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A fire burns trees next to grazing land in the Amazon basin in Ze Doca, Brazil. (Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

US Lawmakers Praised for Pushing Sanctions to 'Crack Down Climate-Destroying Activities'

"It's time to treat the destruction of our climate as what it really is—a crime."

Jessica Corbett

A quartet of congressional progressives was applauded by the nonprofit EarthRights International on Thursday for urging members of President Joe Biden's Cabinet to use "targeted sanctions as a method of deterring reckless, climate-destroying behavior."

"Those who destroy the planet for profit, such as fossil fuel companies, need to face the consequences."

The lawmakers wrote in a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen that "in combination with diplomacy, international climate aid, global agreements, and voluntary pledges that can encourage positive climate action, targeted measures could deter government officials, corporations, and private individuals from causing additional harm."

In a statement, Keith Slack, director of strategy and campaigns for EarthRights International, welcomed the new sanctions call from Congresswoman Veronica Escobar (D-Texas) along with Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), which comes as world leaders are in Glasgow, Scotland for the COP26 climate summit that Biden attended earlier this week.

"Climate science clearly shows that we have a narrow window to act to avert climate catastrophe," Slack said. "It's time to treat the destruction of our climate as what it really is—a crime. Those who destroy the planet for profit, such as fossil fuel companies, need to face the consequences."

Slack highlighted that "worldwide, Black, Brown, Indigenous, and other frontline communities face violence, repression, and human rights abuses as powerful actors exploit the planet for profit," pointing to the Wampis Nation in Peru as just one example.

"Throughout the Amazon region, business, organized crime, and other corrupt actors drive deforestation and threaten the lives of environmental defenders," he said. "More than 300 people have been killed during the last decade in the context of conflicts over land in the Amazon region."

Echoing lawmakers' call for the administration to "use sanctions and all other tools at its disposal to crack down climate-destroying activities," the EarthRights International campaigner continued:

We use sanctions to address other serious global problems, like drug trafficking, organized crime, corruption, and human rights abuses. We need to add climate-wrecking behavior to that list… A great place to start is with the fossil fuel industry. Fossil fuel companies bear tremendous responsibility for the climate crisis and need to be held accountable for the harms they impose on people and the planet.

Frontline communities living in the shadows of fossil fuel development face the wrath of corporate power, inept governments, and an escalating climate crisis. To protect these communities and their rights, the U.S. government needs to sanction those who threaten and harm them.

Emphasizing that "reliance on fossil fuels is antithetical to solving the climate crisis," Slack noted that while "making soaring rhetorical statements," the Biden administration "puzzlingly… has also called for increased oil and gas production and has not yet canceled the Line 3 pipeline, despite vocal opposition to the project by Indigenous communities."

"We must also remember that strong climate action begins at home," he said. "The U.S. government needs to combine sanctions and other foreign policy tools with strong domestic accountability measures to ensure that U.S.-based corporations end their efforts to block the shift to a carbon-neutral economy."

The four lawmakers, in their letter, similarly said that "we need to rapidly transform our global economy on an unprecedented scale," meaning that "we must deploy all the foreign policy and domestic tools available to us."

Escobar and Markey, who spearheaded the letter, in April introduced the Targeting Environmental and Climate Recklessness Act (TECRA), which would codify the U.S. authority to sanction foreign individuals and corporations most responsible for exacerbating the climate emergency.

In addition to advocating for applying sanctions to "government officials, individuals, and corporations linked to climate-related corruption and human rights abuses," the members of Congress pushed for ramping up diplomatic engagement, particularly with the Chinese government.

The lawmakers said that the United States must work to ensure that Chinese development finance institutions "do not undermine global de-carbonization efforts" and should encourage the Asian nation to "develop and adopt safeguards to promote low-carbon, climate-resilient investments over high-carbon projects."

"China's recent commitment to eliminate its coal financing projects abroad, after pressure from the Biden administration," they wrote, "is a step in the right direction."

This post has been updated to include that U.S. President Joe Biden attended COP26 earlier this week.

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