By Taylor Hynes
#6 in a series of policy briefs laying out clear steps to re-think and re-orient US foreign policy.
Key Takeaway: Commit to financing global climate initiatives through the Green Climate Fund, prioritize labor and environmental standards in all trade agreements, and scale down and defund military operations
The incoming Biden administration is poised to be the most vocal cabinet on climate change the nation has seen yet, despite it strongly resembling Obama’s. However, Biden himself has sent mixed signals on his support of the Green New Deal – a House resolution that has become the shorthand for massive government action on climate justice.
The GND has shifted the broader conversation from responding to disasters as apolitical forces to using this climate crisis as a starting point to build a just society. There have been valid critiques of the GND from both the left and right, but above all, GND-inspired legislation must be an internationalist endeavor if it is to have a meaningful impact for our global future.
Simply re-committing to the 2016 Paris Agreement won’t be nearly enough when it comes to climate diplomacy, given the current emissions targets won’t stave off climate collapse and most countries are not even meeting those bare minimum goals. Nor can we follow the lead of the neocolonial European Green New Deal that relies on exporting its production externalities to other countries to meet its sustainability goals. Immediate, wide-ranging action from the world’s second-largest carbon emitter is essential to minimizing the destructive effects of global warming, effects which disproportionately fall on poorer nations.
The only way toward a just, global transition is by embedding the GND within a restorative foreign policy – climate policy, after all, entails worldwide (and potentially world-ending) challenges. US industrial and trade policies that constitute this foreign policy can be shaped to respect the sovereignty of other nations while improving the likelihood of climate cooperation. To that end, Congress should utilize specific tools of foreign policy – foreign aid, oversight of US trade policy, regulation of human rights abuses in global supply chains, and scaling back US military spending – to advance a program of climate justice.
A Radical Green New Deal: Climate Reparations, Supply Chain Justice, and Opposing Climate Securitization
Repaying climate debt: Climate reparations would compensate nations bearing the brunt of climate change at present, redistributing global wealth for local mitigation efforts and international migration. The bill’s current text suggests “promoting the international exchange of…funding”, which could specifically commit the US to support existing financing mechanisms such as the severely underfunded Green Climate Fund and compel other wealthy nations to do the same. At the same time, the US should increase refugee admissions and lower the barrier to entry for refugee status. Any climate legislation should reject the depiction of migrants as a growing danger at our borders as these people are increasingly moving away from regions with worsening climate conditions.
Green Trade & Industrial Policies: Trade officials, such as US Trade Representative appointee Katherine Tai, should prioritize labor and environmental standards and honor Indigenous rights in negotiating further trade agreements. The US should disincentivize competition for climate solutions like clean technology and public health research by transferring funds and technologies to other countries and loosening patents, as well as terminate all US bilateral investment treaties—which along with sanctions are economic manipulation that reduce a country’s ability to address climate change and prepare for disasters—or make provisions so that investees can use funds to address public emergencies or decarbonize their economies. Additionally, the GND could reinstate the oil export ban lifted in 2015.
Ensuring justice in trade and mineral extraction: Above all else, the GND must avoid replicating the same harmful effects of previous trade agreements, as the labor regulations in one country in a trade agreement affect the entirety of that agreement. Transitioning to clean energy is an industrial process–one requiring the mining of rare-earth minerals for batteries and solar panels. Rather than reproduce the exploitation endemic to extractive industry, GND policymakers should incorporate the demands of actors along lithium, copper, and other supply chains as they prepare for their push for more solar panels and sustainable infrastructure domestically. Congress can place constraints on multinational corporations and lawmakers should increasingly enforce the Alien Tort Claims Act to try US firms for rights violations beyond US borders. Given China’s lead in carbon emissions, rare-earth mining, and clean technology production, US-China cooperation will be essential in drawing down emissions, necessitating a shift away from the increasing anti-China jingoism we have seen from politicians and the media.
Resisting a climate security narrative: Decision-makers from Climate Envoy appointee John Kerry to the US Army frame climate change as a national security threat, ensuring increased funding for the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security to achieve “energy security.” Legislators should resist efforts to securitize the GND in pursuit of support, emphasizing the need to enact climate justice rather than react to a “climate threat.” While the present GND makes no mention of US military spending or practices, an effective response to climate change must tackle the role of defense spending in directly and indirectly contributing to the massive US carbon footprint. One clear way of doing so is to significantly scale back (or defund outright) energy-intensive military operations, moving those funds toward social services and zero-carbon infrastructure projects that prioritize material human security over abstract national security. Lest any conservatives declare a tapped coffer, GND policies can be funded through a redistribution of wealth and a drawdown of US military spending, actions with further benefits for US society and global diplomacy.
The new administration has the opportunity to reorient their foreign policy, moving beyond militarism and extraction and toward an internationalist approach. There needs to be a just energy transition at home and abroad, a process that will forge new solidarities with social movements and governments around the world. The larger project of the GND framework should be for federal spending to engender communities of various scales to work on their own climate solutions. Less fossil fuel production currently necessitates more of other types of extraction for battery and panel materials, but we have the chance to avoid reproducing our current exploitative system of extraction and neocolonial patterns of dispossession in the name of preventing climate collapse.
Taylor Hynes is a recent MSc graduate from the Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction at University College London. Her current research focuses on the overlap of disasters, citizenship, and human security. She tweets at @infinitetabs.