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US aims to make climate crisis a “center” of its foreign policy: Sec. of State Blinken

20 April 2021 Amena Saiyid

Tackling the climate crisis and promoting clean energy technologies will be at the forefront of US foreign policy, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said 19 April, as he discussed the Department of State's strategy for dealing with threats.

"We will put climate crisis at the center of our foreign policy," making sure that every bilateral and multilateral decision the US takes will put the country and the rest of the world on a sustainable path, said Blinken, standing against a backdrop of the Chesapeake Bay, which faces substantial threats from a rise in sea levels if global warming continues.

The country's top diplomat delivered his remarks at the headquarters of the nonprofit Chesapeake Bay Foundation in Annapolis a few days before the Leaders Climate Summit, which President Joe Biden is holding virtually on 22 and 23 April. The purpose of the summit is to raise climate ambitions for the signatories to the Paris Agreement, which is seeking to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2050.

UN Secretary General António Guterres in February warned the world remains "way off target in staying within the 1.5-degree limit."

More ambition

"This is why we need more ambition, more ambition on mitigation, ambition on adaptation and ambition on finance," Guterres said.

One major example is the US, which is overdue in issuing a new Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) that shows how it plans to cut GHGs now it has rejoined the Paris Agreement. The prior NDC of 26-28% emissions cuts below 2005 levels that President Barack Obama set in 2016 was rendered void after President Donald Trump left the agreement officially in November 2020. An NDC is a country's contribution under the treaty and is updated every five years to show the progress made in meeting GHG cuts.

Biden is expected to announce a more stringent NDC at the upcoming summit, which in itself is a runup to the United Nations' COP26 meeting on climate in Glasgow, Scotland.

Special Presidential Envoy on Climate John Kerry has already garnered China's cooperation in persuading other countries to agree to more ambitious climate goals than the ones they have agreed to meet.

US cannot tackle GHG alone

The US cannot go it alone, Blinken said. Though it produces 15% of the world's GHG emissions, the country has a role to play in not only preventing catastrophes, but helping the rest of the world address the remaining 85% of global emissions.

"If America fails to lead the world on addressing the climate crisis, we won't have much of a world left," Blinken said. "If we succeed, we will capitalize on the greatest opportunity to create quality jobs in generations; we'll build a more equitable, healthy, and sustainable society; and we'll protect this magnificent planet. That's the test we face right now."

Alluding to China's continued expansion of coal-fired power plants, Blinken issued a warning to countries that continue to invest in coal-fired energy or invest in new coal-powered factories, or engage in massive deforestation, saying: "They will hear from the US and its partners about the harmful effects their actions are having."

At the same time, Blinken acknowledged that China remains the largest producer and exporter of solar panels, wind turbines, batteries, electric vehicles, and holds nearly a third of the world's renewable energy patents.

Beyond wind turbines, solar panels, and storage batteries, he noted, however, there are more than 40 other categories of clean energy technologies such as clean hydrogen, carbon capture, and the next generation of renewables, as well as advanced geothermal energy.

'Incentivizing clean energy technologies'

So, Blinken said the State Department is prepared to actively promote American-made clean energy technologies wherever it can. This would include "incentivizing clean energy exports" through the Export-Import Bank of the United States and providing tax credits spelled out in Biden's American Jobs Plan and accompanying tax blueprint.

"Support like this can have an outsized impact especially as the market for renewables is a small fraction of the market to come," he added.

IHS Markit expects $1.3 trillion of renewables capital investment from 2021 through 2025.

The State Department would use all its tools to assist countries that are unable to mitigate climate impacts, such as small island nations, and help countries with grants to acquire clean energy technology, Blinken said. He pointed to the $17 million grant for clean energy entrepreneurship that Kerry presented to Bangladeshi leaders during a 11 April visit.

IHS Markit CleanTech Executive Director Peter Gardett said Blinken's speech focused on bilateral agreements to limit deployment of legacy fossil fuel technology, alongside the economic consequences of federal investment in clean energy and climate change emissions controls.

At the same time, Gardett said: "In concert with other Biden administration climate policy statements, Blinken's emphasis was on US jobs, even when it comes to foreign policy and multilateral agreements."

Reacting to the speech, Chesapeake Bay Foundation President Will Baker lauded the Biden administration's efforts to recommit the US to a leadership role in addressing the threat posed by global warming after "four years of climate complacency" under President Donald Trump.

"We hope the global response to climate change will be similar—countries working together to reduce greenhouse gas emissions," Baker said. "Doing so will ensure a healthy Earth for future generations and increase economic opportunity as the transition toward sustainable infrastructure continues."

Posted 20 April 2021 by Amena Saiyid, Senior Climate & Energy Research Analyst, IHS Markit

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