Opinion | Let’s All Agree That a Global Climate Summit Won’t Save the Planet

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President Biden could help upend our current world order, redirecting the generous financial and diplomatic support the United States has offered emitters toward the common good. Declaring a national emergency, for instance, would unlock the authority to reinstate the crude-oil export ban, lifted just days after the Paris Agreement was brokered.

The United States could push creditors, including China, to embrace widespread debt relief. Easing such burdens is a precondition for many countries to cope with worsening weather. Relief could prevent them from turning to the quick cash promised by oil and gas development. That should be paired with a turn away from tying climate finance to onerous new debts, as loans now account for a large majority of public climate finance. A U.S. pledge of $800 billion through 2030 for global mitigation, adaptation and recovery efforts would set a standard for countries to pay their fair share.

The State Department can urge fellow Group of 20 members to follow through on longstanding calls to phase out fossil fuel subsidies. The department could, crucially, also work with fellow oil-producing countries to ensure that those whose public budgets rely on oil revenues — facing a $9 trillion shortfall — don’t crash violently out of the fossil fuel age.

There are plenty of signs of progress. The U.S. trade representative, Katherine Tai, has pledged to prioritize climate action, calling out the multilateral trading system for putting “countries with higher environmental standards at a competitive disadvantage.” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen supports issuing $650 billion worth of funds via I.M.F. Special Drawing Rights to aid global recovery efforts — a worthy sum, but far below the $3 trillion that civil-society groups demand. Mr. Biden wants to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies. Amid U.S. officials’ escalating rhetoric toward China, the president’s climate envoy, John Kerry, and his Chinese counterpart agreed that their countries would cooperate on the climate crisis. And beyond requiring that banks disclose climate risks — an increasingly popular demand among Democrats — financial regulators under existing Dodd-Frank powers could discourage and even prohibit Wall Street investments in fossil fuels, a means of limiting risks to the stability of the financial system like the climate crisis.

But while polling from Data for Progress, a progressive think tank, show that a Green New Deal and climate-smart trade policy are popular among voters, any change to foreign policy at the scale this crisis demands must survive an all-out assault from the fossil fuel industry, the lawmakers it funds and a foreign-policy establishment hellbent on placing America firmly back on top of its beloved rules-based international order. These fights are unavoidable and worth having.

As with the pandemic, global cooperation in the climate crisis is key — so is curbing corporate power. We’re all on this sick little craft together. Let’s try not to crash it.

Ms. Aronoff is a staff writer at The New Republic and the author of “Overheated: How Capitalism Broke the Planet — And How We Fight Back.”

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