Apr 15, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Senate Democrats float climate diplomacy plan ahead of White House summit

Bob Menendez

Sen. Bob Menendez. Photo: Greg Nash-Pool/Getty Images

Senior Senate Democrats will introduce legislation on Thursday designed to make climate change a pillar of U.S. diplomacy, boosting initiatives to help other nations cut emissions and adapt to a warming world, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: The bill, led by Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), aims to put momentum on Capitol Hill behind President Biden's efforts.

  • It arrives ahead of a major White House international summit on April 22-23, where Biden hopes to showcase U.S. reengagement in global climate efforts and spur other countries to take tougher steps.
  • The bill faces significant political hurdles, but if enacted would stitch climate deeply into the U.S. diplomatic and security fabric even after the Biden era.

How it works: The bill seeks to infuse climate into everything from export and development finance decisions to Arctic policy-planning to creating new international pressure on China — and a lot in between.

Provisions of the 200-plus page legislation include...

  • New work to assess how climate change can affect security by causing disruptions that fuel instability; affect global food and water systems; affect military operations and more.
  • Authorizing $14 billion in U.S. contributions to the multilateral Green Climate Fund over a half-decade.
  • Boosting U.S. participation in multinational efforts to cut emissions from transportation, improve land-use planning, crack down on methane, and more.
  • Implementing a new USAID program, which also involves EPA and the Agriculture Department, to combat international deforestation.
  • Provisions to more clearly make clean energy part of the existing Power Africa program that works to boost electricity access.
  • A new "Women and Climate Change Act" focused on addressing the impacts of warming on women and girls.

What they're saying: Menendez, in a statement, said the bill would help ensure "Congress does its part in providing resources, programs and policy to expedite the restoration of our nation’s climate diplomacy and leadership."

  • He introduced it with several other Democrats on the Foreign Relations Committee, including Sens. Cory Booker (N.J.), Ben Cardin (Md.), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.) and others.

The intrigue: The bill is meant to highlight a shift in U.S. posture and argue that stronger climate efforts are in the U.S. economic interest.

  • It name-checks ex-President Trump twice — criticizing his withdrawal (since-reversed) from the Paris agreement and his opposition to G7 and G20 initiatives.

Yes, but: The overall bill faces huge hurdles in the deeply divided Senate, given many Republicans oppose the Paris climate deal and allege that Democratic climate priorities create economic risks.

  • But a committee spokesperson for Menendez said there are "plenty of provisions that Republicans may very well want to join in pushing forward, so this is more about finding a way to garner bipartisan support for these broader reforms."
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