Secretary of State Blinken lays out climate change foreign policy in Annapolis address

Standing with the Chesapeake Bay as a backdrop, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken laid out how the Biden administration will adjust foreign policy to incorporate goals of dealing with climate change.

Blinken, speaking Monday at a closed event at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation building in Annapolis, said that without action climate change would continue to melt glaciers and raise sea level so that the area where he stood would be underwater in 60 years.


“If this continues at the current pace, the bay will extend inland for miles overtaking the homes of 3 million people,” he said. “The landscape will be unrecognizable.”

The address was part of an administration push in advance of President Joe Biden’s virtual climate summit Thursday with 40 world leaders.


Blinken said the effects of climate change are manifesting themselves on the bay, as are some of the solutions. He cited Maryland’s steps to become carbon neutral by 2040. He cited the Chesapeake Bay Foundation headquarters building itself.

When it opened 20 years ago, it was the first LEED Platinum-certified building in the world.

Despite those early successes, Blinken said the U.S. is falling behind China, the largest producer and exporter of solar panels, wind turbines, batteries and electric vehicles.

“If we don’t catch up, America will miss the chance to shape the world’s climate future in a way that reflects our interests and values, and we’ll lose out on countless jobs for the American people,” Blinken said in prepared remarks for a speech in Annapolis.

Biden faces a vexing task: how to put forward a nonbinding but symbolic goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that will have a tangible impact on climate change efforts not only in the U.S., but throughout the world.

The emissions target, eagerly awaited by all sides of the climate debate, will signal how aggressively Biden wants to move on climate change, a divisive and expensive issue that has riled Republicans to complain about job-killing government overreach even as some on the left worry Biden has not gone far enough to address a profound threat to the planet.

The climate crisis poses a complex political challenge for Biden, since the problem is harder to see and far more difficult to produce measurable results on than either the coronavirus pandemic relief package or the infrastructure bill.

The target Biden chooses “is setting the tone for the level of ambition and the pace of emission reductions over the next decade,″ said Kate Larsen, a former White House adviser who helped develop President Barack Obama’s climate action plan.


The number has to be achievable by 2030 but aggressive enough to satisfy scientists and advocates who call the coming decade a crucial, make-or-break moment for slowing climate change, Larsen and other experts said.

Scientists, environmental groups and even business leaders are calling on Biden to set a target that would cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% below 2005 levels by 2030.

The 50% target, which most experts consider a likely outcome of intense deliberations underway at the White House, would nearly double the nation’s previous commitment and require dramatic changes in the power and transportation sectors, including significant increases in renewable energy, such as wind and solar power, and steep cuts in emissions from fossil fuels such as coal and oil.

Anything short of that goal could undermine Biden’s promise to prevent temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, experts say, while likely stirring up sharp criticism from international allies and Biden’s own supporters.

The target is significant, not just as a visible goal for the U.S. to achieve after four years of climate inaction under President Donald Trump, but also for “leveraging other countries,” Larsen said. “That helps domestically in the battle that comes after, which is implementing policies to achieve that target. We can make a better case politically at home if other countries are acting at the same level of ambition as the U.S.″

The 2030 goal, known as a Nationally Determined Contribution, or NDC, is a key part of the Paris climate agreement, which Biden rejoined on his first day in office. It’s also an important marker as Biden moves toward his ultimate goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.


“Clearly the science demands at least 50%” in reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, said Jake Schmidt, a climate expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council, a leading environmental group.

The 50% target “is ambitious, but it is achievable,” he said in an interview. It’s also a good climate message, he said: “People know what 50% means — it’s half.”

Whatever target Biden picks, the climate summit itself “proves the U.S. is back in rejoining the international effort″ to address climate change, said Larsen, now a director at the Rhodium Group, an independent research firm.

The summit is “the starting gun for climate diplomacy” after a four-year “hiatus” under Trump, she said. John Kerry, Biden’s climate envoy, has been pressing global leaders, including his counterpart in China, for commitments and alliances on climate efforts.

Blinken said in Annapolis that climate change will create more global strife. He said of the 20 counties most likely to feel its impact first, 12 are in armed conflict. Russia has begun to expand influence into the North Pole region now more open to sea travel because of warming seas.

He cited the potential impact on migration, noting that many of the immigrants at the Southern U.S. border are fleeing the results of massive storms driven by climate change. And he noted that U.S. military installations, including the Naval Academy in Annapolis and Navy facilities in Norfolk, Virginia, are threatened by rising sea levels and flooding.


He also said the State Department would provide resources to countries stepping up to address the causes of climate change and work to create opportunities for American companies. He used a massive solar panel project in Angola and aid to Bangladesh as examples.

But he said the Biden administration would not consider steps to address the problem by other countries as a trade-off for bad conduct.

“Climate change is not a trading card,” he said. “It is our future.”

Nathaniel Keohane, another former Obama White House adviser and now a vice president at the Environmental Defense Fund, said experts have coalesced around the need for the U.S. to reduce emissions by at least 50% by 2030.

“The number has to start with 5,” he said, adding, “We’ve done the math. We need at least 50%.”

The 2030 target is just one in a sometimes overlapping set of goals that Biden has outlined on climate. He also has said he expects to adopt a clean energy standard that would make electricity carbon-free by 2035, along with the wider goal of net-zero carbon emissions economywide by 2050.


Biden’s climate adviser, Gina McCarthy, acknowledged that the sheer volume of numbers can be confusing. At a forum last week, she and former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg said climate activists should focus on actions in the next decade.

“Let’s stop talking about 2050,” said McCarthy, who is leading White House efforts to develop U.S. climate commitments for 2030.


Associated Press reporter Matthew Daly contributed to this article.