CFR invited the presidential candidates challenging President Trump in the 2020 election to articulate their positions on twelve critical foreign policy issues. Candidates’ answers are posted exactly as they are received. View all questions here.
How would you discourage the proliferation of coal-fired power plants in developing countries?
In June, I released the Biden Plan for a Clean Energy Revolution and Environmental Justice. It offered a comprehensive agenda for meeting the challenge of climate change both at home and around the world. As part of the Biden Plan, I announced that the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the Export-Import Bank, and the new U.S. International Development Finance Corporation would be prohibited from any financing for coal-fired power plants so that U.S. finance is no longer a dirtier alternative to the World Bank. To provide incentives for, and ease the burden on, developing countries, I further announced that the United States would both recommit to the Green Climate Fund and work with international financial institutions to pursue shared debt relief for countries that use those funds for climate-friendly development. The Biden Plan also envisions building on G20 efforts during the Obama-Biden administration to secure a worldwide ban on fossil fuel subsidies. And it outlines a number of specific steps to deter and dissuade China from subsidizing coal exports and outsourcing carbon pollution, including G20 commitments to end all export finance subsidies of high-carbon projects, offering alternative sources of development financing for lower-carbon investments, and making future U.S.-China bilateral agreements on carbon mitigation contingent on China ending its export subsidies for coal.
The infrastructure of the 21st century must move toward renewable and clean energy. There are a number of levers we should use to discourage the proliferation of coal-fired power plants around the world, including starving financing for coal-fired projects through our voting power in international financing institutions; pressuring our friends and allies to halt the exporting of coal-fired plants; increasing funding for renewable energy projects and clean development; and encouraging smart grid build-outs and better energy standards across the developing world to reduce demand for coal-fired power plants. If I am president, the United States will lead, not only by example and in a way that ensures a just transition for workers in impacted communities, but through affirmative steps to encourage action across the globe.
The more important thing we need to do is return to the Paris Agreement so we can be part of the international elements of climate change solutions. We simply can’t lead if we are not a part of the Agreement.
The World Bank has predicted that 143 million people would be internally displaced without action, just in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and South Asia. Building more coal plants in these countries is not the answer. Instead we must work with the IPCC and other multi-lateral organizations to promote international investments in energy production that are balanced with carbon capture and re-use, re-forestation, and other strategies that will bring other nations toward our shared priority of carbon-neutrality by 2050 at the latest.
Fifty years ago, American ingenuity put a man on the moon – a feat no other country has matched. Today, America can and will lead the way in solving the challenge of climate change. In my administration, Commerce, Energy, State, and the Export-Import Bank all will play a larger role globally in helping other countries to consider and adopt U.S.-engineered carbon-free energy technologies.
The US needs to lead the way in the global exit of coal-fired power— a process already underway. First, as President, I will quadruple clean energy research and development in the US and enact additional policies to support the deployment of renewables, storage, carbon capture and energy efficiency in homes and building retrofits. Second, I would also convene local leaders from across the globe at a Pittsburgh Climate Summit to commit to decisive action within their communities and create local initiatives to deploy clean energy policy and technologies that will continue to drive down the price of clean energy and move on from coal. Third, the US will work through global institutions to reduce and end global fossil fuel subsidies, many of which have unfairly favored coal, starting at home. Finally, the US can leverage trade agreements to reduce the amount of coal funded through China's Belt and Road initiative.
As populations grow in the developing world, it is easiest to turn to cheap, dirty energy sources to meet increasing energy needs. Developing countries often don’t have the luxury of choosing more expensive, but cleaner, energy sources and greener infrastructure. This is where U.S. global leadership is so incredibly important. There are several policies that the U.S. can lead on to support global renewable energy efforts and many of them center on a key U.S. advantage – innovation which is why I have called for a five-fold increase in Department of Energy basic research to unleash the potential in our scientific community. We must continue to invest in renewable energy sources that can be built and operated for cheaper costs to make these energy sources more economically viable around the world. Additionally, we must invest in direct air capture and negative emissions technologies which suck carbon out of the atmosphere like a vacuum. The UNIPCC report stated that if we want to meet the global emissions reductions goals, we must invest in technology to remove carbon from the atmosphere. The U.S. can become a leader in advancing and exporting this technology for it to be used more widely and at a cheaper cost. The U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, which was the first global effort where almost all countries around the world committed to addressing climate change, was a mistake. As president, I would rejoin the Paris Agreement on day one.
First, I would rejoin the Paris Agreement, so that the world understands America is serious about meeting the most complex, far-reaching challenge of our time – climate change. If we’re going to be successful, then countries, states, and cities need to transition away from the dirtiest sources of fuel on the planet. Governments around the world should be bringing dangerous coal-fired power plants offline, not bringing new plants online, and underscoring that necessity should be front and center in every one of our bilateral relationships. In addition to applying diplomatic pressure, the U.S. can better assist partners around the world in making the necessary energy transition by providing technical guidance, policy support, and access to capital.
We should also play a leadership role in compelling international institutions to use their leverage to end subsidies for dirty fuel. And we should invest heavily in clean energy R&D and advanced energy storage and bringing the transformative technologies that have already been developed right here in the U.S. to scale around the world.
The best way for the United States to confront climate change is through an ambitious national project at home and by rejoining the Paris Climate Accords to spur a clean energy transition abroad. The United States should lead by example, showing other countries it is not only viable, but economically advantageous, to make transformative investments in green energy. That’s why I have proposed a comprehensive, $5 trillion plan to fight climate change through investment in infrastructure, innovation, and American workers and communities. We cannot credibly call upon developing nations to reduce climate emissions unless we do the same.
But many countries need more than an example from the United States. They need technical and financial assistance to transition away from fossil fuels. While developing countries contribute the least to climate change, they have the least financial capacity to mitigate its catastrophic effects. Instead of leading the world in a green energy transition, President Trump has gutted U.S. funding for institutions like the Green Climate Fund and Global Environmental Facility - programs that are crucial to helping developing countries shift to sustainable energy. As President, I will restore assistance to these vital institutions and reestablish American leadership in the global fight against climate change.
By turning America into the number one producer of green technologies and energy efficient products. America has a transformational opportunity to not just ensure America’s future energy needs are clean and sustainable, putting millions to work, and rebuilding our manufacturing sector-- but exporting those products abroad to encourage and build THEIR clean energy infrastructure.
Solving our climate crisis requires a major diplomatic campaign. A major goal of U.S. foreign policy should be to create the conditions for all countries to transition to carbon-neutral energy. That includes developing countries that burn coal. The first thing we must do is act aggressively to decarbonize our own economy so that we have the credibility and influence to lead. As we do so, we should orchestrate a multilateral campaign — a Green New Deal for the World — to coordinate investment in green technology and make that technology widely available through long-term financing for the poor countries that currently depend on coal and other fossil fuels.
As President, I will immediately move to re-join the Paris Climate Accord, and not only work to compel nations to meet their commitments but to increase them. It is absolutely imperative that we restore US global leadership in this critical multilateral effort so that we can collectively disarm the catastrophic threat of climate change. We simply cannot do it alone: the United States can only achieve 15% of the required reduction of greenhouse gas emissions on our own before that time bomb explodes on us.
On the issue of coal-plants, we must deal with the problem where it is. That means working directly with China, which is set to build over 1600 coal plants in the next decade, including those to be dismantled in China and rebuilt in other countries as part of its Belt and Road Initiative. We must help developing countries access the renewable technologies being pioneered here in the United States and in other countries, so they need not rely on Chinese coal plants, or their own. With the appropriate financial incentives from us — and, importantly, from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund — we can confront this global threat. We must also, as mentioned above, ensure that as majorities in developing nations move into the middle class, we help them adopt the best technologies in renewable energy and in the most energy efficient appliances.
Global warming is a global problem that will be devastating to us no matter what we do alone — so we must bring the world along with us as we strive to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. On the particular issue of coal, we can work to establish a date certain after which coal exports will be banned. We currently export 12% of all U.S. coal production, so we are perpetuating the use of this major source of pollution and carbon emissions. However, this must be done in conjunction with the training for fossil fuel workers required to transition to the replacement manufacturing green energy jobs.
A reduction in global coal consumption and new coal-fired plants will only occur where there are economical alternatives available for these nations.
The good news is that while there are still technical problems to solve in renewable generation and storage, solar and wind are generally cheaper than coal. Domestically, I have already set an ambitious target of achieving 100% clean, renewable, and zero-emission electricity by 2035. My Green Apollo Plan would provide $400 billion investment over ten years in clean energy research and development to help solve remaining technical challenges. And my Green Marshall Plan will allow us to lead the world in manufacturing and exporting green alternatives, including by providing $100 billion over ten years to assist countries to purchase and deploy American-made clean, renewable, and emission-free energy technology. To make it affordable, I’ll offer incentives to countries hardest hit by the climate crisis, or in exchange for countries making regulatory changes that will further reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
At the same time, we need to work to end government subsidies for fossil fuels. While the main international development banks have stopped financing coal projects and many private banks are starting to do the same, some governments and state-owned enterprises are playing an increasing role in the financing of new coal power projects. The U.S. should not provide funds for international development projects focused on fossil fuel infrastructure. And under my trade plan, the United States would insist on the elimination of domestic fossil fuel subsidies as a precondition for any trade agreement we make.
Dealing with climate and carbon emissions will be at the top of my list. I think, though, that often when developing countries are pursuing coal power, they are doing so for lack of a viable alternative. As a next-worst measure, we should be looking into ways to provide access for them to cleaner and more carbon-efficient natural gas, as well as renewable energy development and civilian nuclear power plants.
We have the opportunity to leap frog over fossil fuels and dirty energy and build clean renewable energy systems in developing countries. The US should redirect subsidies away from fossil fuels including coal and invest them in building renewable energy power, both in the US and abroad.
The first step to any action on climate change is to rejoin the Paris Accords so that we have the moral authority and allies in order to fight the existential threat that is climate change.
In order to combat the development of fossil fuel power expanding to developing countries, we have to provide a viable alternative. China is currently using its Belt and Road Initiative to invest in projects in developing nations to create economic and cultural bonds between their countries; we have to provide a cleaner and more democratic alternative.
Climate change, while a threat, is also a massive opportunity for the United States to regain its position as an innovator while relocating the energy sector within our borders. By providing grants, investments, and tax incentives, we can develop clean energy and carbon capture technologies, and then help the rest of the world get their energy from clean, American-made sources. The whole world should be using US solar panels, turbines, and other renewable technologies.
By engaging in this work, we can not only make the world cleaner and more sustainable, but we can develop relationships with developing countries and push them towards a more democratic future.
I would ensure that the U.S. Export-Import Bank does not provide any financing for the development of coal-fired power plants in developing countries, and I would work with the international community to push other international development banks and financial institutions to end financing for these projects as well. I would refocus our overseas investments in sustainable clean and renewable energy, including incentivizing the development of American clean energy technology that can be exported overseas. I would also ensure that the United States stays in the Paris Climate Accord and work to negotiate stronger emissions reduction targets for all countries in order to achieve net-zero global carbon emissions by 2050.
We need to make clean energy more cost-effective than coal for developing countries. That means investing hundreds of billions of dollars in carbon capture and distributed power technologies, so the United States (not China) can either sell or give those technologies to developing nations.
We should also rejoin the Paris Climate Accord immediately, and we must also go further. China accounts for a much larger percentage of global emissions than the United States, but even as they pollute the world, China is leading the charge towards a sustainable future. If we hope to not only save the planet but also remain the economic and diplomatic leaders of it, we need to make climate change a top priority in our investment, foreign policy, and national security decisions. And we must do so now before it’s too late.