Center for American Progress

An International Climate Road Map for the Next President

An International Climate Road Map for the Next President

As the Trump administration begins its official withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, it is important to consider what climate policy actions a future president can take to get American global climate leadership back on track.

The sun rises over an industrial port in North Charleston, South Carolina. (Getty/Corbis/Andrew Lichtenstein)
The sun rises over an industrial port in North Charleston, South Carolina. (Getty/Corbis/Andrew Lichtenstein)

In the coming week, President Donald Trump is expected to announce that he will file papers to officially withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement on November 4 of next year. This edict would be the latest example of the Trump administration’s ongoing assault on the worldwide effort to combat climate change, which suffered yet another setback on Wednesday with Chile’s decision to suspend its plans to host the 25th Conference of the Parties in December. The international community will regroup and restore political momentum even as Trump moves to withdraw from the Paris agreement, further demonstrating how he has taken the United States to the sidelines of global climate action.

Trump’s gross mischaracterization of climate change as a hoax is at odds with the rest of the world and the overwhelming scientific evidence. Moreover, his destructive domestic energy policies and abdication of U.S. global leadership in combating climate change are exacerbating the climate crisis, imperiling U.S. national security and global stability. This abandonment of global climate leadership has also given China an open door to claim this mantle from the United States, despite the fact that Chinese companies continue to build dirty coal and gas plants around the world under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Trump’s climate abdication robs the United States of any leverage to hold China accountable for its BRI strategy. Moreover, the Trump administration has actively blocked other global leaders from taking action, through the United Nations, the G-7 and G-20, the Arctic Council, and other bodies.

It is clear that much work awaits the next administration, but luckily, an ambitious and achievable road map is within reach. The American public is demanding action, and states and cities have risen to the challenge with innovative and ambitious new policies to provide a blueprint for domestic action. In a recent report, the Center for American Progress outlined an approach for the United States to achieve a 100 Percent Clean Future by 2050 in order to do its part domestically to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.

But the global nature of climate change requires global cooperation; action at home alone is not enough to stabilize global temperatures. A sustainable global strategy to combat climate change requires the United States to return to leading a coordinated international effort. No other country has the same capacity and responsibility to lead. Unfortunately, after the Trump administration’s climate policy malpractice, the next administration will be digging the United States out of a political credibility hole. It will take demonstrated domestic and international initiative to restore U.S. influence and credibility to lead the global fight on climate change.

As a first step, the next administration should immediately rejoin the Paris agreement, which continues to provide the appropriate framework for coordinating international steps to strengthen individual nation’s climate policies. But diplomatic efforts through Paris alone will not be enough. The United States must use all of its diplomatic, trade, and financial influence over allies, rivals, international corporations, and institutions to catalyze global action.

Below is a road map that can help the United States to drive international action by adopting new diplomatic, trade policy, and finance policy strategies, which are drawn from a recent CAP Report, “A 100 Percent Clean Future.”

A diplomatic strategy to prioritize climate action

The next president must be committed to leveraging the unique strengths of the United States and accomplishing net-zero global greenhouse gas emissions by no later than 2050. This must be done in ways that reduce poverty and inequality and achieve the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

A new diplomatic strategy should:

  • Prioritize climate in U.S. foreign policy: The next president must declare that climate change considerations will be central to U.S. foreign policymaking.
  • Set a new nationally determined contribution (NDC): The new administration should move promptly to establish a credible NDC 2030 target, drawing from CAP’s recommendations.
  • Implement a global electricity decarbonization initiative: The next president should launch an initiative for coordinated global action at scale to decarbonize power systems worldwide in 30 years.
  • Return to multilateral diplomacy: The United States should reestablish its leadership role in the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Arctic Council, the Major Economies Forum (MEF), and the G-7 and G-20.
  • Prioritize bilateral partnerships: To make significant progress at the global level, the new administration must engage with China, India, and the European Union, in particular.
    • China: An updated U.S. diplomatic approach to China on climate should focus on China’s domestic actions and how it addresses the climate impact of its foreign activities, specifically in the BRI.
    • India: While the Trump administration has ceased climate engagement and prioritized oil and gas in its India energy strategy, the next administration should revitalize the U.S. climate and clean energy agenda with India—which was begun under former President Barack Obama—and expand to new areas such as regional cooperation on power sector transformation and sustainable finance.
    • European Union: The United States and the EU should partner on an agenda focusing on restoring climate ambition both under key multilateral bodies such as the G-7, the G-20, and the MEF and by leveraging international trade and finance policies, as noted below.
  • Invest in and leverage women’s empowerment: Policies to combat climate change should also focus on women’s empowerment. This can be achieved by, among other things, improving access to education; comprehensive family planning and reproductive health services; economic security through quality jobs and high wages; and leadership and governance opportunities.
  • Bolster climate science: Under the Trump administration, climate science and technology funding has been under attack, hampering advances in understanding and foreign collaborations. To bolster global capacity in order to confront future climate science challenges, the next administration must continue to identify and fund promising areas of climate science and technology.

A trade policy strategy to advance climate priorities

The new administration should seek to reset the international trade architecture in order to advance climate priorities. This will require the United States to repair its standing and influence within the World Trade Organization (WTO) and gain agreement to examine the WTO’s overall function in light of evolving global trade developments. In the climate context, the United States must review how trade rules hinder implementation of the Paris agreement and revise them accordingly, as well as seek ways to leverage trade policy to address climate.

A reformed U.S. trade policy can be a tool to convince trading partners to raise their climate change ambition, support U.S. commercial competitiveness, and protect U.S. workers.

A new trade policy strategy should:

  • Create domestic clean energy incentives: The United States should seek an overall change in WTO treatment on buy-local clean energy programs, which help to spur domestic clean energy businesses and jobs. In June, the WTO found that seven U.S. states’ buy-local programs violated General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade “national treatment” principles, but WTO rules permit exceptions for certain trade-related environmental measures. The United States should pursue this avenue.
  • Impose a border adjustment tariff (BAT): BAT mechanisms have moved to the forefront of policy options to safeguard against the risk that domestic climate policies might threaten U.S. jobs and economic competitiveness by pushing carbon-intensive activities to less regulated markets. A BAT could also be a tool to motivate trading partners to strengthen their domestic climate performance in order to enjoy access to the U.S. market.
  • Create a global clean production certification system: The United States and other leading medium and heavy industry countries should launch a global forum to create a taxonomy of clean energy production standards and an accompanying voluntary certification system for high carbon-intensity products.
  • Use trade to combat deforestation: The new administration and Congress should devise ways to use trade policy to incentivize sustainable land use practices and counter deforestation trends in hotspots such as the Amazon and Southeast Asia.
  • Set climate standards in U.S. trade agreements: The new administration should stipulate that all bilateral and multilateral trade agreements include enforceable environmental, climate, and labor standards, rather than addressing the issues in side agreements.
  • Remove investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions from U.S. trade agreements: The United States should replace ISDS provisions in its trade agreements with narrowly focused investor protection provisions on expropriation or discrimination. This would prevent special interests from using ISDS provisions to block environmental and climate-related regulations and laws to advance corporate interests over common goods objectives.
  • Establish climate performance criteria in foreign direct investment (FDI): Similar to the review process used by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, Congress should provide new authorities to condition U.S. approval of potential FDI transactions into the United States against a standard for an investing party’s climate performance in its broader investment activities. The new administration should also prohibit foreign investment in climate-damaging projects or acquisitions in the United States.
  • Fossil fuel subsidy reform: The next administration should reengage under the G-20 and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) to seek the elimination of fossil fuel subsidies, one of the most effective means of driving down greenhouse gas emissions and leveling the competitive field for noncarbon energy sources.

A finance policy strategy to catalyze global transformation

The World Bank estimates that from 2015 to 2030, the world will need to spend up to $90 trillion in order to replace aging infrastructure in advanced economies and accommodate higher growth and structural change in developing countries. The United States has a disproportionate influence over how private-sector finance will contribute, both through domestic regulations and influence over international financial institutions.

A new finance policy strategy should:

  • Integrate climate risk into corporate financial governance: The Federal Reserve should join the Network for Greening the Financial System (NGFS), a group of central banks and supervisors that are driving improved climate risk management within their financial sectors. Meanwhile, the Securities and Exchange Commission should require U.S.-listed companies to adopt and implement Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) recommendations on climate-related financial reporting.
  • Decarbonize U.S. trade finance programs: The next administration should prohibit U.S. financing for overseas fossil fuel projects, from mining to power generation. Ending fossil fuel support would allow the U.S. Development Finance Corporation and the U.S. Export-Import Bank to focus their energy agendas on supporting clean energy.
  • Decarbonize foreign trade finance programs: To complement its reform of U.S. public finance policy on fossil fuel financing, the new administration should immediately press other Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)-member governments and China to adopt the same approach.
  • Honor the U.S. commitment to the Green Climate Fund (GCF): President Trump’s failure to honor the $2 billion U.S. commitment to the GCF was a blow to the global effort to support developing countries in combating climate change. The next administration should honor the $2 billion pledge, and the United States should join other donors who are doubling their contributions to the GCF. For the United States, a $6 billion pledge over three years would fund 100 new projects and catalyze nearly $15 billion in co-financing.


Withdrawal from the Paris agreement is the most visible of the Trump administration’s long list of irresponsible climate change policy actions, all of which will leave a lasting legacy of harm to the country and future generations. The urgency of action will require the next president to put climate change at the top of a lengthy list of post-Trump policy priorities. The new administration will have important work to do at home and abroad. Restoring U.S. global climate leadership and influence will be critical if the world is to have a chance to prevent the worst impacts of climate change. By following the road map outlined above, the next administration can begin this consequential task and place the United States on the right path forward.

Alan Yu is a senior fellow and the director of International Climate Policy at the Center for American Progress.

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Alan Yu

Senior Vice President, National Security and International Policy