In his first day in office, 46th US President Joe Biden has signed 17 executive actions, 15 of which are executive orders directly undoing some of the previous administration's non-science-based actions, policies, and in some cases deadly decisions, including the US response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the withdrawals from both the Paris Climate Agreement and the World Health Organization (WHO).
The new administration has three executive orders pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic. First and foremost, the United States has rejoined the World Health Organization and President Biden is keen for the US to be an active leader in the international organization. The WHO relies on funding by member states and the US has long been the number one contributor, allowing the organization to carry out its work around the world.
Former President Trump suspended funding to the global health organization and withdrew the US's support last summer after accusing the organization of not being effective or transparent regarding the early days of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Critics of the former president have suggested Trump used the WHO as a scapegoat to distract from his own slow response to the pandemic. When the formal process of leaving the WHO began on July 8, 2020, the number of reported deaths due to COVID-19 was 133,002. That number has now more than tripled.
Two more executive orders will focus on dealing with the pandemic. Biden's White House is launching a “100 Days Masking Challenge,” creating a mandate for face masks and social distancing in all federal buildings and on federal lands. It will also bring back the "Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense," a position created during the Obama administration to deal with emerging pandemics across the world. This position was disbanded by Trump in 2018, with its responsibilities absorbed into other roles.
The US has also rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement, the global agreement to limit Earth's rising temperatures from climate change to well below 2°C (3.6°F) above pre-industrial levels. The US announced its intention to leave the accords back in June 2017, but had to wait for the initial three years agreed upon before giving formal notification, and another year before it could leave, which it did in November 2020. At the time, it joined Iran and Turkey as the only nations with over 1 percent shares of global emissions to not be part of the global treaty. The executive order will take 30 days to go into effect.
There are environmental policy repeals and roll-backs too. The new administration plans to revoke over 100 presidential proclamations, memoranda and permits signed over the last four years that allowed for oil and gas development in national wildlife monuments, including revoking the permit for the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline. President Biden announced intentions to stop land development at the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah, the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine national monuments in New England, and impose a moratorium on oil and gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
An executive order will also stop the partially built US-Mexico border wall, the construction of which threatened endangered wildlife, including a butterfly sanctuary in Texas, and destroyed sacred Native American burial grounds.
Last but not least, the executive orders will strengthen protections for vulnerable people in the US, including the LGBTQ community, defend the "Dreamers" program for undocumented young Americans, and dismantle the controversial travel ban set by the previous administration.