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Biden signs 'existential' executive orders on climate and environment

 Biden signs orders

US President Joe Biden has signed a series of executive orders aimed to address climate change, including a new ban on some energy drilling.

The orders aim to freeze new oil and gas leases on public lands and double offshore wind-produced energy by 2030.

They are expected to meet stiff resistance from the energy industry and come as a sea change from Donald Trump, who cut environmental protections.

"Today is climate day at the White House," said Mr Biden on Wednesday.

"We have already waited too long," Mr Biden told reporters. "And we can't wait any longer."

The series of executive orders that Mr Biden signed on Wednesday establishes a White House office of domestic climate policy and announces a summit of leaders to be held in April on Earth Day.

Climate change, under Mr Biden's plan, will become both a "national security" and "foreign policy" priority, officials say.

Mr Biden is also calling upon the US Director of National Intelligence to prepare an intelligence report on the security implications of climate change.

What do the orders do?

Mr Biden is using the power he has as president to make climate change a central issue of his administration.

The executive orders and memorandum - which cannot go as far as congressional legislation in combating climate change - can be undone by future presidents, as he is currently doing to Mr Trump.

According to a statement from the White House, Mr Biden is directing the Department of the Interior, which oversees federal public lands, to pause oil and gas drilling leases on federal lands and water "to the extent possible" and to launch a review of existing energy leases.

Mr Biden aims to conserve at least 30 percent of federal lands and oceans by 2030.

The Los Angeles Refinery, California's largest producer of gasolineIMAGE COPYRIGHTGETTY IMAGES
image captionThe Los Angeles refinery, California's largest producer of gasoline

According to the New York Times, fossil fuel extraction on public lands accounts for almost a quarter of all US carbon dioxide emissions.

Public lands are controlled by the federal government. Mr Biden's order does not specifically address private property owners or state-held public lands.

What other climate measures is he taking?

Mr Biden's "whole-of-government" approach, the White House says, creates the position National Climate Advisor who will lead the office of Domestic Climate Policy at the White House.

White House US climate envoy, former Secretary of State John Kerry, told reporters at a White House briefing on Wednesday that Mr Biden considers "climate central to foreign policy planning".

"The stakes on climate change just couldn't be any higher than they are right now. It is existential," said Mr Kerry, who played a key role in crafting the Paris climate deal.

White House climate envoy John Kerry helped negotiate the Paris climate dealIMAGE COPYRIGHTGETTY IMAGES
image captionWhite House climate envoy John Kerry helped negotiate the Paris climate deal

The orders also direct all federal agencies to develop plans for how climate change will affect their facilities and operations.

It also requires agencies to determine ways to help the public better access climate change forecasts and information.

Mr Biden is also making it clear his administration will make decisions based on the best science available.

He's directed agencies to only make "evidence-based decisions guided by the best available science and data".

Analysis box by Matt McGrath, environment correspondent

Pausing the extraction of oil and gas from federal lands is the Biden administration's tremulous first step onto the toes of the US oil and gas industry.

Federal drilling is a key part of their output - providing around 22% of US oil production and 12% of gas, according to the American Petroleum Institute (API).

The API is unhappy with the move, suggesting that any ban will lead to greater reliance on imports as the US economy recovers and needs more energy.

But experts reject that argument, pointing out that drilling on public lands will likely continue to expand even if a moratorium becomes a ban.

That's because only half of applications for extraction approved between 2014 and 2019 have actually been used.

Moving towards a ban on future federal leases fulfils a campaign pledge and will reassure environmentalists that Joe Biden is the real deal when it comes to climate change.

But making significant inroads into US carbon output will require more than executive orders and new regulations.

It will probably need legislation put before the Congress.

That will be the true test of the Biden climate commitment.

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What do the orders say about jobs?

"When I think of climate change, I think of jobs," Mr Biden said at the White House, arguing that "millions" of Americans will be able to get jobs "modernising our water systems, transportation, our energy infrastructure - to withstand the impacts of extreme climate".

Mr Biden's critics say that his climate change initiatives will cut American jobs as the country already suffers from record unemployment numbers amidst the Covid-19 pandemic.

He received a storm of criticism for last week's executive order halting construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, that would have transported oil from Canada through the US.

But the Biden White House is trying to get ahead of more criticism by addressing job creation in these new executive orders.

His plan calls for the creation of new jobs in the environmental industry, and directs federal agencies to end fossil fuel subsidies and "identify new opportunities to spur innovation, commercialisation, and deployment of clean energy technologies and infrastructure".

It calls for the creation of a "Civilian Climate Corps Initiative" - a jobs initiative that Biden officials say will "put a new generation of Americans to work conserving and restoring public lands and waters".

How does it differ from Trump?

During his four years in office, Mr Trump expanded the number of energy leases on environmentally sensitive national lands.

He also rolled back dozens of rules designed to ensure access to clean air and water, protections for wildlife, and the containment of dangerous chemicals and pollutants.

The changes, which were mostly executed by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Interior, came in response to what the Trump administration called overly-burdensome regulations that stymied US industries.

Some of the changes under Mr Trump, including one that sought to relax pollution rules affecting coal and gas-burning power plants, were overturned by federal courts.

Mr Trump also took the US out of the Paris climate accords, whereas Mr Biden made moves to re-join the global agreement on his first day in office.

Mr Trump also repeatedly cast doubts on the existence of climate change, at times calling it a Chinese-created "hoax" invented to disrupt the US economy.

"It'll start getting cooler. You just watch," he told a scientist in California last year while meeting with emergency wildfire officials.

"I don't think science knows, actually," he continued.

Mr Biden's initiatives are a stark divergence from the former president.

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