United States: Biden Goes Big

Copyright © 2023 Energy Intelligence Group All rights reserved. Unauthorized access or electronic forwarding, even for internal use, is prohibited.

US President Joe Biden hits his 100th day in office on Friday having forged ahead to knock a handful of campaign pledges off his list. That includes rejoining the 2015 Paris climate agreement, laying out a sweeping climate agenda and plans for more than $2 trillion in infrastructure spending. He signed a massive $1.9 trillion stimulus bill last month, has set an end date of Sep. 11 for withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan, and accelerated the pace of the vaccination rollout, reaching a 200 million vaccine milestone this week. At first blush, the tenor of Biden’s early foreign policy is a striking -- and less erratic -- 180 degree turn from that of former President Donald Trump (EC Apr.28'17). Biden has sought to re-engage with allies, hosted an international climate summit, set in motion indirect talks with Iran in the hopes of navigating a way back to the 2015 nuclear deal and pursued a multilateral approach to addressing China. He has stocked his cabinet with a staggering amount of policy veterans, many of them from the Barack Obama administration. A senior administration official told reporters this week that the first weeks of Biden’s term were dedicated to fulfilling campaign promises and “charting a new course,” one that helps to “build muscle memory that has atrophied” on diplomacy during Trump’s tenure. As tangible signposts, the official cited Biden’s meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, where they discussed countering China, an Alaska meeting between Biden’s foreign policy team, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and their Chinese counterparts, the extension of the New Start Treaty with Russia, and Biden’s directive to end offensive US support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. Biden took up the mantle during what may be one of the most chaotic periods in US history, with the country struggling through a recession, the pandemic, and political polarization soaring in the aftermath of the Jan. 3 insurrection at the US Capitol. His ambitious plans for rebuilding the US economy, combating climate change, and piloting of the pandemic fallout have garnered instant comparisons to US Democratic Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson. But in some ways, Biden’s “go big” strategy harkens back to his experience as vice president during the Obama administration: Obama’s sweeping health care and Wall Street reforms were not passed until deep into his first term, a delay many speculated cost the Democrats control of the US House. Those lessons learned are seen spurring Biden’s White House to try for as many big-ticket items as possible in the early days, ahead of 2022 midterm elections. The Biden administration has named China and Russia among its core national security interests, setting a stern tone for relations with both. With respect to Beijing, the administration has tried to frame the relationship as one centered on competition, not confrontation, but optically, there has not been a stark contrast (EC Apr.16'21). “What we have learned from the first 100 days is that we are likely to have both a confrontational and competitive relationship with China, similar to Trump’s policy but with some important nuances,” including a more multilateral approach, David Dollar, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a former US Treasury envoy to China, said in a recent post. Radical, Risky Reversals Punctuated by last week’s US-led climate summit that saw the EU, UK, Canada, and Japan join the US in setting fresh 2030 emissions reductions targets, Biden has sought to galvanize international action around a 2030 timescale -- with mixed results (EC Apr.23'21). On one hand, participation in the summit was robust, and the US’ updated target of 50%-52% reductions by 2030 has been mostly well received. “It goes in the credit column -- in some ways it was kind of a risky move,” Alice Hill, a former Obama climate official now with the Council on Foreign Relations, says, noting the high level of participation form dozens of nations. However, the summit also underscored divisions between developed and developing nations, with some of the latter hoping to see more financial commitments from the US. Domestically, Biden’s investment-heavy climate policy so far marks a sizable shift away from Obama’s top-down, sector-by-sector greenhouse gas regulations. While Biden’s plans to achieve 100% carbon-free electricity by 2035 also looks to the power sector for the biggest bite out of US emissions, unlike with the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, Biden is seeking to leverage major clean energy investments rather than executive order (EC Apr.2'21). Mitchell Bernard, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, called Biden’s multifaceted climate plan the “strongest” in history, “a comprehensive package of strategic investments, clean energy standards, targeted tax credits and other policy incentives” designed to aid domestic recovery and US global leadership. On Iran, Biden’s first several months have yielded some measured progress through indirect talks on steps Washington and Tehran could take to facilitate a return to the 2015 nuclear deal. Negotiators returned to Vienna this week for a third round of talks, with the hope of etching out an eventual agreement on Iran returning to compliance with the nuclear limits under the deal and what specific US sanctions could be lifted in exchange (EC Apr.23'21). But outstanding questions remain as to whether Iran accepts the level of sanctions relief on offer, and a wrinkle of fresh complications may arise after an interview with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif was leaked on Sunday in which he alleged, among other things, that Russian officials in 2015 tried to scuttle the original agreement (related). Bridget DiCosmo, Washington Compass Points • SIGNIFICANCE: Biden has laid down markers on key issues, including the clean energy transition, Iran, China, Russia, and slowly easing back US interference in the Middle East. • CONNECTION: In some crucial areas, Biden's broad-brush stroke policies do not look so different to his predecessor's. The hawkish tone on China has not changed, with Biden leaving in place many of the tariffs crafted by Trump, and tensions with Russia remain fraught. • NEXT: The G7 meeting slated for June in the UK is expected to be the next mile marker in terms of climate leadership ahead of COP26 in Glasgow.

Low-Carbon Policy
Wanda Ad #2 (article footer)
Russia's LNG export ambitions were already feeling the strain of EU technology sanctions. US sanctions targeting Novatek's Arctic LNG 2 project send a wider warning.
Thu, Sep 28, 2023
The US increases nuclear proliferation risk by offering uranium enrichment as part of a Saudi-Israel alliance, argues Stephanie Cooke in this opinion piece.
Tue, Oct 3, 2023
With the COP28 climate conference just weeks away, industry executives have largely fallen silent on the topic of emissions caused by burning fossil fuels.
Mon, Oct 2, 2023