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A woman walks to her eroded shelter home near the Meghna river in Bangladesh.
A woman walks to her eroded shelter home near the Meghna river in Bangladesh on September 12, 2019.
Zakir Hossain Chowdhury/Barcroft Media/Getty Images

How 2020 Democrats will address climate change through foreign policy

Several ideas for improving climate security.

To find out how Democratic 2020 candidates would use their presidential powers to address climate change, we sent six key questions to every campaign. This post includes seven candidates’ answers to the sixth question. You can find answers to the other five questions on the landing page.


The Pentagon has called climate change a “threat multiplier” in international conflict. At the same time, climate change stands to have the worst impacts on countries that contributed least to the problem. How should the US brace for global climate chaos? And what will you do to help other countries prepare for the impending disruption?

Joe Biden: To address our defense and intelligence leaders’ warnings about the threats climate change poses to global stability and security, [I] will elevate climate change as a national security priority. Specifically, [I] will:

  • Commission a National Intelligence Estimate on national and economic security impacts from climate change, including water scarcity, increased risks of conflict, impacts on state fragility, and the security implications of resulting large-scale migrations.
  • Direct the Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to report to [me] annually on the impacts of climate change on defense posture, readiness, infrastructure, and threat picture, as well as the Defense Department’s strategy to manage those impacts.
  • Direct the National Security Advisor, working with the Secretaries of Defense, State, Homeland Security, and others, to develop a comprehensive strategy to address the security implications of climate change.
  • Invest in the climate resilience of our military bases and critical security infrastructure across the US and around the world to deal with the risk of climate change effects, including extreme weather events that caused over $8 billion in damages to Department of Defense bases in just the last year. [I] will direct the Secretaries of Defense and Energy to develop specific inventories of the most acute vulnerabilities in our critical infrastructure due to climate change, and prioritize upgrades, hardening, and resilience investments to mitigate them.

In addition, [I] will recommit the US to the Green Climate Fund, fulfilling America’s pledge and enhancing our security by helping developing countries better manage the adverse effects of climate change, including conflict, migration, and state fragility. The US will also work with international financial institutions to pursue shared debt relief for countries provided that they use those funds for climate-friendly development.

As president, [I] will rejoin the Paris Agreement. But simply rejoining is not enough. [I] will use every tool of American foreign policy to push the rest of the world to raise their ambitions alongside the US. Part of this effort includes providing “green debt relief” for developing countries that make climate commitments.


Elizabeth Warren: I support returning to the Paris agreement — and then using that as a basis to go further. My Green Marshall Plan is a commitment to using all the tools in our diplomatic and economic arsenal to encourage other countries to purchase and deploy American-made clean energy technology. It includes a new federal office dedicated to selling American-made clean, renewable, and emission-free energy technology abroad and a $100 billion commitment to assisting countries to purchase and deploy this technology.

In my plan to overhaul how Washington does trade, I will use all the tools of international trade to marshall global action on climate. I will re-enter the United States into the Paris Climate Accord and make being party to that agreement and fossil fuel subsidies preconditions for any trade agreement. I will push for a multilateral trade agreement to protect green policies like subsidies for clean energy and impose a border carbon adjustment to charge a fee to imported goods made using carbon-intensive processes. I also make clear that countries who can’t live up to these standards won’t be abandoned. I will commit to providing technical assistance to help countries improve.

I will also require the Pentagon to achieve net zero carbon emissions for all its non-combat bases and infrastructure by 2030 — consistent with the objectives of the Green New Deal. I will invest billions of dollars into a new, 10-year research and development program focused on microgrids and advanced energy storage and direct the Pentagon to produce an annual report evaluating the climate vulnerability of every US military base at home and abroad.


Bernie Sanders: [I] know the importance of American responsibility and leadership on climate change. As President, [I] will take that role seriously and bring a commitment to the rest of the world on behalf of the American people to promote peace and aggressively reduce our emissions in an effort to get the international community to agree to limit global emissions to keep us at or below 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming. This will ensure the US remains in a position of technological leadership and make us competitive on all sustainable energy technology to achieve our global goal of decarbonization by 2050.

The US has for over a century spewed carbon pollution emissions into the atmosphere in order to gain economic standing in the world. Therefore, we have an outsized obligation to help less industrialized nations meet their targets while improving quality of life. We will reduce domestic emissions by at least 71 percent by 2030 and reduce emissions among less industrialized nations by 36 percent by 2030 — the total equivalent of reducing our domestic emissions by 161 percent.

Despite the major shortcomings of the Paris climate agreement, one primary reason why the globe was able to come together to sign the Paris agreement was that major developed nations like the US finally recognized that they had an outsized role in the creation of the climate crisis, and an outsized obligation to less industrialized nations to help them achieve the same kind of carbon pollution emissions reductions while improving the quality of life in those countries. In order to help countries of the Global South with climate adaptation efforts, the US will invest $200 billion in the Green Climate Fund for the equitable transfer of renewable technologies, climate adaptation, and assistance in adopting sustainable energies. US leadership can ensure that the developing world secures reliable electricity, reduces poverty and pollution-related fatalities, creates greater net employment, and improves living standards — all while reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.

[I] will bring together the leaders of the major industrialized nations with the goal of using the trillions of dollars our nations spend on misguided wars and weapons of mass destruction to instead work together internationally to combat our climate crisis and take on the fossil fuel industry. [I] recognize that the Pentagon is the largest institutional emitter of greenhouse gases in the world and that the US spends $81 billion annually to protect oil supplies and transport routes. We are uniquely positioned to lead the planet in a wholesale shift away from militarism.

[I] also recognize that climate change will only accelerate the unrest and migration that we are seeing today. We must address the root causes of migration, including rewriting disastrous trade policies and implementing a humane foreign policy that strengths labor and environmental standards across the world. The US must live up to its ideals as a nation by welcoming those who seek refuge, including from climate disasters.


Pete Buttigieg: Climate is a threat multiplier and a threat shifter. Some of the most urgent threats the US faces today — from crises that originate in Syria, Sudan, and countries in Central America — are made worse by the extra stresses put on those states by failing crops and other effects of climate change. We have both an obligation, alongside other big emitters of warming gases, and a strong national interest in reducing those dangers. We can help by contributing fully to the Green Climate Fund and other funds that are putting resources toward helping countries adapt, and by integrating prevention and mitigation strategies into our own foreign aid. Over the long haul, the best and only way to manage these problems is to stop and reverse climate change through serious action at home and globally as part of our foreign policy.


Tom Steyer: Increased droughts and other climate-related disasters are spurring more violent conflicts and increasingly volatile political situations around the globe. Hundreds of millions of people around the world risk losing their homes and livelihoods to sea-level rise, extreme weather, and political conflict driven by climate impacts. The Commander-in-Chief must protect us from the immediate dangers of climate change and ensure our country’s prosperity but also help to reduce the causes of conflict globally and prevent mass human rights abuses that can arise in times of disaster or resource stress.

To create a safer and more secure America, we must secure our military bases against extreme weather, and improve our systems to prevent and recover from disasters. We also need to reestablish the United States as a global economic and moral leader by leading the worldwide transition to clean energy, redoubling our commitments to international agreements such as the Paris Accord, providing international aid for disaster relief and for countries that are transitioning away from fossil fuels, and helping protect the human rights of the growing number of people displaced by disasters.


Amy Klobuchar: As President [I] will elevate the voices of our military and security experts who have repeatedly warned that climate change will increase the risks of international conflict and humanitarian crises. [I] believe that we must work with our allies to support countries most affected by climate change, including addressing global food and water shortages, supporting climate resilient development, helping countries adapt to the effects of climate change, and preparing for the increased risk of natural disasters.


Mike Bloomberg: President Trump doesn’t just deny that climate change is real – he has also weakened our most powerful tool in the fight against climate change: our international leadership.

No single country can beat climate change, or handle its impacts – more refugees, more conflicts over water, more political instability – by acting alone. Confronting those threats requires strong alliances. President Trump has attacked and insulted our allies. I will work with them and restore our commitment to international cooperation, including on climate change. I have a robust plan with specific steps to restore U.S. leadership, rally the world to ambitious carbon reductions and cooperate to manage climate-related conflict that starts with rejoining the Paris Agreement, which I will do on day one.

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