United States President Joe Biden has used his authority to launch a new “climate corps” programme, a measure long sought by environmental groups.
The initiative, announced on Wednesday, will seek to offer paid training to 20,000 young people, with the aim of helping them attain high-paying jobs in the fight against climate change.
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The executive action comes after efforts to create a similar programme failed last year in the US Congress amid opposition from Republicans.
“Today, we are mobilising the next generation of clean energy, conservation, and climate resilience workers,” Biden wrote on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.
The president has promised to implement a wider transition to a clean energy economy, particularly through provisions in the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act. That law included the largest federal investment in combatting climate change in US history.
Biden has regularly warned about the continued threat of greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental hazards. Upon taking office, he signalled his commitment to the issue by appointing the first-ever cabinet-level climate envoy. And on Tuesday, he renewed his call for global climate solidarity while addressing the United Nations General Assembly.
Today, we are mobilizing the next generation of clean energy, conservation, and climate resilience workers.
— President Biden (@POTUS) September 20, 2023
Still, climate advocates have given the US president mixed marks on his domestic policies. Earlier this year, his administration provoked outrage after it approved the Willow oil-drilling project in Alaska, which critics said went against Biden’s 2020 campaign promise to halt new oil leases on federal lands.
In a statement on Wednesday, Keanu Arpels-Josiah, a core organiser for the March to End Fossil Fuels, said the climate corps was “important”, but he called for executive action that will “directly and swiftly phase out fossil fuel expansion and production”.
“Biden clearly knows he can use his executive powers to take bolder steps on climate,” Arpels-Josiah said. “It’s time he used them to stop approving oil and gas projects, phase down drilling on public lands and waters, and declare a climate emergency. That’s the action we need to end fossil fuels and protect humanity and our futures.”
Other environmental groups were less equivocal, with the Sunrise Movement, a leading supporter of the climate corps, calling the new programme a “visionary policy”.
The programme is modeled after the Civilian Conservation Corps, created by President Franklin D Roosevelt as part of New Deal efforts in the 1930s to recover from the Great Depression. The Civilian Conservation Corps put tens of thousands of citizens to work on a series of national projects across the country.
More than 50 Democratic lawmakers on Monday also encouraged Biden to create the climate corps, saying in a letter that “the climate crisis demands a whole-of-government response at an unprecedented scale”.
Our movement just won the American Climate Corps.
Thank you to every young person who fought for and believed in a vision of government that could work for our generation and the planet. This is just the beginning. pic.twitter.com/z1NzxedV8B
— Sunrise Movement 🌅 (@sunrisemvmt) September 20, 2023
Still, Republicans opposed to the programme have described it as a money suck.
In a 2021 statement, as Democrats weighed plans to launch a climate corps, top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell dismissed the project as “pure socialist wish-fulfilment”. He also warned that the programme could contribute to an ongoing worker shortage in the US.
For its part, the White House has not revealed the overall price tag for the programme. A previous Democratic proposal, however, set the cost at approximately $10bn.
The White House said the training provided by the programme will encompass projects such as restoring coastal wetlands, implementing clean energy projects, preventing wildfires and working on ways to cut “energy bills for hardworking families”.