On November 4, President Trump will formally withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement. That short-sighted move could be a short-term departure from the historic climate agreement that secured real emissions reduction commitments from all countries around the world and laid the foundation for even stronger action in the years ahead that aims to address the growing climate crisis.
The U.S.’s exit could last only around 3 months as the day before is the most consequential presidential election of my lifetime and the biggest climate decision anywhere in the world this year. If elected president, former vice president Joe Biden has committed to rejoin the Paris Agreement “on day one” and mobilize “an effort to get every major country to ramp up the ambition of their domestic climate targets.” He also recognizes that to combat the existential threat of climate change will require going well beyond just rejoining the Paris Agreement.
As president, Biden has made it clear that tackling the climate crisis will be at the top of his priority list. That means that the U.S. must act aggressively on climate change at home and make climate change a top foreign policy priority. But what does it mean in practice to make climate change a top foreign policy priority?
A new report—which NRDC contributed to—lays out a vision and roadmap to place climate change as a central organizing principle of U.S. foreign policy: An International Climate Agenda for the Next U.S. Administration. Mobilizing climate action overseas will require the U.S. to get “its own house in order” with a robust set of domestic actions to build a more just, equitable, and zero-carbon economy. And, it will require that the entirety of the U.S. foreign policy operation row in the same direction, with an urgency and determination that rises to this unprecedented challenge and opportunity. It will require nothing less than an all-hands, all-strategies, and all-tools international mobilization.
As the report states:
“After decades of inadequate action by the international community, climate change now poses a clear and imminent threat to our prosperity, security, and well-being. Only a focused and ambitious global response can avert the worst impacts. And as the last four years have demonstrated, American global leadership is indispensable to mobilize action at the required scale and pace. To rise to this unprecedented challenge, the next president and administration must elevate climate change to the first rank of America’s international priorities and make addressing the climate crisis a central organizing principle of U.S. foreign policy.”
The agenda was developed by a diverse group of over 60 leading experts who have worked to advance international climate policy across various government agencies, environmental and development non-governmental organizations, academic institutions and think tanks, business, and national security groups, as well as other priority foreign policy venues.
The report details priority recommendations across four key areas for international climate action:
- organize for effective global leadership;
- deploy diplomacy and other tools bilaterally and multilaterally to pressure and incentivize countries to take stronger action;
- shift investments and key economic sectors decisively toward net-zero emissions; and
- promote national security and resilience in the face of a changing climate.
Delivering on this international climate agenda will need to be a priority of the Biden Administration and it will take a focused effort to deliver on that objective. The last four years of the Trump Administration has taken a heavy toll on America’s leadership role in combatting climate change. And another four years could be even more devastating.
We know what an international climate agenda will look like if President Trump is re-elected. A Trump 2.0 international climate agenda will mean:
- The U.S. continuing to isolate itself internationally as Trump hoped that the rest of the world join him in pulling out of the Paris Agreement, but no one followed him;
- more climate destruction wreaking havoc on America and countries around the world, as more climate pollution produces more air pollution, devastating storms, droughts, wildfires, and other health catastrophes that hit the most vulnerable first and hardest;
- fewer opportunities for American workers and companies to tap into the growing demand for clean energy and climate solutions around the world; and
- a dirtier and less safe future for our children and grandchildren.
In contrast, a Biden Administration can begin to restore the leadership role that the U.S. played in helping to secure the Paris Agreement if it rallies the U.S. government, companies, financial institutions, civil society, and others around the strategies necessary to tackle climate change. It won’t be easy. But it is necessary and possible.
America has used its various foreign policy tools to address other major global challenges before. And we can do it again to help avoid the worst impacts of climate change by taking decisive action at home and making climate change a top foreign policy priority abroad.
There is an immense difference between the two candidates on what to do about climate change. Trump would make it worse by burning more fossil fuels everywhere. Biden would make it less dangerous by promoting clean energy, job creation, pollution cuts, innovation and American leadership. This chasm is enormous on how the two candidates would mobilize domestic action and it is just as large on the international stage. The choice in this election couldn’t be clearer: the future of US global leadership on the defining challenge of our time is on the ballot.
Jake Schmidt is a senior advisor to the NRDC Action Fund.