Good Climate Policy Should Fight Corruption and Organized Crime

Last week, climate czar John Kerry flew to Europe to advance the Biden administration’s policy agenda ahead of the Leaders Climate Summit that President Biden will host on Earth Day, April 22. The summit provides an opportunity for Biden and his foreign counterparts to recognize that transnational corruption and organized crime are both key drivers of climate change because of their role in reckless deforestation.

President Biden has put both climate change and the fight against global corruption at the center of U.S. national security and foreign policy. He is right to do so, but he needs to recognize these are not separate issues. Authoritarianism, government corruption, and organized crime have been complicit in some of the most egregious environmental crimes of our era. Therefore, a successful climate strategy must integrate efforts to promote transparency and good governance. This should include deployment of all available tools of statecraft and law enforcement, like sanctions, travel bans, asset freezes, and indictments, to go after those who are making our planet less inhabitable.

The Climate Council reported in 2019 that the loss of forested areas in tropical regions contributed the equivalent of 8 to 10 percent of human carbon emissions in the years 2015-2017. According to the International Panel on Climate Change, deforestation and degradation of other natural habitats accounts for 13 percent of human emissions linked to agriculture, forestry, and other land uses. The actual figure might be higher.

Trees are the most effective, low-tech solution for carbon capture. Reforestation, “rewilding,” and conservation are key components in the fight against climate change, comprising both national and international initiatives, like New Zealand’s One Billion Trees Program and Africa’s Great Green Wall. But reforestation is not offsetting the dramatic shrinking of woodlands, especially in tropical regions where the largest concentration of forest land is. More trees are being cut than are being planted.

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