Advertisement

State of the Union 2024: What Biden did (and didn’t say) about the climate crisis

At a fiery State of the Union address, President Joe Biden put his case to the American people on why they should return him to the White House for a second term, touting his record on the economy, immigration, gun safety and reproductive freedoms.

Yet on the climate crisis, which remains a politically divisive issue in the US despite increasing impacts, Mr Biden made few remarks, and attempted to appeal to as broad a base as possible.

Here’s six climate takeaways from SOTU night.

Glancing reference

In all, the word “climate” was mentioned five times during the SOTU. But Mr Biden was quick to draw a line between his position and that of the Republican party, particularly the MAGA faithful of Donald Trump.

"We are also making history by confronting the climate crisis, not denying it," he said.

Mr Biden referred to the “climate crisis” rather than climate change, underlining the seriousness of the global issue which he has previously called an “existential threat”.

Record breaker

Mr Biden referenced his action on the climate crisis as the “most significant… ever in the history of the world”.

His administration’s Inflation Reduction Act has pumped around $400bn into renewable energy across the states, and the $1.2 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is both updating America’s aging roads, bridges and tunnels, and adapting them for a future of more extreme weather and sea-level rise. But when it comes to the most significant action, that depends on how you look at it. In terms of renewable energy growth, the US trails China which is building capacity at a pace unmatched by any other country.

And because of its population size, solar and wind still make up around 20 per cent of electricity generation in the US.

Other countries have both a large population and a higher share of solar and wind in their national electricity mix, the World Resources Institute points out, like Spain (33 per cent), Germany (32 per cent) and the United Kingdom (29 per cent). However in these three countries, the growth took place over a longer period than it’s taken in the US.

Emissions cuts

Mr Biden touted his record on cutting the domestic carbon footprint. “I am cutting our carbon emissions in half by 2030,” he said. But to hit this goal, he’s going to need to up the ambition, according to new research.

Greenhouse gas emissions are falling in the US but not at the rate needed to cut emissions in half by 2030 (from 2005 levels). The independent research firm, Rhodium Group, reported in January that absent other changes, the country is on track for about a 40 per cent drop by the end of the decade.

Crowd-pleasers

The president focused on achievements that are likely to please voters of all persuasions: creating tens of thousands of clean-energy jobs; conserving 30 per cent of America’s lands and waters by 2030; and taking action for "fence-line" communities "smothered by the legacy of pollution" from the oil and gas industry, chemical plants, and industrial agriculture.

The president also mentioned the Climate Corps, modeled on FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps, which is putting 20,000 young people to work in clean energy jobs. Mr Biden promised to triple that number this decade.

Notable omissions

President Biden shied away from the more progressive climate action that his administration has taken, such as pausing all new liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facilities.

This decision has been a flashpoint for Republicans but also aggrieved many climate advocates who believe it doesn’t go far enough. The US is the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas, along with producing more oil than any nation in history.

Climate action by any other name

While the SOTU was light on climate references, it was heavy on remarks about the economy and jobs. But many of the policies that Mr Biden flagged are tied to tackling US carbon emissions, even if he didn’t say as much. He referenced the tens of thousands of clean-energy jobs created by his administration, like the unionized workers “building and installing 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations”.

Many of the 800,000 new manufacturing jobs which Mr Biden referenced are in clean energy and battery storage.