A Climate-First Foreign Policy

A Climate-First Foreign Policy

Diplomacy and Executive Action Will Allow Biden to Tackle Climate Change

President Donald Trump will hand the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden a daunting set of foreign policy challenges, including controlling the raging COVID-19 pandemic, stabilizing the global economy, and managing acute tensions with China. Each problem could be the defining issue of a less tumultuous and high-stakes tenure. But of all the global threats Trump has neglected, mismanaged, or actively inflamed, the climate crisis is the most dangerous and far-reaching. Left unchecked, climate change will inflict untold harm and hardship on people across the globe, devastate economies, and threaten the viability of countries. The effects of climate change will cascade in profound and unpredictable ways, straining the capacities of governments—even those of the wealthiest countries.

The Trump administration embraced an overtly hostile approach to international cooperation on climate change, rolling back climate protections at home and withdrawing from the 2015 Paris climate accord that won commitments from all countries to cut their greenhouse gas emissions. But the rest of the world did not follow suit. The Paris agreement retains broad international support, and many of the countries most responsible for causing climate change are beginning to take more concerted steps to address the crisis. The United Kingdom, the European Union, and many others have committed to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and China—the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide—recently pledged to reach “carbon neutrality” (absorbing at least as much carbon as the country emits) before 2060.