American Climate Leadership in the New Era



With the Biden-Harris administration announcing the US’s return to the Paris Agreement in early 2021, US leadership on climate change seems back on track. On one side, the US hosted the Leaders Summit on Climate in April 2021, reinitiated high-level US-China climate dialogue after a brief hiatus, and exercised convening power at G20 and COP. On the policy side, the nation submitted an ambitious Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) and passed the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) of 2022 – a breakthrough federal law channeling investments into domestic clean energy production. In all accounts, a paradigm shift reviving American leadership on climate is underway, despite rising challenges in energy security, supply chain, and geopolitical tension. 

The US federal government is serious about stepping up to lead global climate diplomacy, making significant strides under a short time to engage partners via G7, G20, and ministerial dialogues in raising ambitions and locking in climate commitments into texts through diplomacy, experience sharing, technical advisory and transfer. Treating the EU as a significant partner while working with China on climate cooperation, the US is serious about accruing benefits to different communities across the world. Opportunities ahead include reconstructing Ukraine with clean energy sources and partnering with China on areas such as methane emissions measurement and carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS). 

Domestic agenda also hasn’t lagged behind international efforts. The IRA, unprecedented in its scale, provides a golden moment for leadership, creating a path to US competitiveness in the global clean energy space. What’s special is that the private sector will be leading the energy transition through active engagement and participation throughout the process. Unlocking massive potentials in technological advancement and commercialization, the IRA boosts unprecedented climate and energy provisions of $370 billion in rebate programs, tax credits, grants, and loans.

Last but not least, non-profit organizations are setting the ball rolling. Navigating a rapidly changing geopolitical landscape, US-headquartered think-tanks, such World Resources Institute (WRI) and Brookings Institution, are driving global climate agenda with evidence-based policy advisory. For WRI, leadership in climate looks like ability to influence effective change through independent research with data and evidence and working closely with partner/host countries in driving local progress. For Brookings, established credibility as a serious independent voice brings about strong influence through research journals and stakeholder engagement. 

I’d end with reimagining the role of the current multilateral system to adapt to effectively answer to pressing challenges like climate change in the days ahead. While playing indispensable roles, UN agencies and development banks – such as the World Bank – must adapt to harness governmental legal power, political capital, and private sector resources to lead global engagements on climate, whether facilitating negotiations, channeling resources, or de-risking financing. The US can do more to lead a reform within the existing international framework to best leverage inter-governmental organizations for  constructive support for international cooperation towards securing a sustainable and resilient future for the planet.

Kevin Zongzhe Li,

Climate change

The energy sector is
central of efforts to
combat climate change

Climate change

In a hotter world energy
efficiency is more
important than ever