With new plan, Biden establishes ambitious climate action as the 2020 standard

The former vice president backs net-zero emissions by 2050.

Joe Biden. CREDIT: Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Joe Biden. CREDIT: Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Former Vice President Joe Biden revealed his long-awaited climate plan on Tuesday, one that aims to strike a balance between demands from environmental activists and a more centrist approach to climate action.

Biden’s plan calls for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions and 100% clean energy “no later than” 2050, powered by a $1.7 trillion federal investment over the next decade. That investment, paid for in part by undoing President Donald Trump’s tax cuts, will leverage private sector and state investments to total $5 trillion, Biden’s plan predicts.

For the first time, climate change is a leading presidential election issue. And Biden is the latest candidate to offer his vision for tackling the crisis. While more ambitious than many expected, Biden’s plan largely mirrors components of those released so far by his rivals, including former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX). Meanwhile, Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA) has released an ambitions plan backed by many experts and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) similarly released her own major proposal on Tuesday, calling for a “Green Marshall Plan” and $2 trillion in green investment.

“On day one, Biden will use the full authority of the executive branch to make progress and significantly reduce emissions,” the candidate’s plan pledges, laying out his intent to limit methane pollution for existing oil and gas operations, upgrade U.S. government installations, buildings, and facilities, and reduce transportation emissions.


Biofuels notably play a role in Biden’s plan, which the candidate dubs the “liquid fuels of the future” that “make agriculture a key part of the solution to climate change.” Protecting biodiversity is also a highlight; Biden calls for conserving 30% of U.S. public lands and waters by 2030 through leveraging “natural climate solutions.”

Above all, Biden emphasizes the connection between clean energy and jobs, with the candidate aiming to secure support from blue collar voters.

“We have to get rid of the old way of thinking that the clean economy and jobs don’t go together. They do,” the plan argues. “There are currently more than three million people in the United States employed in the clean energy economy.”

Under the Biden plan, $400 billion would be invested “to create the industries of the future” over the next 10 years, spurring job creation and putting the United States on a path to clean energy.

Meanwhile, some industries would come under scrutiny — including aviation, which accounts for nearly 2% of all global greenhouse gas emissions. Creating “new, sustainable fuels for aircraft” and upgrading planes would be a priority for Biden. The candidate would also push for the development and deployment of carbon capture sequestration technology — the process of trapping carbon emissions so they are not released into the atmosphere.

Other components of the plan include accelerating the development of electric vehicles, addressing urban sprawl, expanding rail travel, and uniting with international partners to combat climate change. Biden notably points to the climate efforts of cities and states, which have increased as the federal government under Trump has stalled on action.


“These states and cities deserve to once again have a partner in the White House. President Biden will be that partner,” the Biden plan notes, citing local legislation in areas like New Mexico, Colorado, and Washington, D.C.

While the 22-page document states “Biden believes the Green New Deal is a crucial framework for meeting the climate challenges we face” — emphasizing jobs and the need for action “on an epic scale” — the Democratic presidential candidate does not go so far as to specifically endorse the ambitious resolution introduced earlier this year in the House. This is compared to at least 11 other candidates who have said they, to some extent, back the Green New Deal resolution, setting the stage for a potential clash between Biden and other 2020 rivals.

The Green New Deal calls for a rapid 10-year mobilization to achieve net-zero emissions, all while spurring job creation, protecting frontline communities, and addressing social justice issues like health care and education. Some activists, including the youth-led Sunrise Movement which has been a driving force behind building momentum for the Green New Deal, have called for a 2030 deadline to reach net-zero emissions — Biden’s plan shies away from this more ambitious target.

In comparison, O’Rourke’s plan similarly calls for net-zero emissions by 2050 powered by $5 trillion. Meanwhile Inslee, who is running predominately on climate change as an issue, has released the most ambitious plan to date, offering several detailed proposals that would see net-zero emissions by 2045 at the latest.

For many activists, however, Biden’s plan is still likely to come as a relief. As Reuters reported in May, Biden was said to be planning a “middle ground” approach to climate policy, earning immediate backlash. Lawmakers including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), a sponsor of the Green New Deal, criticized this reported approach, as did Sunrise.

With Biden’s plan now officially released, those fears were slightly calmed. In addition to his climate plan, Biden also said his campaign would reject donations from fossil fuel corporations and executives, a standard set by many other candidates in the 2020 race.


In a statement following the release of the plan, Sunrise’s executive director, Varshini Prakash, said that “the pressure worked” and that criticism from activists had helped steer Biden.

“This plan makes it clear: climate change is going to be a defining issue in the 2020 election, and we’ve raised the bar for what it means to be a leader on climate,” Prakash said, calling Biden’s plan “a good start.”

Prakash noted, however, that “we need even more ambition from candidates if we’re serious about saving millions of people from death before entire nations sink into the sea.”