Biden-Harris buzzwords: climate action, economic equality, racial justice and workers’ rights

Anna Triponel

November 9, 2020

The election of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will mean a significant pivot in the United States’ social and environmental policy. What can we expect to see out of the Biden-Harris administration starting January 2020? Top priorities for the transition are COVID-19, economic recovery, racial equity and climate change, underpinned by a foundational commitment to support unions and workers’ rights.

The Biden-Harris policy platform ( lists four top priorities for the administration in its early days:

  1. Tackling COVID-19
  2. Economic recovery
  3. Racial equity
  4. Climate change

With the formal exit of the U.S. from the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement last week, Biden’s plans for climate action are top of mind for governments, investors, businesses and people around the world. The new administration is expected to re-accede to the Paris Agreement (if you have any doubts, just check out Biden’s tweet from November 4), but what will the U.S.’s pivot on climate change look like in practice? It’s clear that economic recovery, workers’ rights, equality and transition to net-zero emissions will go hand in hand.

We’ve summarised some of the major points from the Biden-Harris transition plan below:

  • Create “millions of good, union jobs” to rebuild America’s deteriorating infrastructure and “lay a new foundation for sustainable growth, compete in the global economy, withstand the impacts of climate change, and improve public health, including access to clean air and clean water.”
  • Rebuild the American auto industry with a new focus on next-gen technology like electric vehicle charging stations, while ensuring auto workers’ right to join a union.
  • Provide large cities (100k+ residents) with “high-quality, zero-emissions public transportation options through flexible federal investments with strong labor protections.”
  • “Achieve a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035.”
  • Support climate-resilient building and upgrades, and incentivise consumption and manufacture of affordable, energy-efficient home appliances and windows to reduce residential energy bills.
  • “Spur the construction of 1.5 million sustainable homes and housing units.”
  • Invest in the development and commercialisation of clean energy technologies, while reducing their cost.
  • “Create jobs in climate-smart agriculture, resilience, and conservation,” including closure and reclamation of mines and oil and gas wells. Foster environmental and economic justice by concentrating on job-creation in “hardhit communities,” especially rural communities that are both economically reliant on resource extraction and most affected by the environmental hazards caused by extraction.
  • “Ensure that environmental justice is a key consideration in where, how, and with whom we build — creating good, union, middle-class jobs in communities left behind, righting wrongs in communities that bear the brunt of pollution, and lifting up the best ideas from across our great nation — rural, urban, and tribal.”

Observers around the world are hoping for quick action on these pledges, since U.S. steps to curb emissions would have reverberating effects. Fatih Birol, head of the multilateral International Energy Agency, told the Financial Times that the plan to decarbonise the U.S. power sector by 2035 “would have major implications for the decarbonisation of the US energy system as well as global implications for the growth of renewable energies and release of global CO2 emissions.” He also said that this could put renewable energy on track to become the largest global power source sooner than current forecasts: “I would expect it would either be 2022 or 2023 . . . and it could be a very good present from the US to the rest of the world.”

“At this moment of profound crisis, we have the opportunity to build a more resilient, sustainable economy — one that will put the United States on an irreversible path to achieve net-zero emissions, economy-wide, by no later than 2050. Biden is working to seize that opportunity and, in the process, create millions of good-paying jobs that provide workers with the choice to join a union and bargain collectively with their employers.”                      

Biden-Harris Transition, Climate Change (2020)

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