Biden’s climate diplomacy has already begun

Source: By Dino Grandoni, Washington Post • Posted: Wednesday, November 11, 2020

A few days after being declared president-elect, Joe Biden is already conferring with heads of state about a crisis he sees as on par with the coronavirus pandemic and economic recession: climate change.

Biden elevated the issue of rising temperatures in talks on Tuesday with four European leaders.

Biden and his soon-to-be counterparts in Great Britain, France, Germany and Ireland discussed tackling climate change in separate calls, according to a readout from the transition team. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau committed to working with Biden on climate change during a Monday call.

The early diplomatic discussions suggest a swift about-face on climate change under Biden.

The discussions come just days after the United States formally pulled out of the Paris climate agreement. President Trump regarded the accord, which had nearly 200 countries setting voluntary goals for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, as a bad deal.

In a sign of the change to come, Biden told British Prime Minister Boris Johnson his administration will participate a global climate conference next year in Glasgow, Scotland. The Trump administration was set to snub the talks if the president won reelection. Biden has promised to reenter the Paris agreement on “day one.”

During the campaign, the former vice president sought to distinguish himself from other Democrats by arguing his negotiating skills would be crucial to convincing other countries to cut their own emissions — a necessary step to strive to keep warming under dangerous levels.

The dozens of world leaders congratulating Biden highlights how his team is moving forward with becoming commander in chief even as Trump and some other Republicans refuse to acknowledge his win.

But the talks are already revealing some key tensions — with Canada.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau raised the issue of the Keystone XL pipeline. The project was put forward more than a decade ago as a way from bringing Canada’s tar sands to Gulf Coast refineries. The proposal became been flashpoint for environmentalists who tried under Barack Obama to stop it.

During the campaign in May, Biden said he would rescind a Trump administration permit for the pipeline. At the time, Trudeau responded by saying he would press any U.S. leader to approve the project.

Biden also named teams to lead the transition at federal agencies.

Even as the Trump administration instructs senior leaders to block cooperation with Biden’s team resources, the president-elect’s camp moved ahead released a list of 500 experts in federal policy to prepare for Jan. 20. The group is a mix of activists, academics, think tank politicos, Obama alumni and officials from blue states.

The head of the transition team for the Environmental Protection Agency is Patrice Simms, an attorney at Earthjustice, a nonprofit law firm that as sued the Trump administration dozens of times. His elevation is a sign of Biden’s desire to reinstitute rules rolled back by the Trump administration. He has also worked at both the EPA and Department of Justice.

For the Interior Department team, the transition will be run by Kevin Washburn, a former assistant secretary of Indian affairs and a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation in Oklahoma — a choice that suggests an emphasis on tribal issues at the department. He is currently dean at the University of Iowa College of Law.

Arun Majumdar will head the transition for the Energy Department. Under Obama, he was the first director of the department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, an incubator of research and development on novel energy technologies that draws bipartisan support in Congress. He is now at a professor at Stanford.

And Cecilia Martinez, a well-respected environmental justice advocate, will lead the transition at the Council on Environmental Quality in a signal the Biden administration will focus on the disproportionate impact pollution has on people of color.