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Trump vs. Biden: a new era for climate change?

7 Min Read

Former-president Donald Trump was divisive on many issues, not least of all climate change.

He famously called climate change a ‘hoax’ and withdrew the US from the 2015 Paris Agreement – a global pact between nearly 200 countries to act against climate change. In 2018 he controversially announced that he was putting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), known as ‘Americas last great wilderness’, up for sale for oil and gas exploration.1

Although Trump has his supporters, many others have opposed his stance on environmental issues, with the threat of him gaining a second term in office described as ‘game over’ for the climate.2

In January 2021, Democratic candidate Joe Biden replaced Trump as the 46th President of the United States. Biden has a very different view of climate change, labelling it the ‘number one issue facing humanity’,3 and has already pledged to spend an incredible $2tn on clean energy.4

So, what does this political U-turn mean for climate change, now that one of the world’s superpowers is back on board with tackling the climate emergency?

Biden’s win gives hope for the climate

For climate change activists and those on the front line of climate action “the inauguration of a new world leader who describes climate change as an ‘existential threat’ is a lifeline for countries whose people and land are being devastated by global warming” observed Climate Change Correspondent, Lisa Holland.5

Those working in environmental policy agree.

“The Biden-Harris victory ushers in desperately needed new leadership at the top and a welcome sense of urgency for developing real solutions for achieving environmental and climate justice”6 says Professor Robert Bullard, Distinguished Professor of Urban Planning and Environmental Policy at Texas Southern University.

Biden’s presidency has also given hope to countries feeling the brunt of the devastating effects of climate change.

For Tina Stege, a climate envoy for the Marshall Islands in the Pacific – which currently lie just 2m above sea level – Biden’s presidency has given them renewed hope.

“For a country like mine which is really on the front lines of climate change, we now have optimism. It’s got to be cautious optimism when the challenges are this big. But with a partner like the US and with all the resources that the US can bring to bear, with this president we are at the start of a process that provides some hope.”7

Clear plans of action

Biden has already signed back up to the Paris Agreement8 and agreed to end U.S. fossil fuel subsidies worth billions of dollars a year for drillers and miners.9 The sale of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was also a failure, attracting just $14.1 million of the $1.8 billion in bids that the Department for the Interior had forecast – in large part due to a massive public outcry and the withdrawal of funding from all of Americas major banks.10

Within hours of taking office, President Biden also put a freeze on federal fossil fuel leases and permits, effectively blocking new oil, gas and coal development on federal lands and waters for the next 60 days.11

This move is part of Biden’s wider pledge to make US electricity production carbon-free by 2035 and to have the country achieve net zero CO2 emissions by 2050.12

To help achieve these ambitious targets, Biden has appointed former US Secretary of State, John Kerry, as United States Special Presidential Envoy for Climate.

“A zero-emissions future offers huge opportunity for business, for clean, green jobs and economic growth and, to use the president’s words, to ‘build back better’ from the global economic crisis” states Kerry.13

However, accomplishing these targets will not be without challenges, with some sceptical on what Biden and his administration can realistically achieve.

“Biden is committed to the US re-joining the Paris Agreement. But that’s the easy part. The question on everyone’s lips is whether and how a Biden administration can make good on the ambitious ‘build back better’ package” comments environmental lawyer, Farhana Yamin.14

After his win, there was concern about how effectively Biden could push forward with his climate agenda due to the possibility of having a Republican majority Senate. However, after winning two deciding seats in Georgia, the Democrats have a small majority seat in both the Senate and the House until 2022.15

Although it is not a large majority, it does make it more likely that Biden will be able to make progress with his climate change plans.

“Democratic control of the Senate means funding for climate action and the energy transition through appropriations, policy advances through the reconciliation process, political support and messaging from Congressional leadership, and potentially, if one is being highly optimistic, big ticket climate legislation with some level of bipartisan support” said Michael Burger, Head of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University.16

Of course, America is not alone in the fight against climate change. It is a global responsibility, in which America has a key role. 

“We need to all move together, because today very few are on a trajectory of the steep reductions needed to meet even current goals, let alone the targets we need to avert catastrophic damage” said Kerry in his address to business leaders at the G20 forum.17

We do not know yet how successful the Democrats will be in pushing through their climate agenda, but at least with Biden in the White House, the world can feel more confident of meeting the global targets so many nations believe we so urgently need to achieve. 

Politics and climate change

Politics is a key driver in climate action and policy. As we have seen in America, the stance on climate change can change rapidly with a shift in leadership, and these changes can have a global impact.

As the urgency to act on climate change increases, the need for experts who can help organisations navigate today’s environmental challenges and legislative obligations is increasing. 

The Online LLM in Environmental Law at the University of Birmingham will equip you with the skills and knowledge you need to understand the complex issues surrounding climate change and its impact on business, politics and society as a whole. If you would like to find out more, please fill out our request for information form or contact a member of our Admissions Team on +44 (0)800 032 7101.


  1. BOURNE, J (2018) This refuge may be the most contested land in the U.S. (Online) Available at: <> [Accessed 21.01.21]
  2. MANN, M (2020) A second Trump term would be ‘game over’ for the climate, says top scientist (Online) Available at: <> [Accessed 21.01.21]
  3. BIDEN, J (2020) Joe Biden calls climate change the ‘number one issue facing humanity’ (Online) Available at: <> [Accessed 21.01.21]
  4. GABBATISS, J (2020) US election: Climate experts react to Joe Biden’s victory (Online) Available at: <> [Accessed 21.01.21]
  5. HOLLAND, L (2021) Joe Biden’s climate goals already have activists breathing a sign of relief (Online) Available at: <> [Accessed 21.01.21]
  6. BULLARD, R (2020) US election: Climate experts react to Joe Biden’s victory (Online) Available at: <> [Accessed 21.01.21]
  7. STEGE, T (2021) Joe Biden’s climate goals already have activists breathing a sign of relief (Online) Available at: <> [Accessed 21.01.21]
  8. BOYLE, L (2021) What is the Paris Agreement and why has Biden rejoined the climate pact? (Online) Available at: <> [Accessed 25.01.21]
  9. GARDNER, T (2020) Biden plan to end U.S. fossil fuel subsidies faces big challenges (Online) Available at: <>[Accessed 21.01.21]
  10. SILER, W (2021) Good News: Trump’s ANWR Oil-Lease Sale Was a Failure (Online) Available at: <> [Accessed 21.01.21]
  11. GRANDONI, D (2021) The Energy 202: Biden administration puts freeze on federal fossil fuel leases and permits (Online) Available at: <> [Accessed 21.01.21]
  12. MCGRATH, M (2020) Joe Biden: How the president-elect plans to tackle climate change (Online) Available at: <> [Accessed 21.01.21]
  13. KERRY, J (2020) John Kerry commits US to climate crisis fight but warns world is way off pace (Online) Available at: <> [Accessed 21.01.21]
  14. YAMIN, F (2020) US election: Climate experts react to Joe Biden’s victory (Online) Available at: <> [Accessed 21.01.21]
  15. ORCHARD, J (2021) Biden’s Senate majority doesn’t just super-charge US climate action, it blazes a trail for Australia (Online) Available at:<> [Accessed 25.01.21]
  16. BURGER, M (2021) Control of Senate allows Democrats to act on Biden’s climate change agenda (Online) Available at: <> [Accessed 25.01.21]
  17. KERRY, J (2021) John Kerry commits US to climate crisis fight but warns world is way off pace (Online) Available at: <> [Accessed 25.01.21]

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