3 International Climate Priorities for 2024

As President Joe Biden’s first term draws to a close, his administration must deliver on three international climate policies to catalyze a 21st-century clean energy economy and avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

In this article
Photo shows several flags arranged in a circular formation, flying against a grey cloudy sky
The flags of participating countries wave outside the 2023 G20 summit venue in New Delhi, September 2023. (Getty/Imtiyaz Khan/Anadolu Agency)

Introduction and summary

Over the past three years, the Biden-Harris administration has earned the mantle as the most transformative climate administration1 in U.S. history. During the first days of the Biden-Harris administration, the United States rejoined2 the historic Paris Agreement; President Joe Biden rolled out an innovative, cross-agency executive order3 on tackling the climate crisis at home and abroad; and he introduced a National Security Strategy4 that lays out a comprehensive vision for addressing the threat of climate change. Through these actions, the Biden administration used the force of the Oval Office, agencies, and Congress to strengthen U.S. climate action, both for U.S. citizens and communities around the world. (see text box below)

However, the window to avoid5 the worst impacts of climate change is closing, and only a rapid, global, just transition to a 21st-century clean energy economy will secure a livable present and future. There are three international climate priorities the Biden administration should deliver this year to catalyze this transition:

  1. Fulfill its international finance promises and commit to a robust new climate finance goal
  2. Reorient the global trade system to achieve climate goals
  3. Set the United States on course for ambitious domestic emissions reductions

These individual priorities cannot stand alone. International climate finance can enable the buildout of new clean energy industries and create alternatives to China’s dominance of the clean technology supply chain. Enabling these new clean energy supply chains is necessary to help decarbonize heavy industry. A successful green global trading system will support and likely preference the decarbonization of industry and will be a key driver of the clean energy buildout as it further incentivizes energy transitions and capitalizes on new markets and technologies created by climate finance investments. Taken together, these first two finance and trade priorities make ambitious U.S. and global decarbonization goals possible. Meeting climate finance commitments not only helps drive climate action in developing economies—where emissions are growing and climate impacts are worsening—it also builds the goodwill and diplomatic opportunities needed to open new markets, secures bilateral partnerships, and supports continued domestic investments in a robust domestic manufacturing renaissance that creates and protects American jobs.

How international climate action drives U.S. domestic climate policy

The Biden-Harris administration’s domestic climate actions are reinforced by its work on the international stage. At home, the game-changing Inflation Reduction Act (IRA)6 means that the United States can grow its domestic economy and create good manufacturing jobs, while reducing greenhouse gas pollution and putting the country on track to meet its emissions reduction goals. Internationally, the administration’s work to ramp up climate finance extends this support to global emissions reductions, catalyzing a just energy transition. Importantly, the administration tackled noncarbon dioxide superpollutants through national methane standards7, the Global Methane Pledge8, and the Kigali Amendment.9 In terms of climate resilience and adaptation, the president’s National Climate Resilience Framework10 guides billions in resilience investments from sustainable land management to constructing more shock resistant infrastructure. In parallel, the President’s Emergency Plan for Adaptation and Resilience11 seeks to help half a billion people in developing countries adapt to climate change.

Nature-based solutions are a focus of the Biden-Harris administration’s climate efforts as well. Domestically, the administration protected U.S. old-growth forests12 for their climate and biodiversity benefits, while internationally, it is working to halt and reverse deforestation.13 In recognition of the role oceans play in climate, the administration set forth its whole-of-government approach to climate-smart ocean management in its Ocean Climate Action Plan,14 worked to reduce international shipping emissions,15 and signed the landmark U.N. High Seas Treaty.16 Lastly, the administration’s understanding of climate change as a shared, existential threat to human well-being and American security is reflected in the breadth of its inclusion in the Biden-Harris administration’s National Security Strategy.17

Together, these international climate priorities support U.S. domestic emissions reductions and enable a more ambitious nationally determined contribution (NDC), which—along with climate investments and the establishment of trade rules that emphasize decarbonization—signals to global markets the seriousness of the U.S. commitment to a net-zero world.

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Deliver on international climate finance

Climate finance is one of the pillars of this year’s U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) conference18 (COP29, being held in Baku, Azerbaijan). This highlights the importance the international community is placing on delivering pledges from developed countries and the ongoing need to directly fund clean energy transitions, adaptation, and loss and damage,19 as well as international financial institution reform.20 During its first year, the Biden-Harris administration pledged to increase international climate finance to $11.4 billion per year by 2024 to contribute to the $100 billion-per-year international goal to which it committed in 2009, which was reaffirmed and extended in the Paris Agreement.21 Despite strong opposition from House Republicans on the State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Subcommittee in Congress, who put forward a bill22 prohibiting funding for the Green Climate Fund, the United States is on track to reach this goal; preliminary estimates show $9.5 billion23 was allocated in fiscal year 2023.

The Biden-Harris administration needs to take a number24 of agency and White House office actions this year to deliver on its current climate finance pledges. It must also look to the future and develop a five-year plan to reduce oil and gas demand globally through strategic climate finance investments situated within new commitments under the UNFCCC New Collective Quantified Goal on Climate Finance. This plan should be produced through coordinated work between agencies and White House offices and take into account green trade, emissions reduction, and geostrategic factors and priorities.

Involving the U.S. National Security Council (NSC), the U.S. International Development Finance Corp. (DFC), and the U.S. Export-Import Bank (EXIM), among other government agencies, this coordinated plan would send the clear market and strategic signal needed to catalyze other major nations and the investment community to make sweeping and ambitious clean energy investments; these investments would collectively put the world on track to reducing oil and gas demand and meeting its emissions reduction targets.

U.S. National Security Council

Climate finance is critical for U.S. national security. Continued reliance on fossil fuels puts the United States at odds with its foreign policy objectives and leads to democratic backsliding,25 while costing American consumers.26 It is instructive, though overdue, that Europe doubled down on its own green energy transition27 since losing access to Russian natural gas after Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, underscoring the need to cut ties with authoritarian petrostates before the issue is forced. It’s long been clear that energy security will not come from doubling down on domestic fossil fuel production.28 However, the United States cannot go it alone on a renewable energy economy either. Critical minerals deposits—essential for renewable energy—are located both in allied nations and countries of concern around the world, creating opportunities and challenges for securing a sustainable and reliable clean energy supply chain.29 Lastly, but of increasing importance, inadequate climate finance and incomplete financial reforms undermine developing countries30 that have contributed the least to the climate crisis but bear the brunt of its impacts, driving human insecurity and exacerbating conflict31 worldwide.

For these reasons, meeting the Biden-Harris administration’s climate finance commitments this year would support the strategic interests of the United States as it counters growing global insecurity. The NSC should therefore throw its weight behind securing fiscal year 2025 international climate finance appropriations—and meeting these commitments must be a top priority of the NSC going forward. The agency should also play an active role in developing the strategic five-year international climate finance plan, to both ensure buy-in from the international climate finance, security, and foreign policy community and relevant agencies, as well as lend its strategic foresight capabilities to the effort.

U.S. Development Finance Corp.

The DFC is a key part of the Biden-Harris administration’s efforts to fulfill its climate finance pledges. Through its investments, the DFC can de-risk investments in new renewable energy markets and catalyze additional clean energy projects. Since President Biden took office, the DFC has invested in32 climate projects around the world and is actively vetting new clean energy proposals. To further support the Biden-Harris administration’s climate commitments, the DFC should:

  • Work with Congress to prioritize the DFC’s reauthorization in 2024 to include strategic changes such as expanding countries where the agency can work, beyond those classified as low- or lower-middle-income by the World Bank, and eliminating new funding for new fossil fuel projects abroad
  • Systematically align its project goals with the administration’s commitment33 to triple the world’s renewable energy capacity and double the global rate of energy efficiency by 2030
  • Increase DFC spending on clean energy to help meet the Biden-Harris administration’s international climate finance goal of $11.4 billion in 2024
  • Prioritize cross-agency and White House office collaborations to create sustainable renewable energy supply chains that uphold U.S. human rights commitments

These actions would send clear indications to investors and developing countries that the United States is committed to catalyzing a clean energy future and end the financing of new fossil fuel projects in alignment with the Glasgow Statement. Many countries’ development goals are currently hamstrung by the lack of energy infrastructure, along with debilitating debt.34 Continued funding of fossil fuel projects in these countries can further drive up emissions and pollution while saddling countries with debt for infrastructure that will soon be obsolete or come with additional costs,35 given the potential for new trade tariffs on embedded carbon emissions. Ending U.S. financing for new fossil fuel projects would also strengthen the power of both U.S. and other countries’ domestic investments in renewable energy. Through its investments, and collaboration with other agencies and offices, the DFC can help the United States achieve its international commitments and provide the assurance and support developing countries need so as not to be left behind in the 21st-century clean energy economy.

U.S. Export-Import Bank

There is another U.S. investment arm that could help achieve international climate finance goals but that is currently holding the United States back from its global climate commitments. EXIM,36 an independent agency set up to support American businesses abroad, has continued to back fossil fuel projects,37 prompting resignations38 of climate advisory board members. A number of steps can be taken to increase the accountability of the agency and align EXIM operations with Paris Agreement goals:

  • Climate leaders in Congress should communicate directly to EXIM leadership their opposition to continued fossil fuel investments and call for increased EXIM financing for renewable energy projects to meet their goal of dedicating 5 percent of annual financing to promote exports related to renewable energy, energy efficiency, and energy storage.
  • EXIM’s current development of new environmental and social due diligence procedures and guidelines39 should include an emissions intensity threshold aligned with the rest of the U.S. government and take into consideration the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change science.
  • The White House and U.S. Department of State should utilize diplomatic channels to conclude negotiations restricting fossil fuel support by export credit agencies under the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Arrangement on Officially Supported Export Credits by the end of the year.

With IRA investments catalyzing U.S. clean energy manufacturing and technology development, there will be an increasing number of opportunities to export American products to countries building out their own clean energy infrastructure. EXIM is a critical tool to support this green trade. The White House, Congress, and EXIM must take steps to help U.S. businesses win clean energy contracts in the near future while limiting guarantees for new fossil fuel infrastructure that send inconsistent market and investment signals regarding the pace of the clean energy transition.

Through coordination between White House offices and government agencies such as the NSC, the DFC, and EXIM, the Biden-Harris administration can communicate the importance of international climate finance to other nations and to the investment community. This will help increase investments in clean energy, helping the world achieve global emissions reduction targets and reducing oil and gas demand.

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Strengthen alignment between green industrial policy and green trade

The IRA40 not only inaugurated a new era of climate-aligned industrial policy in the United States, it also reshaped U.S. economic relations with the rest of the world in several key respects. First, the IRA’s incentives for clean industries and renewable power generation created new demand for inputs41 and finished goods that cannot, for the moment, be met solely through domestic sources. Second, the IRA shifted the global conversation around industrial policy, prompting governments across the world to take a fresh look42 at an investment-led approach to meeting climate targets. Finally, the cost reductions and innovations in clean technology enabled by the law will create new export and technology transfer opportunities, especially in emerging markets.

The Biden-Harris administration should leverage these developments to drive climate progress at home and abroad by ensuring that global trade rules reflect the urgency of the climate challenge. In particular, the administration should foster broad cooperation around green trade in a way that strengthens the position of U.S. workers and businesses, encourages decarbonization of industry, and deepens critical geopolitical relationships. A key goal of this effort should be to reorient the trade system toward greater deployment of low-carbon goods and clean technologies, reversing decades of trade rules that rewarded a race to the-bottom on climate ambition. As John Podesta, U.S. international climate senior adviser at the White House and the founder of the Center for American Progress, observed in recent remarks,43 “Our current global trading system was built to promote open and competitive markets—which it has done well—but it wasn’t built to curb emissions. In fact, by many measures, global trade is a huge contributor to the climate problem.”

Regearing trade policy for a net-zero future requires multiple lines of effort to facilitate trade in goods and services related to the green transition; create policy space for investments in clean technology and green infrastructure; align climate-related regulatory frameworks and standards; build resilient and high-standard supply chains; and ensure a just transition that equitably allocates the economic gains from the shift to a decarbonized economy. Because there is no single global institution or convening of leaders that can address all these challenges, the United States should pursue a range of initiatives in key venues, such as the G7, the G20, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, and the UNFCCC, as well as in bilateral relationships.

G20 and G7

At a time when the World Trade Organization (WTO) struggles to deliver negotiated outcomes44, the G20 and G7 offer promising venues to facilitate trade in green goods and services and avoid a fragmented regulatory landscape on issues such as border carbon adjustments, product standards, and the circular economy. To that end, the United States should work with like-minded partners—in particular, Brazil, the current G20 president and COP host in 2025—to seek positive declarations around and initiate work programs related to trade and climate at the G7 and G20 summits this year. This could include:

  • Measurement protocols for greenhouse gas emissions associated with traded goods, particularly steel and aluminum
  • Principles for border carbon adjustments, including mechanisms for gauging equivalency and promoting interoperability between measures
  • Harmonized customs nomenclature relating to the circular economy
  • Principles and best practices around subsidies aimed at converting unsustainable economic and industrial activities to Paris Agreement-aligned ones
  • Partnerships with the WTO and UNFCCC to align countries’ trade-related actions to their NDCs in COP29

U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change

Trade has become a contentious issue within the global climate regime, with many developing countries seeking to adjudicate the fairness and legality of trade-related measures such as the European Union’s carbon border adjustment mechanism at UNFCCC conferences.45 Developed countries, for their part, have generally viewed climate conferences as an inappropriate venue for such debates, favoring instead the WTO or bilateral discussion. There is no easy resolution to this debate, but ignoring or dismissing the concerns of the Global South could strain relations between developed and developing countries to the point that it undermines climate progress more broadly. To avoid this scenario, the United States should consult with key partners on mutually acceptable language around trade and climate well in advance of COP29 to minimize frictions during negotiations. As a gesture of goodwill, the United States should aim to build consensus around a position that some trade measures with climate impacts pose challenging compliance burdens on developing states, particularly least-developed countries, and that developing states will need capacity-building investments and assistance to participate effectively in a net-zero economy.

Bilateral and plurilateral relationships

The Biden-Harris administration has prioritized climate in its relations with Europe, recognizing the powerful market-shaping impacts of U.S.-EU alignment on key regulatory, industrial, and trade policy issues. There is opportunity for similar synergies with other major economies. This could include, for example, an agreement on critical minerals with the United Kingdom or a senior-level dialogue on green trade issues with India, which is seeking greater access to cleantech supply chains to power its decarbonization strategy.46 The United States should also consider pursuing an expanded agreement, such as the proposed U.S.-EU Global Arrangement on Sustainable Steel and Aluminum,47 with other trading ambitious partners willing to collaboratively address both climate risk and overcapacity. Finally, the Biden administration could seek to expand economic cooperation under the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue with Japan, India, and Australia to critical minerals, building on the work of the Minerals Security Partnership.48

With the implementation of the IRA, the Biden-Harris administration can leverage this opportunity to ensure climate is reflected in global trade rules. Through international forums and strategic relationships with other nations, the United States can create buy-in around a green trade system that strengthens the position of American workers and businesses, decarbonizes industry, and deepens geopolitical relationships.

Finalize an ambitious NDC before 2025

By the end of 2024 the Biden-Harris administration should announce a credible, enhanced ambitious 2035 nationally determined contribution. This action would demonstrate the durability and effectiveness of U.S. domestic climate actions, signal to global markets and governments the seriousness of the U.S. commitment to net-zero by 2050, and leverage climate diplomacy to urge increased ambition from other major emitters.

Getting back on track to 1.5 degrees Celsius

As the largest producer of oil and gas in the world, and largest historical emitter, the United States bears responsibility for reducing its fair share of emissions to meet net-zero by 2050, the goal of the Paris Agreement. An actionable and Paris Agreement-aligned 2035 U.S. NDC acknowledges this responsibility and demonstrates the intention of the Biden-Harris administration to follow through on its commitment to net-zero. The science49 is clear that to avoid catastrophic tipping points for life on Earth, emissions must peak by 2025 and come down 43 percent from 2019 levels by 2030. Since 2015, implementation of NDCs has brought down temperature rise estimates50 for the end of the century. Yet collective emissions have continued to increase, putting the planet on a path to a rise of 2.5 to 2.9 degrees Celsius51—far off from the 1.5 degree Celsius goal. The 2023 Global Stocktake review revealed current NDCs are not enough to reduce emissions at the pace and scale needed and that deeper systemwide cuts in emissions are required by all parties.52 The U.S. NDC submission must chart a clear implementation path that builds on the domestic climate actions of the past four years to get back on track.

Using the IRA as a foundation

A strengthened emissions reduction goal demonstrates U.S. commitment to accelerating its low-carbon transformation by building on the historic progress made through the clean energy investments in the IRA and Biden-Harris administration regulations issued to curb sectoral emissions. Since its passage, the IRA has created more than 270,000 jobs53 through a boom in clean energy manufacturing and, in the coming decade, will result in lower energy bills54 for families as well as healthier and safer communities because of a robust environment and climate justice agenda.55 Modeling indicates that with the federal and state policies in place, the United States is on track to reach 29 percent to 42 percent emissions reductions from 2005 levels by 2030.56 Emissions reductions could reach 41 percent to 52 percent below 2005 by 203057 if first-term actions are completed and additional state-level policies are put in place. This would bring the 2030 NDC goal of 50 percent to 52 percent within reach and would reflect significant progress from the policies in place at the time the Paris Agreement was reached.

The new U.S. 2035 economywide NDC, built on the IRA foundation, will underpin the next round of policy changes that will enable emissions reductions to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. For the target to be sufficiently ambitious, it will require building upon the IRA investments; strengthening regulatory standards for major emissions sources; broadening sector focus beyond the sectors included in the 2030 NDC; and outlining a set of specific sectoral targets—for example, for methane emissions. The 2035 U.S. NDC is an opportunity to demonstrate commitment to narrowing the gap between ambition and action by leveraging the country’s investments and domestic policy wins to reduce emissions and lower the access barriers to clean energy technologies that could in turn enable clean energy transitions in developing countries.

Leveraging climate diplomacy for greater global ambition

During the Trump administration, the United States backtracked from Paris Agreement58 commitments and pulled away from all climate cooperation, including with China. These actions led to distrust from allies and competitors in long-term U.S. commitment to climate goals.59 Finalizing an ambitious 2035 U.S. NDC before the end of this year, and announcing the new target by the COP29 and G20 convenings, signals that the United States is committed to building on the robust climate agenda60 of the Biden-Harris administration to meet net-zero goals. These actions will further show that the United States is willing to put pressure on other major emitters such as China to develop their own ambitious targets to meet the 2025 deadline61 for submission. The concurrent timing of COP29 and G20 in November 2024 is also an opportunity to center the inextricably linked climate and development agendas and present a five-year plan to deliver on international climate finance in the framing of the U.S. NDC announcement.62

After a period of stagnation, climate diplomacy is back on the table for the United States and China. On November 14, 2023, at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum meeting in San Francisco between President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, the United States and China released the Sunnylands Statement63 outlining areas of cooperation to tackle the climate crisis and committing to economywide NDCs that would include all greenhouse gasses and align with Paris Agreement temperature goals. In 2014, the United States and China jointly announced their intended NDCs in advance of the Paris climate conference, and this paved the way for what would become the NDCs at the heart of the Paris Agreement. The Sunnylands Statement platform can be a vehicle for repeating the success of 2014 in shaping the next round of U.S. and China NDCs. The new climate envoys gathered May 8–9, 2024, in Washington, D.C., for a meeting of the U.S.-China Working Group on Enhancing Climate Action in the 2020s, and they reiterated their Sunnylands NDC commitments.64 The upcoming U.S.-China High-Level Event on Subnational Climate Action, and subsequent meetings of the working group, create the diplomatic space for sharing information on sectors, data modeling, and policy planning to ladder up to ambitious new targets and coordinate 2035 NDC announcements.

With countries of the world assessing climate action progress through the first Global Stocktake last year at COP28, it has become clear that strong, ambitious NDCs are necessary to keep the world on track to stay within the 1.5 degree Celsius temperature rise limit. By doing so, the United States would demonstrate the durability and effectiveness of U.S. domestic climate actions, such as the IRA; convey the seriousness of the U.S. commitment to net-zero by 2050; and urge increased ambition from other major emitters through diplomacy.


The United States has made great strides during the Biden-Harris administration to establish U.S. leadership on the global climate stage by expanding the scope of climate action across the government. To shore up the progress made over the past 3 1/2 years and ensure the United States meets global 2030 climate benchmarks, the Biden-Harris administration must deliver promised finance without undercutting it with new fossil fuel funding, advance green trade policies while supporting workers and the Global South, and deliver an ambitious new NDC built on the foundations of the IRA. These actions must be done in tandem; each strengthens the efficacy of the others. Through these policies, the Biden-Harris administration can secure a legacy of international climate leadership and drive forward a 21st-century clean energy economy.


Thank you to Courtney Federico and Ryan Mulholland at the Center for American Progress for their expert input.


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Anne Christianson

Former Director, International Climate Policy

Trevor Sutton

Senior Fellow

Frances Colón

Senior Director, International Climate Policy


International Climate

International Climate engages U.S. and global leaders across sectors to support rapid, science-based emissions reductions and promote equitable climate policy.

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