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A Look At The Future Of Biden's Climate Change Policies


And for more on what today's executive actions mean, we are joined by Lauren Sommer of NPR's climate team, who's been listening in to that conversation.

Hi, Lauren.


SHAPIRO: First, what do you make of what we just heard from Gina McCarthy?

SOMMER: Yeah, I mean, it certainly marks a really comprehensive approach to climate change, probably the most comprehensive we've seen from any administration. It's this whole government idea they've been talking about. So it was a really broad range of things they announced. I mean, there's climate change initiatives in the Treasury Department and the National Security Council. It's this idea that climate change really reaches every aspect of our lives. I think the question is whether this administration can cut emissions fast enough because the science shows, you know, the next 10 years are crucial for slowing warming. The goal is to keep it to 1.5 degrees Celsius because even half a degree more of warming means more extreme impacts - things like sea level, storms, fires.

SHAPIRO: And one of the things that the Biden administration wants to do to reach those goals is reverse the environmental rollbacks that the Trump administration took - put in place. How long is that likely to take?

SOMMER: Yeah, it can take years. And that's going to be true for some really key policies here, like cars and trucks. Transportation is the country's largest source of emissions. And, you know, instead of gradually increasing their efficiency, the Trump administration relaxed those standards. But for the Biden administration, the federal agencies have to do a very thorough process of writing new rules, and that'll take years. And then if it's challenged in court, that'll take years.

SHAPIRO: So as you said, there's a ticking clock here. I mean, does all of this mean that the climate goals the administration has set are out of reach and we're going to bust this 1 1/2- or 2-degree Celsius goal?

SOMMER: Yeah. I mean, I think it means that the Biden administration is going to have to move faster on climate than really has ever been done. I mean, some of their own numbers say that they need to speed up the adoption of electric cars 22 times faster. Renewable energy would need to be six times faster. What's working in their favor is that some of these trends are already happening. You know, as McCarthy said, renewable energy is more affordable, and coal plants are closing around the country just for economic reasons. So the Biden administration is going to look to speed that process up. And that, you know, as we talked about, is going to probably need to involve Congress.

SHAPIRO: And when I just asked McCarthy about that, she sort of said, sure, legislation would be great, and moved on. I mean, with the Democrats' thin, thin margin, is there any chance a major climate bill would actually pass?

SOMMER: Yeah, it would - certainly going to be a huge challenge. I asked Greg Dotson about that, who worked on energy policy in the House of Representatives for more than a decade. And he's now at the University of Oregon.

GREG DOTSON: Now, there's a lot of acrimony that you can see in Congress. And where we're sitting right now, it's probably hard to see a big bipartisan bill on climate change, but I don't think that means you stop trying in Congress. And maybe it's tax policy. Maybe it's investment decisions. Maybe it's, you know, budgetary issues.

SOMMER: Yeah, he's saying that, you know, instead of maybe one banner climate bill, that Congress can kind of embed climate spending in other bills. But, you know, of course, the question is, will emissions drop fast enough just by doing that? - because, you know, as part of rejoining the Paris climate accord, you know, the Biden administration is going to have to convince the international community it can deliver on that. And, you know, it's important to say, even when the Obama administration left office, the U.S. wasn't on a path to meet its international climate targets. So now, you know, four years later, Biden is just going to have to be much more ambitious than Obama was.

SHAPIRO: That's Lauren Sommer of NPR's climate team.

Thank you, Lauren.

SOMMER: Thanks, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lauren Sommer
Lauren Sommer covers climate change for NPR's Science Desk, from the scientists on the front lines of documenting the warming climate to the way those changes are reshaping communities and ecosystems around the world.