Climate Chess During the Biden Administration

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November 16, 2020

life size chessboard on white and green grass squares

A Note

If you're not familiar with Climate Chess, sign up for our free online course, Climate Chess 101.

U.S. President-Elect Joe Biden will likely face a Republican Senate and a weakened Democratic majority in the House. That will probably make it impossible to pass anything like a Green New Deal or other national climate legislation. In addition, Republicans have strengthened their hold on some key state legislatures, which raises implications for how the 2020 Census results will be translated into congressional redistricting. This last item may be one of the more important results of this election. Some observers have identified district gerrymandering as one of the biggest impediments to our potential ability over the next decade to tackle climate change. With the current Supreme Court, efforts to challenge gerrymandering will likely face even more opposition. You can dig in deeper on gerrymandering here in the Climate Web.

Thinking Strategically

Overall, efforts to tackle climate change will need to be much more strategic and tactical than many observers had envisioned when anticipating the 2020 election. In this short post, we’ll point you to some of the materials and ideas that you might want to explore in thinking about U.S. climate strategies in 2021.

First, you can scan some of the news and opinion commenting on the results of the 2020 election in the context of climate change. Needless to say, there has already been a flurry of commentary and suggestions ranging from how Biden will use executive orders to make progress in light of a divided government, to what scientists are hoping and recommending, and more.

Then, you might want to read Frederic Rich’s 2016 book Getting to Green: Saving Nature: A Bipartisan Solution. Rich wrote the book with the expectation of a 2016 Hillary Clinton win and a Republican Senate. He explores what he saw as real opportunities for bipartisanship in tackling climate change. While 2016 may feel like a century ago, there's a lot there that's still relevant. You can get a quick synopsis of Rich's thinking through our online mini-course in the Climate Web, Climate Change BiPartisanship.

Executive Actions

Executive orders are perhaps the most logical option for the Biden Administration with a Republican Senate, as these are actions the Administration can take without Senate buy-in. To learn more, take a look at the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law’s Draft Executive Order on Addressing the Climate Crisis. The Center proposed this EO months ago. An Executive Order like this proposal is something the new Administration could issue quickly.

The Sabin Center has also published a more comprehensive report, Climate Reregulation in a Biden Administration, which provides a more detailed look at the steps the Biden Administration could take. While intended primarily to give suggestions on how to reverse environmental damage done by the Trump Administration, the report includes measures which could help us to move forward on climate change mitigation.

Explore the larger discussion of federal executive action. You can find information we’ve put together through at our Executive Action Index Entry in the Climate Web. If you’re interested in learning about state-level executive branch options, you'll find the Index Entry for state executive action here as well. (We will note that the conversation regarding the executive powers of state governors to tackle climate change is far more limited than the federal conversation.)

What Does the Chessboard Look Like?

Once one gets past the topic of executive actions to tackle climate change, the Climate Chessboard for 2021 becomes much more complex and diversified. For example:

The Clean Air Act: The issue of whether and how we can use the existing Clean Air Act to tackle climate change is back on the table. Dig deeper here.

Technology and Innovation: How we can use technology and innovation policy to tackle climate change is also on the table. It’s an important issue to consider.

  • Consider whether there are technology/infrastructure projects that might advance enough interests to be feasible.  A Supergrid might fit that bill, perhaps utilizing railroad rights of way and railway electrification.

Deep Carbonization and More: There are so many other actions available to specific groups of actors that we cannot begin to list the possibilities here. You can start to explore more than 1,000 such actions through this Level 4 EntryPoint: Climate Chess in Action - Pathways to Deep Decarbonization. You’ll see a number of sector-specific actions  there ranging from cities, to the private sector generally, to the aviation sector, and more.

In all of this, we should bear in mind some specific thoughts:

The Climate Web organizes almost unlimited information with respect to developing the strategies and tactics for advancing climate change mitigation in the new U.S. political context. We hope you'll explore some of that information through the links in this short post. We are happy to discuss ways in which we can help you organize specific topical information to best address the actionable knowledge needs of your organization or audience.

About the author 

Mark Trexler

Mark has more than 30 years of regulatory and energy policy experience. He has advised clients around the world on climate change risk and risk management. He is widely published on business risk management topics surrounding climate change, including in the design and deployment of carbon markets. Mark has served as a lead author for the IPCC and holds advanced degrees from the University of California at Berkeley.

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