United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken has called on American diplomats around the world to challenge nations whose actions set back efforts to address climate change, according to prepared remarks.
His speech also cast the challenge of a warming planet as a chance to create more jobs and export US values.
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Blinken delivered his first address on climate change in Annapolis, Maryland, on Monday ahead of a US-hosted virtual summit this week.
US President Joe Biden has invited 40 world leaders to discuss new measures they would take to strengthen commitments they made to reduce emissions under the Paris climate agreement in a bid to signal that he is prioritising the issue and trying to rally global action early in his administration.
“Our diplomats will challenge the practices of countries whose action – or inaction – is setting the world back,” Blinken said.
“When countries continue to rely on coal for a significant amount of their energy, or invest in new coal factories, or allow for massive deforestation, they will hear from the United States and our partners about how harmful these actions are.”
Blinken said the Biden administration would put the climate crisis at the centre of its foreign policy but that would not mean treating countries’ progress on climate “as a chip they can use to excuse bad behaviour” and that “the Biden-Harris administration is united on this. Climate is not a trading card.”
That argument appeared to be aimed at rebutting growing criticism, particularly from Republican policymakers, that Biden’s climate envoy, former Secretary of State John Kerry, may trade away US interests in a push for climate cooperation with China and may overlook its oppressive policies. Kerry was in China last week for meetings with his Chinese counterpart, Xie Zhenhua.
“I’m with John 100 percent in this effort,” Blinken said of Kerry’s role, calling the former top US diplomat “my friend.”
The challenge of confronting and keeping up with China will be a central element of US climate policy. Blinken said that the US would miss its chance “to shape the world’s climate future in a way that reflects our interests and values, and we’ll lose out on countless jobs for the American people” if it does not catch up with China.
He called China “the largest producer and exporter of solar panels, wind turbines, batteries and electric vehicles.”
Blinken’s speech is the first in a series of events planned ahead of a virtual summit that Biden is hosting starting on Thursday that will gather leaders of the world’s biggest polluters to discuss how to address global warming and other climate disasters.
The US is expected to use this week’s summit to unveil its goal for reducing greenhouse gases, a key part of the Paris climate accord that Biden had the US rejoin on his first day in office.
Biden’s emphasis on climate policy follows four years in which former President Donald Trump largely dismissed the issue. Rather than frame climate change solely as an existential threat – Blinken said the top US goal is preventing catastrophe – the administration is also portraying it as a way to drive American innovation, jobs and global influence.
The US would also increase the amount of aid it sends to the world’s most climate-vulnerable countries, such as low-lying island nations, Blinken said, adding that in 2020 they only received 3 percent of international climate finance.
“We’ve got to fix that,” he said, adding that Washington is deploying experts to these countries to build early warning systems and prepare infrastructure for the changing climate.