economic landscape will be transformed.

For us Quebecers who will travel to our southern neighbor after the pandemic, we should expect to see more electric vehicles on the roads, solar parks in the suburbs, wind turbines in the distance on the coasts, solar panels on the roofs of homes and buildings that are ultra-efficient in terms of energy consumption.

So, greater use of electricity. This is good news for Quebec. It can only help our efforts to sell our reliable, renewable and low-cost electricity to the Northeast in the United States.

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