Blog | Feb. 5, 2021

It’s time to end the power of climate-wrecking industries in the US

The world is in the midst of a watershed moment for tackling the climate crisis. In the lead up to the next major climate summit at COP26, the surge of climate action coming from the US could help mark 2021 as a historic turning point. But curbing climate breakdown will take a movement – not a moment – and the need for bold and urgent action presses on. 

This year Global Witness will be fighting for the US to truly tackle the climate crisis by:  

  • Ending support for climate-wrecking fossil gas, including ending the exports that hook the world on fossil fuels
  • Upholding climate justice to protect communities most impacted, particularly communities of color
  • Cutting off the funding pipeline behind the destruction of climate-critical forests
  • Ending the power and influence of big polluters

Following years of power-building by youth activists, Indigenous land defenders, and frontline community leaders, President Biden entered office with promises to prioritize climate justice. He has so far acted swiftly: On his first day in office, he initiated the US’s return to the Paris Climate Agreement and canceled the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline. Last week, his administration announced a series of executive orders including a pause on new oil and gas leases on public lands and waters, an Earth Day climate leadership summit, and the intention to eliminate federal fossil fuel subsidies to the extent possible under existing law.

Yet this should be only the beginning. Addressing climate breakdown requires systemic changes that must be implemented rapidly, thoroughly, and equitably to address the needs of communities most impacted by our longstanding reliance on dirty energy. In particular, this will mean a fundamental change in the global economic system, stopping those who profit off the destruction of the planet.

End support for climate-wrecking fossil gas, banning exports

We are calling on the US to shut down the fossil fuel industry’s efforts to champion gas as climate-friendly, including for export. Fossil fuel exports allow big oil and gas companies to ship their climate pollution abroad, hooking other countries into reliance on fossil fuels while jeopardizing the health and safety of communities near extraction and export sites. This is particularly acute along the US Gulf Coast, where a toxic infrastructure buildout is ongoing. President Biden should commit to Build Back Fossil Free, and put an end to all fossil fuel exports.  

Uphold climate justice and protect communities most impacted

We are pleased to see the Biden administration following through on its promises to uphold environmental justice by pledging that 40% of the benefits from federal investments in clean energy would flow to communities that bear disproportionate pollution. A starting point is to map out those communities, as proposed in a bill introduced by Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO) which Global Witness has endorsed. However, Biden must also listen to the calls of Indigenous leaders and stop destructive, climate-wrecking pipelines, including Line 3 and the Dakota Access pipeline.  

Cut off the funding pipeline behind the destruction of climate-critical forests

The US must recognize its role in the ongoing decimation of climate-critical forests. Tropical forests act as vital carbon sinks and yet are under threat, often due to big agribusiness. Global Witness has exposed how the big banks and investors that prop up harmful agribusiness are complicit. Tackling deforestation appears to be on Biden’s radar, after promising on the campaign trail to mobilize $20 billion to help keep the Amazon rainforest standing. His priorities should include harmonizing US trade and climate policy, particularly for the Amazon, while Congress must end the US’ complacency in global deforestation and regulate financial institutions to have effective due diligence processes.  

End the power and influence of big polluters

Undoubtedly, the US fossil fuel industry and its allies will push back on the transformative healing and progress our planet requires. This battle has already started in Congress, with politicians funded and backed by the fossil fuel industry resisting the new administration’s agenda.

Following the historic nomination of Rep. Deb Haaland as Secretary of Interior – who would be the first Native woman in the position – a handful of Republican members of Congress are fighting her confirmation. Rep. Pete Stauber (R-MN), who has led the opposition citing Haaland's views on mining and fracking, has received $185,467[i] in campaign contributions from the energy and natural resources sector since 2017.

Some fossil fuel-friendly Democrats have also pushed back against climate momentum. Four Texas Democrats urged Biden to reject policies that would ban “responsible” oil and gas leasing on federal lands. Yet as Friends of the Earth US pointed out, together those four officials received over $600,000[ii] from the oil and gas industry in 2019-2020.

As COP26 in Glasgow approaches later this year, Global Witness is doubling down on tackling the climate crisis and holding those responsible to account. That means working with our partners around the world in the climate movement to take on big polluters and destructive operations, and to create the systemic changes needed to protect people and the planet.


[i] https://www.opensecrets.org/members-of-congress/pete-stauber/industries?cid=N00041511&cycle=CAREER&type=I

[ii] https://www.opensecrets.org/members-of-congress/summary?cid=N00038809

https://www.opensecrets.org/members-of-congress/summary?cid=N00024978

https://www.opensecrets.org/members-of-congress/summary?cid=N00041194

https://www.opensecrets.org/members-of-congress/summary?cid=N00033839


Listing image credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

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