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Biden signs executive order rejoining Paris climate accord; new curbs on US oil industry

Reuters WASHINGTON | Updated on January 21, 2021

To review all of Donald Trump's actions weakening climate change protections

President Joe Biden on Wednesday announced America's return to the international Paris Agreement to fight climate change, the centre piece of a raft of day-one executive orders aimed at restoring US leadership in combating global warming.

The announcements also included a sweeping order to review all of former President Donald Trump's actions weakening climate change protections, the revocation of a vital permit for TCEnergy's Keystone XL oil pipeline project from Canada, and a moratorium on oil and gas leasing activities in the ArcticNational Wildlife Refuge that Trump's administration had recently opened to development.

The orders by the newly sworn-in president will mark the start of a major policy reversal in the world’s second-largest greenhouse gas emitter behind China, after the Trump administration pilloried climate science and rolled back environmental regulation to maximize fossil fuel development.

Zero emissions by 2050

Biden has promised to put the United States on a track to net-zero emissions by 2050 to match the steep and swift global cuts that scientists say are needed to avoid the most devastating impacts of global warming, using curbs on fossil fuels and massive investments in clean energy.

The path will not be easy, with political divisions in the United States, opposition from fossil fuel companies, and wary international partners concerned about US policy shifts obstructing the way.

"We got off track very severely for the last four years with a climate denier in the Oval Office," said John Podesta, an adviser to former President Barack Obama who helped craft the 2015 Paris Agreement. "We enter the international arena with a credibility deficit."

Biden's orders also require government agencies to consider revising vehicle fuel efficiency standards and methane emissions curbs, and to study the possibility of re-expanding the boundaries of wilderness national monuments that the Trump administration reduced in size.

While environmental advocates were thrilled by the orders,industry groups and conservatives criticized them.

Alaska's Republican Governor Mike Dunleavy mocked Biden'sdecision to shut down oil and gas work in the Arctic NationalWildlife Refuge, saying the new president "appears to be makinggood on his promise to turn Alaska into a large national park."

The American Petroleum Institute, the nation's top oil andgas industry lobby group, said it believed blocking the KeystoneXL oil pipeline was a "step backward."

Hard part ahead

Global counterparts and climate advocates welcomed Washington’s return to cooperation on climate change, but expressed some skepticism about its staying power and itsability to overcome domestic political turmoil.

A group of Republican senators on Wednesday called on Biden to submit his plan to re-engage the United States in the Paris climate agreement to lawmakers for "review and consideration."

Trump withdrew the United States from the 2015 Paris deal late last year, arguing it was too costly to the US economy.

Biden submitted the formal letter to the UN secretary-general re-entering the agreement on Wednesday evening, and it will enter force on February 19.

Brian Deese, Biden’s director of the National Economic Council, told Reuters that the United States hopes to encourage other big emitters to also "push their ambition, even as we have to demonstrate our ability to come back on the stage and show leadership."

Published on January 21, 2021

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