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Biden rejoins Paris agreement on first day in office

President Joe Biden signs his first executive orders on Wednesday, 20 January, 2021. (Keystone/Evan Vucci)

Newly elected President Joe Biden re-joined the Paris agreement on Wednesday evening, among dozens of other climate orders.

Hours after being sworn into office, the 46th US president signed a series of executive orders to undo many of former president Donald Trump’s rollbacks on environmental protection, many of them dating from the Obama era.

President Biden sent a letter to the United Nations stating a 30-day process of reinstating the US in the Paris deal. The landmark climate accord was drafted in 2015 with the aim to keep global warming below 2 C compared to pre-industrial levels. Trump had announced in June 2017 that the country would be withdrawing from the agreement on claims that it hurt the American economy.

UN secretary general Antonio Guterres welcomed Biden’s move via Twitter, adding that “with all countries fully engaged, we have a real opportunity to prevent climate catastrophe & embark on transformative #ClimateAction”

President Biden had made climate action one of his main campaign issues, promising in December to put the US on track for carbon neutrality by 2050.

Among the other climate-related orders, Biden revoked the Keystone XL pipeline expansion permit that would connect pipeline terminals in Alberta and Nebraska through a shorter route.

The project had sparked a major outcry from environmentalists and had been stalled for a while by Obama only to be been given the go ahead in 2019 by Trump. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued a statement on Wednesday expressing his disappointment at Biden’s decisions:

“While we welcome the President's commitment to fight climate change, we are disappointed but acknowledge the President’s decision to fulfil his election campaign promise on Keystone XL.”

The US president also placed a temporary moratorium on all activities related to oil and natural gas leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

While these executive orders mark the beginning of an ambitious climate action policy, Biden will have much work to do restore the over 100 environmental rules that Trump reversed during his presidency.