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The Shift In U.S. Environmental Policies Under Joe Biden

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By Gurinder Kaur

After being sworn as the United States’ new president, Joe Biden requested the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement on the very first day of his term, to which Guterres asserted.

Responding to the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015, the then U.S. President Barack Obama said that controlling global warming was the only common and commendable effort by all countries globally. But the next elected president, Donald Trump, withdrew the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement as soon as he took over the administration.

Trump’s administration dismantled significant climate policies and rolled back more than 100 laws on environmental protection.

He believed that the climate agreement was against the U.S.’s economic growth and would destabilise the U.S. economy causing millions of people to become unemployed. Thus, on 4 November, 2020, the U.S. withdrew from the agreement under Donald Trump’s leadership.

Biden’s reverse move will lead the U.S. to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement on 19 February, 2021, within 30 days from 20 January. Many European countries have welcomed this move. Rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement would mean that the U.S. will have to abide by the rules and regulations set by the U.S.’s agreement and fulfil its commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Suppose the Biden administration is taking the Paris Climate Agreement seriously; in that case, it should consider the environmental damage done by the Trump administration during the 4 years. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. in 2018 have increased by 2.6%. The reason being, President Trump approved a large number of projects such as coal-fired power plants and the Keystone XL oil pipeline. Such projects generated excessive greenhouse gases.

Trump’s administration dismantled significant climate policies and rolled back more than 100 laws on environmental protection. They even cut off financial aid to the environmental protection institutions. According to a report of the Union of Concerned Scientists 2020, every person in the U.S. emits 16.56 tons of carbon dioxide per year, resulting from American people’s lifestyle and consumption habits.

Developing countries such as China and India emitted more greenhouse gases and turned a blind eye to the agreement due to the U.S. withdrawal decision from the Paris Climate Agreement. China emits the largest share (28%) of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and has installed coal-fired power plants. They claimed to cut emissions after 2030, after reaching the peak of its economic growth.

According to a July 2019 report of Thomson Reuters, India also planned to increase the coal-fired power generation capacity by 22% between 2018 and 2022. These countries have also shied away from their responsibility to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The global state of Temperature

Phoenix Boils In Near-Record Heat Wave
A sign displaying the temperature on June 20, 2017, in Phoenix, Arizona. Record temperatures of 118 to 120 degrees were expected. (Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images)

The average global temperature has risen sharply in the last 4 years due to increasing greenhouse gas emissions. According to NOAAs 2020 annual climate report, 7 years from 2014 to 2020 are the hottest years on record. A report of the World Meteorological Organisation titled, The State of the Global Climate 2020, the earth’s temperature rose 1.2 degrees Celsius from January to October 2020, but under the influence of La-Nina, the rise in temperature in November and December was lower than in the other months of the year.

The average temperature rise in 2020 was only 0.02 degrees Celsius lower than the hottest year ever in 2016. The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere also increased rapidly during 2015-2020. In December 2015, the average concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was 401.95 ppm (parts per million), which increased to 413.95 ppm in December 2020.

Carbon dioxide is a major greenhouse gas that is increasing the temperature. Increasing greenhouse gases has raised the average global temperature by 1.00 degree Celsius since the Industrial Revolution.

United State’s state of Temperature

Wildfires in San Francisco create a layer of smoke
A view of a layer of smoke generated by the over 2 dozen wildfires burning in California created an eerie orange glow over much of the San Francisco Bay Area, California, United States on September 09, 2020. (Photo by Burak Arik/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Cold shouldering climate agreements by the U.S. have been its disadvantage. The United States is also suffering the brunt of global warming. According to the NOAA, in 2020, 22 major natural disasters in the United States caused an estimated $95 billion damage.

Six of the worst wildfires ever occurred in California in 2020, burning 10.3 million acres of forest to ashes. The blaze was so intense that from Los Angeles to San Francisco, the sky was vested with flames and turned ominous shades, from a brownish orange to blood-red that made headlines worldwide.

Wildfire pollution continued to plague the western and the eastern parts of the U.S. Hurricanes are recorded at a high number of 31, which hit the U.S. hard. Currently, the U.S. is experiencing heavy snow and strong cold waves due to the rise of average temperatures in the Arctic region caused by climate change.

Behavioural change of U.S. towards climate Agreements

The return to Paris Climate Agreement can be a golden opportunity for the U.S. to offset the damage caused by global warming in the entire world, including the U.S. However, the U.S.’s behaviour has been uncertain towards environmental conferences or protocols that have been held to curb global warming. U.S. leaderships have always failed to honour their environmental promises.

At the first Earth Summit in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, all the world’s major developed countries agreed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by the end of 2000 to their 1990 levels. The decision was signed and ratified by the U.S. envoy. However, then-President H W Bush said that the American lifestyle is not up for negotiation and refused to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

The Kyoto Protocol followed this summit in Japan in 1997, which promised that all the world’s developed countries (the U.S, Canada, Russian Federation, Japan, all European and other countries) would reduce 5.2% greenhouse gases between 2008 and 2012 below 1990 levels.

Brown Layer of Los Angeles Smog
Uncertainty in U.S. behaviour has cost the climate.

Again, the U.S. vice-president Al Gore weakened the protocol by downgrading a Clean Development Compliance Fund and advocating carbon markets flexibility mechanisms’. The U.S. President Bill Clinton signed this weak protocol and promised to implement it in the country, but the Senate of the U.S. did not pass it.

4 years later, President George W Bush announced withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol in 2001. Following this, other countries — Japan, New Zealand, and the Russian Federation in 2012 also refused to abide by protocol, further undermining its relevance. The second part of the Kyoto protocol was supposed to begin in 2012, but it ended before starting.

As per the Bali Action Plan 2007, the U.S.’s representatives opposed the imposition of legal binding on climate-related agreements. In 2009, the European countries at Copenhagen raised the concern of the U.S.’s negligence towards climatic accords. In 2014, an IPCC report warned of the possible natural disasters due to increased climatic negligence impacts.

The Paris Climate Agreement was introduced at a conference held in Paris (France) in 2015. The conference of parties vowed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. All the countries submitted their carbon reduction targets, commonly known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC), to achieve the aim. The targets outlined each country’s commitments to curb emissions through 2025 or 2030, including economy-wide carbon-cutting goals.

The conference held during Obama’s presidency, and he praised the move. However, with the change in the U.S. administration, the agreement was withdrawn by the U.S. in November 2020. Such uncertainty in U.S. behaviour has cost the climate, and its return to the agreement in 2020 will help achieve climatic endeavours.

Way forward for the U.S.

The new U.S. President must increase the greenhouse gas emissions cut as agreed in the Paris Climate Agreement. For such a move, the U.S. should learn from European countries and New Zealand. European countries have reduced their greenhouse gas emissions by 24% between 1990- 2019, while the opposite is being followed in the U.S.

European countries intend to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 55% from 1990 levels by 2030. New Zealand is setting a unique example as it has declared a Climate Emergency and is working to make the country carbon neutral by 2025.

The U.S should now equate its emissions of greenhouse gases, at least on par with the European countries (55%) on 1990 emissions levels. It should do so at a quicker pace than any other country. The nation should ensure that the Green Climate Fund and the amount of assistance provided to developing and emerging countries affected by climate change natural disasters be deposited, and expeditious efforts should be made to provide these countries with clean technology.

The U.S. administration should also motivate its people to change their lifestyle and consumption habits. By doing so, they would fulfil their commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement in true spirits.

The author is a Professor, Department of Geography, Punjabi University, Patiala and Visiting Professor, IMPRI

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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