The U.S. government has used sanctions to fight corruption and human rights abuses around the world. Sanctions can also help to deter climate-destroying behavior.
In 2017, the U.S. government hit billionaire mining magnate Dan Gertler with economic and travel sanctions that sharply curtailed his ability to do business in the United States. The Treasury Department alleged Gertler had engaged in wide-ranging corrupt practices in pursuing mega deals to exploit natural resources in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Sanctions of the type put on Gertler are a key tool in the U.S. government’s diplomatic arsenal and can generate real pain for those sanctioned.
The drivers of climate change link closely to illegal resource extraction, corruption, and human rights abuses. Illegal deforestation in the Amazon, for example, has not only harmed the climate but has also led to widespread violations of Indigenous rights.
Two Democratic lawmakers are proposing that the U.S. government use sanctions to help stop some of the most egregious forms of climate destruction. Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Representative Veronica Escobar (D-Texas) have introduced the Targeting Environmental and Climate Recklessness Act (TECRA), which would empower the U.S. government to use its powerful sanctions tools in response to apply economic and travel sanctions to individuals engaging in climate-destroying activities. It’s an approach that reflects the aggressiveness and innovation that are desperately needed to take on the global climate crisis.
TECRA focuses on three types of activities that are particularly destructive for the climate:
(1) Construction of “subcritical” coal-fired power plants, the most emissions-intensive form of power generation.
(2) Actions that contribute to illegal deforestation such as logging, mining, and agriculture.
(3) Knowingly misrepresenting the potential climate impacts of infrastructure projects.
Sanctions to be levied would include denial of admission to the U.S. and denial of access to U.S. financial markets. In this way, the bill elevates climate destruction to the same level of crimes such as grand corruption that are subject to sanction.
Another key feature of TECRA is expanding the definition of sanctions covered by the Global Magnitsky Act of 2016. This landmark legislation originally passed in response to the Russian government’s targeting of Russian lawyer and corruption-fighter Sergei Magnitsky, who was murdered by the Putin regime. The law enables the government to place sanctions on individuals and governments implicated in large-scale corruption and human rights abuses. Under TECRA, the definition of sanctionable actions would expand to include actions of corruption resulting in climate damage and human rights abuses. For instance, targeting land and environmental defenders — who live and work on the front lines of the climate crisis by fighting fossil fuels and forest-destroying infrastructure projects.
Passage of TECRA would send a clear signal that the U.S. government is serious about fighting climate change and could give pause to those keen on pushing climate-destroying projects.
Of course, a TECRA-type approach needs to be part of a broader U.S. strategy that includes actions at home and abroad. The U.S. government and U.S. corporations bear outsized responsibility for the climate crisis. U.S. sanctions only apply to foreign actors and cannot be used against U.S. citizens or corporations.
The United States needs to take similarly aggressive actions at home to stop destructive climate projects. For instance, stopping pipeline projects like DAPL and Line 3, which pose an imminent threat to clean water and air for both the Indigenous communities that live near the pipelines and the broader public.
The strength of TECRA is that it treats deliberate acts of climate destruction with the severity they deserve. The urgency of the climate crisis requires action against such acts and the establishment of global norms and rules to prohibit them. Indeed, to escape the worst effects of climate change, we are going to need to use every tool — technological, political, diplomatic, economic, judicial — in the governance toolbox. TECRA can be one such tool. EarthRights is calling for its passage. We urge you to contact your Senators and House member and ask them to show strong climate leadership by supporting the bill. Take action here.