Growing Bipartisan Consensus on Climate & International Development

November 1, 2021 By Katherine Larson

Beginning yesterday through November 12, foreign dignitaries, heads of state, and both Republican and Democratic Members of Congress descend upon Glasgow, Scotland for the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference (COP26).

In preparation for COP26, both the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis held hearings on climate change and international development in which Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle discussed the disproportionate impact of climate change on the developing world and low-income countries:

Growing bipartisan consensus around the threat of climate change comes amidst a year in which extreme weather events have dominated headlines worldwide. Record-breaking heatwaves have fueled devastating wildfires in Turkey, Greece, and the western U.S. and Canada, which have worsened COVID cases as air quality plummets.

Key Insights from Congress:

According to USAID, every dollar invested in climate adaptation and preparedness over the next decade will yield at least three times the return in net benefits. Recognizing the importance of immediate action and investment, Members of Congress drew upon the vast connections between the changing climate and sustainable international development work:

  • Joaquin Castro (D-TX): “I strongly believe that combating climate change is critical to effective development outcomes. If we fail to take climate into account in our development projects, the roads we build will be washed away during the next hurricane season. Not taking climate into account leads to less sustainable results. In short, international development is climate policy.” 
  • Buddy Carter (R-GA): “It is vital to recognize that communities urgently need help to adapt to the changing climate. It is too late to focus solely on reducing emissions … We have to practice mitigation, adaptation and innovation.”
  • Bill Keating (D-MA): “Our international climate development work should focus on mitigating the impacts of climate change and extreme weather events, provide humanitarian and disaster assistance, and build climate resilient communities around the world in a fair and equitable manner.”
  • Nicole Malliotakis (R-NY): “My constituents who have been devastated by Hurricane Sandy, and recently by Ida have seen firsthand the rising intensity and frequency of storms in our country, and they know that the impact of climate change is real.”

Key Insights from USAID, MCC, & DFC:

In the House Foreign Affairs Committee Hearing, representatives engaged with three witnesses from the Administration who outlined current climate adaptation and mitigation strategies and emphasized the need for continued support from Congress:

  • Gillian Caldwell (Climate Change Coordinator, USAID): Failure to act globally will have serious consequences locally. But climate change is not just an existential threat. It’s a strategic opportunity for the United States. Expanding international markets for clean energy creates good job opportunities here at home. Working with communities overseas to adapt to climate change and improve economic opportunities addresses the core drivers of migration.”
  • Jonathan Richart (Deputy VP of Infrastructure, Environment, and the Private Sector, MCC): “Without significant interventions, climate change combined with the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic will reverse significant development gains made over the last 20 years and will exacerbate global poverty and inequality.”
  • Jake Levine (Chief Climate Officer, DFC): “We will offer countries a positive vision and a sustainable, transparent alternative to coercive financing models driven by authoritarian governments. It is important to underscore that our climate efforts will continue to reflect a long-standing bipartisan focus on development.”

Many Members of Congress are attending COP26 including a bipartisan delegation led by Senator Chris Coons (D-DE), as well as delegations led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Rep. Garrett Graves (R-LA). The international community is watching closely for further commitments and strategies to mitigate the effects of climate change in the developing world. USAID is expected to release a new climate adaptation plan during the conference, and with 13 Cabinet-level officials attending, COP26 provides a high-profile opportunity for the U.S. to demonstrate leadership on this important issue.