Climate Looms Large Over Biden’s First State of the Union. Will the Coverage Say So?

Covering Climate NowThis story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration cofounded by Columbia Journalism Review other the nation strengthening coverage of the climate story. The author is CCNow’s deputy director.

TOnnight, before a joint session of Congress, President Joe Biden will deliver his first State of the Union address. The backdrop is a frightening new war in Europe, which the president has described as a “brutal” and “unjustifiable” assault on the people of Ukraine. In a moment of great uncertainty, it will be on Biden to comfort and provide clarity to Americans about what the conflict might entail. He’ll also have on his plate threats to democracy at home, a struggling economy, and a pandemic whose challenges continue to evolve. Then there’s that other crisis, climate change, which threatens much of life as we know it but slips so easily beneath our radar because it is a slow-moving crisis. But it endures, and, as ever, humanity’s time to act remains short. Ukraine is rightly top-of-mind, but journalists must also make room this evening for climate in their coverage of the president’s address.

To his credit, Biden will arrive on Capitol Hill with more than a few climate wins notched in his belt: Immediately upon taking office, the president rejoined the Paris Agreement, a critical international accord to get serious on climate, signed in 2015, on which, during the Trump administration, the United States became the only country in the world to renege. biden announced plans to halve US greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared to 2005 levels, and reach net-zero emissions by 2050—consistent with international goals of limiting global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius. In November, Biden signed into law a $1.2 trillion infrastructure and jobs bill, which includes substantial provisions for clean energy and climate resilience. And, via executive authority, the president has moved, among other things, to decarbonize the federal government, protect and restore natural lands and waters, and improve US vehicle other building efficiency standards—all while also taking steps to address America’s legacy of environmental racismwhich grows only more apparent as climate impacts begin to take their toll.

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