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Congress must invest in international climate action while it has the chance

AP Photo/Rick Bowmer
Steam is emitted from smokestacks at a coal-fired power plant on Nov. 17, 2021, in Craig, Colo.

Democrats and Republicans in Congress agreed to an omnibus spending package over the weekend that will avoid a government shutdown, although details on the top-line figures have yet to be revealed. Over the next few days leaders of congressional committees will determine how to divvy up these funds.  

If there were ever a moment for Congress to invest heavily in climate action abroad, this is it. It could be years before there is a comparable opportunity for delivering foreign assistance to address the climate crisis. By Christmas, the world will know whether the United States is serious about fulfilling its international climate finance commitments or will break its promises.  

President Biden deserves credit for pulling nearly every lever available to him to deliver bold climate action at home. From securing hundreds of billions of dollars in climate investments through the Inflation Reduction Act and reining in methane emissions to requiring all large federal contractors to set science-based emissions-reduction targets, Biden is advancing the boldest climate agenda of any American president by far. These domestic actions (and more still in the works) are exactly what is needed from the United States to curb greenhouse gas emissions and limit the rise of global temperatures.  

But Biden’s ambitious actions at home now need to be matched by equally robust investments to advance climate action abroad, including investments in clean energy and adapting to floods, droughts and other consequences of a warming world. The inconvenient truth is that the United States is grossly underperforming on its international climate finance commitments. While the Biden administration has consistently reiterated its pledge to contribute $11.4 billion in international climate aid by 2024, U.S. officials have yet to outline a credible pathway to do so. In contrast, the European Union actually provided (not pledged) $24 billion in 2019.  

America has a strong tradition of stepping up to the plate when the going gets tough, from providing support to Ukraine after Russia’s unprovoked invasion to President George W. Bush providing funding for AIDS relief. Now, the United States needs to step up to the plate again to address humanity’s greatest threat. 

Not only is supporting international climate action the right thing to do, it’s also in our country’s best interest. The Business Council for Sustainable Energy has voiced support for expanding international climate aid in order to strengthen U.S. credibility and grow market demand for American solutions on clean energy and energy efficiency. Climate change is a global crisis that impacts everything from human migration to supply chains and ignoring the peril of countries that have contributed little to the problem will only limit our collective ability to weather this storm.  

Channeling significant climate funding to vulnerable and developing countries around the world is also crucial for the U.S. to maintain and build strong relationships with these countries; this is not the time for the U.S. to cede those relationships to other world powers.  

The Biden administration clearly wants to rekindle trust with the developing world which is grappling with devastating droughts, floods and other climate impacts.  

Last week, Biden hosted nearly 50 African heads of state and emphasized his commitment to help African countries adopt clean renewable energy and address food and water insecurity caused by the climate crisis. Recently, the United States unveiled some pockets of funding for climate action in Africa, such as for building a clean hydroelectric power project in Sierra Leone and a battery energy storage project in Zambia. At the recent U.N. climate summit COP27 in Egypt, the Biden administration also committed $150 million in new support to boost climate resilience in Africa.  

While those are steps in the right direction, they just scratch the surface of the level of international support the United States must commit to tackle the climate crisis head on.  

This week offers a chance for the Congress significantly ramp up its foreign climate aid and show vulnerable nations that the United States will be a reliable partner as we confront the climate crisis together. We cannot afford to miss it.  

Dan Lashof is the director of World Resources Institute, United States. Follow him on Twitter: @DLashof 

Tags Biden climate Climate change cop27 Dan Lashof Energy George W. Bush Global warming

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