How Biden’s Local weather Ambitions Might Shift America’s International Footprint
John Kerry, the new American envoy on climate change, has repeatedly told world leaders in the past few days that the United States is ready to help the world increase its global warming ambitions. However, this could mean big changes to America’s role in the world.
Foreign policy experts say the Biden government’s efforts must go well beyond resuming the Paris Agreement, the global pact of nearly 200 governments to slow down climate change. Adopting climate change will require a reassessment of everything from United States priorities in the Arctic to helping fragile countries cope with the consequences of climate risks.
“It changes defense attitudes, it changes foreign policy attitudes,” said John D. Podesta, a former Obama administration official. “It begins to make a lot of decisions in foreign policy, diplomacy and development policy.”
This shift was first recognized on Wednesday morning when the White House issued an executive order that “made climate considerations an essential element of US foreign policy and national security.
“Combating climate change can and will be a central pillar of the Biden administration’s foreign policy,” said Meghan O’Sullivan, who served as deputy national security advisor under President George W. Bush and now heads the Geopolitics of Energy Project at Harvard Kennedy School. “It means integrating climate and the environment into our trade policy, our external aid programs, our bilateral discussions and even our military readiness.”
Mr. Kerry, a senior member of President Biden’s National Security Council, is responsible for directing this shift. Here are four big things to see in the weeks and months to come.
Can the United States Address Its Own Climate Problem?
On his first day in office, Mr. Biden began joining the Paris Agreement. Now comes the tricky part: The United States, responsible for most of the greenhouse gases that have warmed the planet since the industrial age, needs to set specific targets to reduce its own emissions by 2030 – and introduce domestic guidelines to do so to reach them.
Greenpeace has called for emissions to be reduced by 70 percent compared to 2010, while the World Resources Institute and other American supporters have pushed for around 50 percent.
That puts Mr. Kerry in a difficult position. More ambitious goals would give him more influence on other countries ahead of the next global climate negotiations, which are scheduled for November in Glasgow. However, setting targets for domestic emissions reductions will not be that easy politically, especially with a divided Senate.
Speaking to American mayors on Saturday, Mr Kerry signaled that the government would try to balance the ambitious with the realistic. “We have to go to Glasgow with reality and we have to go to Glasgow with strength,” he said.
How will the US deal with China?
Climate can be one of the few areas of collaboration in an increasingly strained Washington-Beijing relationship. The two countries are the world’s largest emitters and the world’s largest economies, and there is no way the world can slow warming without ambitious steps by both.
Mr Podesta said the Biden government needs to “create a sheltered alley where the other issues don’t end the conversation on climate change”.
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Jan. 27, 2021, 10:54 p.m. ET
China is also ahead in some ways. Its president, Xi Jinping, said last September that Beijing aims to be carbon neutral by 2060, which means it will either track its carbon emissions or offset it by buying loans for green projects like tree planting programs.
Mr. Kerry described China’s 2060 target as “not good enough”.
It was not for nothing that Mr Kerry’s first overtures as climate commissioner for European heads of state and government were. His best chance to put pressure on Beijing is to do it alongside the other great economy in the world: the European Union.
What influence does the United States have?
Mr Kerry has repeatedly said that he intends to increase “ambitions” in all countries. Some diplomatic whips and carrots are available to the United States.
For example, Mr Kerry could use a bilateral trade agreement between the United States and Mexico to persuade Mexico to open up to American investment in clean energy projects. It could encourage US private investment to encourage India to move away from coal and accelerate renewable energies.
And he could be channeling United States development aid to help countries transition to green economies – not something Washington is known for, as Kelly Sims Gallagher, a former Obama administration official, pointed out.
“If the United States is seen as a country helping vulnerable countries become resilient and enable low-carbon development that actually promotes low-carbon development, we would deserve a lot of goodwill,” said Dr. Gallagher, now professor at the Fletcher School at Tufts University. “It would be a big turning point.”
Climate advocates have urged the Biden government to ensure that development aid goes to help vulnerable countries adapt to climate change, and to work with allies in Europe to encourage developing countries to build clean energy projects instead of polluting coal-fired power plants.
Few details are known from the White House about how American money can be used to advance climate goals abroad. Mr Kerry only said that the United States, which has declined a $ 2 billion pledge to the United Nations-backed Green Climate Fund, is “doing well” on its financial commitment to help vulnerable countries deal with climate risks would.
How will the US alliances with the oil-producing countries change?
The elephant in the room in a climate-focused White House is what to do for American relations with Saudi Arabia.
The geopolitics of energy had already changed. The United States had become less and less dependent on Middle Eastern oil thanks to the domestic shale boom. A climate-focused White House should accelerate change.
“Because of this, we have the opportunity to rethink and reset our relationships in the Middle East,” said Dr. Gallagher. “Climate change is an additional factor.”
No sooner had Mr Biden been elected than Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince revealed plans for a car-free city.
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