The new Presidential Administration in the United States has announced several steps it will take to implement a whole-of-government approach to spur domestic climate action as well as how it plans to reengage in international climate change action.

Among the steps to increase US leadership, the Executive Order signed on 27 January 2021 identifies the following:

  • The President will host a Leaders’ Climate Summit on Earth Day, 22 April 2021, which is the fifth anniversary of the opening for signature of the Paris Agreement on climate change. 
  • The United States will reconvene the Major Economies Forum, which the US originally launched in 2009. The MEF met periodically until 2016. Following the previous US administration’s announcement in 2017 that it would withdraw from the Paris Agreement, Canada, China, and the EU hosted annual Ministerials on Climate Action
  • The US will develop a nationally determined contribution (NDC), the submission of which is required for parties to the Paris Agreement on climate change. 
  • The US will press for climate action in international fora including the Group of 7 (G7) and Group of 20 (G20). During the Trump Administration, Leaders’ Communiques from these two groups often indicated that not all governments had signed onto paragraphs regarding climate action. 

On a whole-of-government approach to climate action in the US, the Executive Order indicates that the Special Presidential Envoy for Climate will have a seat on the National Security Council, and a White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy and a National Climate Task Force will be established. The Task Force will comprise leaders from 21 federal agencies and departments.

The US President has instructed federal agencies to procure carbon pollution-free electricity and clean, zero-emission vehicles. Each federal agency must develop a plan to increase the resilience of its facilities and operations to the impacts of climate change, and relevant agencies must report on ways to expand and improve climate forecast capabilities. 

With regard to federal land, the US Secretary of the Interior has been instructed to place a pause on new oil and natural gas leases on public lands and offshore waters to the extent possible, and to review all existing leasing and permitting practices related to fossil fuel development on public lands and waters. The Secretary of the Interior is also instructed to identify steps required to double renewable energy production from offshore wind by 2030. 

All federal agencies are directed to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies as consistent with applicable law. These agencies are also called on to identify opportunities to spur innovation, commercialization, and deployment of clean energy technologies and infrastructure. The G20 first committed to ‘Rationalize and phase out over the medium term inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption’ during a US-hosted Leaders’ Summit in 2009. SDG target 12.c calls for the rationalization of inefficient fossil-fuel subsidies and phasing out harmful subsidies. 

The Executive Order commits to conserve at least 30% of US lands and oceans by 2030. SDG target 14.5 calls for, by 2020, conserving at least 10% of coastal and marine areas. 

The Executive Order also directs federal agencies to develop programmes, policies, and activities to address the disproportionate health, environmental, economic, and climate impacts on disadvantaged communities, and establishes a White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council and a White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council. [White House Fact Sheet on Executive Order] [Executive Order]