We’ve rejoined the Paris Agreement, but now what?

In the early hours of Joe Biden’s presidency, a flurry of executive orders were signed into action. While only days into the new administration, initial moves suggest a forthcoming regulatory agenda built around the defining issues of our time: Covid-19, climate change, racial inequity, immigration and more.

Of the 17 executive orders issued on Biden’s first day in office, those pertaining to the climate crisis ranked among the first. Notably, Biden revoked the construction permit for the Keystone XL Pipeline and re-entered the Paris Climate Accord, soon to be made official in the next 30 days.

As we emerge from an era marked by environmental rollbacks, weakened protections and questionable enforcement, this is, indeed, good news. This momentum, if sustained, has the potential to deliver durable climate legislation that long outlives the term of a sitting President.

When it comes to the re-entry into the Paris Accord, though, we should acknowledge that this is a largely symbolic gesture. As many have been quick to point out, the real work begins now as signatories prepare to meet in November for the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP26, where they will present their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) for 2030.

In order to make up for lost time, Biden will need to propose a plan far more ambitious than that set out in 2015 which sought to cut emissions by 26-28% compared to 2005 levels by 2025. While yet to be confirmed, it is projected that the U.S. will need to reduce emissions by 45-50% compared to 2005 levels by 2030. Such a target – the most ambitious in the country’s history – will not only require a ‘whole of government’ approach, but one that calls heavily upon the private sector.

While the prospect of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 may be daunting, our options for doing so remain open. This will likely take shape in the form of ramping up investments in renewable energy, coordinating efforts to retrofit buildings, electrifying public transport, among others things. These tend to be the big ticket items that garner public attention, and rightfully so. Their advancement is essential to our shared success.

To meet our NDC for 2030, however, we have to pursue decarbonization where the path forward is less clear. Look to the industrial sector, responsible for the production of key inputs like steel, cement and plastic, which accounts for roughly 28% of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). A landmark climate goal slated to cut emissions by up to 50% by 2030 demands radical transformation of a sector historically resistant to change.

In the case of the industrial sector, and plastic production specifically, there is not one single solution to decarbonization. Our greatest hope comes from a commitment to scrutinizing the ‘have beens’ and a willingness to invest in a scalable mix of technologies that will allow for the transition towards a low-carbon economy. This is where our work at Polycarbin begins.