Written by Abigail Knopps, AMAST Content
President-Elect Joe Biden’s climate plans are ambitious and some might say revolutionary but what do they mean for the construction industry and how will the United States actually achieve the goals?
Biden’s plan for “a clean energy revolution” will lead his actions over the next four years. For Biden, climate change mitigation goes hand in hand with protecting our country from national security threats.
As the United States moves to a clean energy economy, Biden believes that “if we can harness all of our energy and talents, and unmatchable American innovation, we can turn this threat into an opportunity to revitalize the U.S. energy sector and boost growth economy-wide”.
- Ambitious goal of 100% clean energy economy by 2035 and net-zero emissions by 2050.
- On day 1, Biden will rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement.
- The success of the plan depends on the cooperation of all foreign powers.
- The plan will invest $1.7 trillion over the course of 10 years.
Below is a brief overview of the five main points of the proposed climate policy based on President-Elect Joe Biden’s official website.
- “Ensure the U.S Achieves a 100% Clean Energy and Net-Zero Emissions no later than 2050”
This is a call to action for both stakeholders and states alike to alter their actions and make the transition to 100% energy consumption from renewable resources such as wind, hydro, and solar. Because this process will take some time, it is vital that we start making rapid improvements to our current infrastructure so that we will meet the ambitious goals. To this end, by using the power of the executive branch of government, Biden will sign a series of executive orders (presidential directives requiring the response of the federal government or other agencies) to create mechanisms and programs that will enforce the 2050 goal, make major investments in clean energy and climate research, and incentivize firms and manufacturers to switch to clean alternatives.
- Rejoin the Paris Climate agreement (The United States formally left this agreement on November 4, 2020).
- Require all government buildings and facilities to be more energy efficient and climate resilient.
- Require public companies to be transparent about their effects on the environment.
- Restore tax credits to incentivize the purchase of electric vehicles
- Target of reducing the carbon footprint of US building stock by 50% by 2035.
2. “Build a stronger more, resilient nation”
The United States is already experiencing the devastating effects of climate change. In order to mitigate the effect of the crisis the nation needs to come together. To this end, Biden will give local leaders a clear voice in his administration.
- Identify ways to lower property insurance premiums for homeowners and communities who invest in climate resilience efforts. The FEMA Community Rating System was implemented in 1990 as a voluntary program that recognized and encouraged community floodplain management activities that exceed Nation Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) standards.
- Bring together innovators to help design building codes, zoning, and develop climate resilience across industries.
- Develop training programs to enhance the insulation of climate resilient buildings and infrastructure.
- Develop the “Second great railroad revolution” which will include both a passenger and freight rail. For the Passenger Rail, there will be a NorthEast corridor to shrink travel times between DC and New York (by 50%), across the south, Midwest, and the Great West to connect the coasts and allow for quicker travel times to major cities throughout the nation and allow travel to be more affordable for all Americans. In the Freight industry, construction will begin on a new bridge that connects Oregon and Washington state allowing more goods to be moved across the country. This will also spur investment in communities because they are more connected to major metropolitan areas.
3. “Rally the Rest of the World to Address the Grave Climate Threat”
Currently, the US only accounts for 15% of global emissions. As a result, if meaningful changes to our current crisis are going to occur, it requires the cooperation of the whole world. By re-entering the Paris Climate Agreement on his first day in office, Biden will set the stage that America is making radical efforts to reduce their contributions to climate change. Biden will push to “raise the ambitions of countries’ climate targets” (Campaign Website).
- Biden will convene a Climate World Summit to directly engage the leaders of major polluting countries in an effort to create enforceable and lasting reductions in emissions.
- Introduce carbon adjustment frees or quotas on carbon-intensive goods from countries that fail to meet their climate standards as a way to urge Americans to buy low-carbon alternatives made in the United States.
- Climate will be a top priority during foreign trade agreements.
- Biden will commission reports from various governmental agencies on the national security risks related to climate change. According to the Department of Defense, climate change has caused over $8 billion in damages to defense bases during 2019.
4. “Stand up to the Abuse of Power by Polluters who Disproportionately Harm Communities of Color and Low-Income Communities”
We cannot turn a blind eye to how climate change affects communities of color and lower-income communities at a much higher rate than others communities. To that end, communities that directly affected by climate change must be the first to benefit from the clean energy revolution.
Photo by Markus Spiske on Pexels
- Biden will be there for all Americans through climate change mitigation efforts that consciously protect low-income communities from “green gentrification”.
- Establish new systems to monitor lead and other contaminants in US water supply and take the necessary steps to eliminate health risks.
- Polluters will be required to bare the full cost of their pollution
- African Americans are 3 times more likely to die from asthma related causes than their white counterparts.
- 1 in 2 Latinos live in counties where air quality does not meet EPA standards for public health.
- 3–10% of Americans live in areas where water quality is subpar.
- African Americans hold only 1% of clean energy jobs.
- The average American sewage pipe is 33 years old.
- 50 million Americans live within 3 miles of a Superfund site (areas of hazardous waste requiring long term cleanup efforts).
5. Fulfill our obligation to workers and communities who powered our industrial revolution and decades of economic growth
We have an obligation to make sure that people still have meaningful jobs as we switch to clean energy alternatives. When done effectively, these improvements will add over 10 million new jobs in the “clean energy economy”.
- Creates a stronger middle class as well as stable well-paying jobs across the nation
- Make sure that coal miners and their families have access to their rightfully deserved pensions and health benefits .
- Make sure Congress passes legislation to protect the retirement benefits of these workers.
- Invest in communities focused in coal and power plants industries so that the community is not left behind.
What does this mean for Construction?
Buildings account for a large share of global carbon emissions (roughly 38%). In order to reduce global emissions to meet the 2050 goal, new efficiency standards (for household appliances, equipment, and building operations) will need to be developed. Once these standards are updated, new training programs will need to be implemented to create consistency throughout new and existing buildings and to make sure that the standards are being met. By making new and existing buildings more energy efficient and climate resilient, drastic reductions in emissions will occur more readily.
As low-carbon alternatives and alternative energy solutions become more widely available and cost-effective, sustainability will become the standard and spur a drive for innovation.