Joe Biden wants to make America the Clean Energy Superpower

The US lost its clean energy edge to China and is failing in the fight against climate change. Joe Biden wants to change that by making America the world’s “Clean Energy Superpower.”

By Dan Misch

With the largest economy in the world, the United States can afford to spend the most on our military and the most research dollars worldwide. For these reasons, among others, we are often considered the world’s primary superpower and a leader in global innovation.

However, on clean energy, China surpassed the United States as the global leader for renewable energy generation in 2016 and is expected to exceed the US in total research funding this year. The percent of electric vehicles on the road in China has eclipsed the United States.

Ranking second should invigorate a country that prides itself on being first in science: from the first flight to the first human on the moon, from the first light bulb to sustaining the first nuclear reaction. The Biden Plan for Climate Change and Environmental Justice aims to put the US back on the map in ways that help our economy while protecting the planet from dangerous greenhouse gases.

The Biden plan has sweeping ideas to achieve 100% clean energy and net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Biden recognizes that the climate challenge requires collaboration, commitments, and competition from the fastest growing economies like China and India. The success of the plan will depend on his ability to reestablish America’s international reputation and leadership in solving the climate crisis. US influence in international diplomacy has been diminished by the current Administration, and making up for lost time will not be easy.

Over the past four years, we have seen President Trump backpedal on major progress made on the international consensus to course correct carbon emissions and control rising global temperatures. Trump has personally declared climate change a hoax and left the Paris Accord as a political stunt under false pretenses that the non-binding agreement was unfair to the United States. The isolationist and xenophobic America First policies of his Administration will have long lasting negative effects on American innovation by detracting new talent from entering the science pipeline.

Fortunately, American diplomats can rely on the progress still being made by US cities, state governments, universities, and multinational businesses that have stepped up in the absence of national leadership. Another surprising ally at the federal level is the Pentagon. The Department of Defense has continued to prepare for climate change as a risk to national security. Biden plans to double down on those efforts to prepare the US military for the effects of rising seawater levels, increased severity of weather events, and resource shortages.

The Biden plan also leverages the US economy to the fullest extent. New trade deals would require partners’ commitments to meet Paris goals. New government incentives will promote US clean energy investments in foreign countries that have ambitious clean energy goals. Biden plans to give China a run for its money by following the dirty Belt and Road initiative with cleaner options for future development.

Another supersized part of the plan is increased commitments in clean energy research and development (R&D). Biden proposes to quadruple R&D spending and seek similar commitments from other countries. Missing from the plan is the need to integrate these efforts through bilateral or multilateral science initiatives with key countries like China.

While China is our closest competitor in the clean energy industry they are also our most important partner in the fight against climate change. Encouraging scientific collaboration with China can help bring the two countries together when tensions are at an all time high and accelerate the discovery and deployment of the next generation technology needed to mitigate the worst effects of climate change. This is why I recommend extending the US commitment to the US-China Clean Energy Research Center through 2030.

Other ideas like a worldwide ban on fossil fuel subsidies and a published list of “climate outlaws” assumes that the world cares what the US has to say anymore. Biden should not plan on making any demands or implementing such new requirements without first establishing trust and credibility through concrete domestic policies that show a US commitment to the cause.

The Biden campaign’s detailed climate policies recognize the importance of US leadership in the fight against climate change, the interdependencies between nations, and is the best bet to get America back in first place as the world’s Clean Energy Superpower.

Dan Misch is a US Navy Veteran and member of the Truman National Security Project Defense Council.