Center for American Progress

RELEASE: How U.S. Diplomacy Can Help Get International Climate Action Back on Track
Press Release

RELEASE: How U.S. Diplomacy Can Help Get International Climate Action Back on Track

Washington, D.C. — President-elect Joe Biden is committed to making climate change a central focus of U.S. foreign policy. A key indicator of that commitment was his decision to create the job of special presidential envoy for climate change and naming former Secretary of State John Kerry — Washington’s leading climate champion — to lead the charge.

To carry out that mission, a new issue brief from the Center for American Progress calls on the Biden administration to put the U.S. Department of State and U.S. diplomats in the central role for executing this new charge and driving global action. This will require fundamental changes to the U.S. foreign policy apparatus and the work of its diplomats.

The issue brief suggests priority actions for the new administration to consider and lays out a series of detailed recommendations on how to execute these changes through leadership and actions by the president, the U.S. secretary of state, and U.S. ambassadors overseas. It also recommends management reforms at the State Department, including a boost in Foreign Service personnel, to make the centrality of climate diplomacy in U.S. foreign relations built to last.

“At a time when experts are calling for reforms at the State Department to fit new global challenges, now is the time to design for the centrality of climate action in the department’s mission and operations,” said Alan Yu, a senior fellow at CAP and author of the brief. “There is no alternative to the United States for driving all countries toward climate ambition and action.”

A U.S. agenda to cement climate action as a central pillar of U.S. foreign policy should include the following core actions from our top leaders and management reforms at the State Department:

  • The president should directly engage in climate diplomacy, appoint senior officials committed to climate action, give his special presidential envoy for climate change resources and authority, and boost the federal climate budget to meet the crisis.
  • The secretary of state should set a vision for how the United States should carry out climate diplomacy – and lead by example. He should also assure the right senior State Department appointments and make the department’s current China “core policy” a model for department-wide climate policy action.
  • Ambassadors should make clear the embassy senior leader’s intent, institute a whole-of-embassy effort on climate action, leverage the diplomatic tool of climate assistance and launch State Department annual climate country reports.
  • The administration should launch reforms that make climate diplomacy built to last in U.S. foreign relations, such as adding more officers, making them climate-smart, and making climate diplomacy a rewarding career path.

Read the issue brief: “How U.S. Diplomacy and Diplomats Can Help Get International Climate Action Back on Track” by Alan Yu

For more information or to speak with an expert, please contact Sam Hananel at [email protected] or 202-478-6327.