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Biden to return US to Paris accord, rescind Muslim ban on day one in office

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President-elect Joe Biden will begin his term on Wednesday by signing executive orders to return the US to the Paris Agreement on climate crisis and rescind the travel ban on people from certain Muslim-majority countries, reversing two of his predecessor Donald Trump’s most controversial decisions.

They will be among a dozen or so orders Biden will sign on his first day in office, said his chief of staff Ron Klain, in a memo to his staff on Saturday, outlining a 10-day plan of action for the incoming president.

“We face four overlapping and compounding crises: the Covid-19 crisis, the resulting economic crisis, the climate crisis, and a racial equity crisis,” Klain wrote. “All of these crises demand urgent action. In his first 10 days in office, President-elect Biden will take decisive action to address these four crises, prevent other urgent and irreversible harms, and restore America’s place in the world.”

The other orders will include the launch of a “100 masking challenge” that will mandate masks on federal property and interstate travel, extend the pause on repayment of and interest on student loans, continue restrictions on evictions and foreclosures; all related to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Biden will be inaugurated on January 20 amid unprecedented security with more than 25,000 National Guard troops deployed in Washington DC in the wake of the storming of the US Capitol on January 6. FBI has warned of “armed protests” in days leading up to the inauguration.

President Trump announced US exit from the Paris Agreement in June 2017, saying it disadvantaged the country, blunted its competitive edge, and favoured India and China.

Trump had falsely claimed that India, a major backer of the agreement, “makes its participation contingent on receiving billions and billions and billions of dollars in foreign aid from developed countries”. It was a complete misrepresentation of India’s position that developed countries should do more to mitigate global warming to compensate for their outsize contributions to greenhouse gas emissions.

The Paris Agreement is a legally binding global treaty that was signed in December 2015 and entered into force on November 2016. Signatory countries fix its own mitigation targets, called Nationally Determined Contributions. The accord remains in force, unaffected by US exit.

America’s return to the Paris Agreement was one of Biden’s key campaign promises, as part of an aggressive climate agenda.

So was the revoking of the Muslim ban. Just a week after his inauguration in 2017, Trump had signed an executive order temporarily banning foreign nationals of seven Muslim-majority countries — Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Syria, Sudan, Libya and Yemen — from entering the US. It was struck down by courts, but a much-diluted version remains in force.

Over the next nine days, according to the 10-day plan unveiled by Klain, Biden will sign “executive actions to move aggressively to change the course of the Covid-19 crisis”, to reopen schools and businesses, expand testing, establish clear public health standards, announce measures to bring relief to families.

In other orders, Biden will “strengthen Buy American provisions”, support communities of colour, issue additional directives to address climate crisis, expand healthcare and, revers another Trump-era controversial policy, to “restore dignity to our immigration system and our border policies”.

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