While US voters cast their ballot largely on domestic issues, the result of their vote has far reaching implications for people all over the world. For people in the countries where Trócaire works, the US President has a powerful role in shaping global policies on issues such as climate change, security, migration and aid.
From a global perspective, here are five issues the US President needs to prioritise:
1. Show leadership on tackling climate change
The United States is one of the world’s worst polluters, emitting 15.5 metric tonnes of CO2 per person each year. This is twice Ireland’s rate (7.9) and up to 100 times the rate of countries such as South Sudan, Kenya and Malawi – countries that continue to feel the worst impacts of climate change.
As a major polluter and a leading economy, the US urgently needs to engage with global efforts to tackle this worsening crisis. Worryingly, the count began on the day the US officially withdrew from the Paris Agreement. If elected, Joe Biden has pledged to rejoin the Paris Agreement.
The US itself faces hundreds of billions of dollars in economic losses due to rising temperatures, flooding, wildfires and heatwaves. But the impacts of climate change are being felt harder elsewhere. The US election took place on the day a Category 4 hurricane hit Nicaragua.
The reality of climate change needs to be high on the agenda of whoever occupies the Oval Office. They must re-engage with the Paris Agreement that set targets for global emissions reductions.
2. Realise that global challenges need global cooperation
If ever we needed a reminder for how interconnected the world is, Covid-19 has done just that. Crises felt in one country – viruses, climate-related disasters, war – are soon felt elsewhere. Global cooperation strengthens and protects us all.
Over the last number of years, the US has withdrawn from a number of international treaties, slashed funding to international bodies and threatened the funding of organisations such as the World Health Organisation.
Retreating back into our own corners does little to tackle big global crises. As a large and powerful country, US engagement on these big global issues – and the international bodies trying to tackle them – is vital.
3. Rebuild relations with Central America
The US is a neighbour of countries such as Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua. Those relations have undoubtedly suffered recently. Families have been separated at the US border, children have been imprisoned, aid has been cut and discussions on relations between the US and its neighbours has often been characterised by racist language.
The US President must take time to learn about the many ingrained challenges facing people immediately south of its border. Climate change is destroying livelihoods, while violence and corruption are endemic. The US has a long history of involvement in Central America, an involvement that has not always been positive. A new relationship based on friendship and a genuine desire to ensure adequate living standards for people in Central America would help people who currently feel they have no option but to leave their homes.
One practical way the US could do this is to back calls for a UN Treaty on Business and Human Rights. Indigenous communities in Central America are harassed, beaten and murdered for trying to defend their lands from corporate interests. These abuses – and the culture of corruption and violence they support – are a leading factor in many people fleeing Central America in search for more secure lives.
4. Help with the long-term effects of Covid-19
Covid-19 continues to be a major threat around the world, particularly in the US which has suffered a high per capita death rate. While the short-term impacts need urgent focus, it is clear that this virus is going to have devastating long-term impacts around the world. People who were already struggling to keep their heads above water have been pushed into extreme poverty, often in countries that lack basic social safety nets to help people who lose their incomes.
The number of people facing hunger over the coming months has risen by almost 80%, largely due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Over 270 million people around the world are facing severe food shortages. There are many Covid-related reasons for this: school feeding programmes have closed down, jobs have been lost, markets are closed, remittances from relatives overseas have been devastated.
The world needs to act together to help the most vulnerable survive the long-term impacts of this deadly virus.
5. Recommit to international law
International law is there to protect innocent people from aggression and to hold human rights violators to account. When the US deviates from international law, it gives the green light to others to do likewise.
One area where the US has deviated terribly from the path of international law is the Middle East. By encouraging the construction of illegal settlements in the West Bank, and by formally recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the US has recently moved away from decades of policy.
If there is to be a lasting peace agreement between Israel and Palestine, it must be grounded in international law. That means and end to land seizures, home demolitions and other crimes.