Department of State

Department of State

U.S. engagement on climate change is more necessary and urgent than ever—and the State Department will need to make best use of its tools to drive the international effort starting on day one.

  • There is little time left to avoid a dangerous, potentially catastrophic climate situation.
  • Only the United States is in a position to deliver the scale and speed of necessary global action to avoid such an outcome. The absence of U.S. leadership on the world stage has been palpable.
  • Climate change is a key economic, national security, and diplomatic issue for other countries.

The walk-back on the Paris Agreement and domestic climate action will create diplomatic challenges for the United States, and COVID-19 has refocused countries’ efforts and priorities toward short-term economic recovery. But the world is nevertheless hungry for leadership in the global response to climate change and will be seeking strong U.S. re-engagement, action, and funding.

The nature of the U.S. climate mission in the early 2020s will be broader than it was in the mid-2010s, which will have implications for the State Department’s priorities and organization. Having successfully driven completion of the Paris Agreement, including through robust cooperation with China, the United States now needs to focus on achievement of the three Paris objectives—a safe global temperature; increased climate resilience; and aligning financial flows with the Paris goals. There will continue to be negotiations and other forms of diplomatic engagement across multiple international fora; in addition, robust implementation will now also be a top priority.

Lead Authors

Nat Keohane, Environmental Defense Fund; former Special Assistant to President Obama Sue Biniaz, former Deputy Legal Adviser and lead climate lawyer at the State Department

* Professional affiliations do not imply organizational or governmental endorsement of these recommendations