On his first day as president, Joe Biden followed through on one of his pre-inaugural commitments: re-entering the United States into the Paris climate agreement. Biden had committed to rejoining the agreement in December, as over 70 nations celebrated the fifth anniversary of the pact at a virtual gathering hosted by Britain, France, Italy, Chile, and the United Nations.
“A cry for survival comes from the planet itself,” Biden said during his inaugural address. “A cry that can’t be any more desperate or any more clear.”
Though former President Donald Trump served the notice to withdraw from the agreement on Nov. 4, 2019, after announcing his intention to withdraw in the summer of 2017, the official U.S. exit from the agreement went into effect on Nov. 4, 2020. Religious leaders and faith groups condemned the decision, including some leaders who supported other policy decisions by the administration.
In addition to withdrawing from the agreement, the Trump administration enacted numerous other rollbacks of national-level climate protections, including dialing back or ending over 100 protections for clean air, water, and land, increasing greenhouse gases to an extent that may be irreversible. According to a document obtained by the Washington Post on Wednesday, the Biden administration plans to begin reversing some of those policy decisions, including stopping the Keystone XL pipeline, instructing federal agencies to reestablish "science and evidence based" decision-making criteria, and elevating climate change as a national security issue and a domestic priority.
Faith leaders reacted to news of Biden’s executive order with relief and a sentiment becoming increasingly familiar: Time to get to work.
“As people of faith, we are tasked with building a more just world — one that is in line with our moral values of justice, peace, and love for our neighbors and all of Creation,” said Rev. Susan Hendershot, president of Interfaith Power & Light, in a statement. “Today’s executive actions represent a new beginning of policies that align with these core faith values. We hope the Biden Administration will continue to advance ambitious and durable climate action that centers environmental justice and care for the most vulnerable in our communities and our common home.”
Climate advocates saw the Paris climate agreement as a base-level commitment to stave off some of the worst effects of climate change. Biden’s climate platform evoked a similar response: While many faith leaders who focus on climate activism agree that Biden’s plan is the most ambitious proposed by a president, it still doesn’t go far enough.
“Re-entering the Paris Agreement is a first gesture of repentance - to God, to the global community, to the planet. But it's only a first step,” said Rev. Fletcher Harper, executive director of GreenFaith, in a statement shared with Sojourners.
“Our faiths require a commitment from this administration to do all in its power to end all new fossil fuel infrastructure and subsidies for unspeakably cruel and climate-destroying industrial agriculture, to create millions of jobs paying living wages and with access to unions to rebuild our infrastructure sustainably, to invest in the indispensable leadership of Black, Brown and Indigenous communities who are on the climate crisis' frontlines, and to provide a just transition for affected workers and communities.”
A late October poll released by Climate Nexus and Yale and George Mason’s respective programs on climate change communications found that over 80 percent of voters of faith see addressing climate change as a faith-based obligation.