If Joe Biden is serious about tackling the climate crisis he must use his country’s leverage to curb fossil fuels, not boost them
The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report has driven home just how dangerous the climate crisis is. Faced with this unprecedented and unique challenge, the central question is: can we change course rapidly enough to contain the damage and preserve a halfway liveable planet? If the stark findings of the IPCC were not alarming enough, they are all the more so given the mounting evidence that the impetus for large-scale climate action may be ebbing.
Given the onrushing disaster, we may be forgiven mood swings. Earlier this year, it seemed that the balance of political and economic forces might be swinging in favour of rapid decarbonisation. China, Japan and South Korea had all made net-zero pledges. Trump, the climate-denier-in-chief, had lost the White House. The new Biden administration was pushing what was billed as a major green infrastructure programme. The Next Generation EU stimulus package was raising ambition. First the Bank of England and then the European Central Bank (ECB) took on the climate issue. The German Green party was riding high in the polls. Investors and financial markets were dumping dirty assets. Even a lobby like the International Energy Agency, once created to represent the interests of oil consumers, was charting a course to net zero. On 14 July, the EU announced its Fit for 55 plan, which implied, among other things, an end to the sale of new internal combustion engine cars by the early 2030s.
Adam Tooze is a professor of history at Columbia University