Thursday, October 29, 2009

America Shouldn't Blow an Opportunity for Green Diplomacy

Among all the talk about soft power and smart power something big and obvious has been missing: wind power. By not being a global leader on climate change over the past decade America has blown a major opportunity to engage in Green Diplomacy—the strategic use of clean energy projects to boost development and security in poor countries. Going forward, the Obama Administration should articulate and carry out a plan to align several of our national priorities: innovation, emissions reduction, development, diplomacy, and security.

When it comes to linking climate change and security it is common practice to trot out the specter of mass hordes of climate refugees inundating rich countries as their own coastal homelands disappear into the ocean. Likely this fear suffers from a case of xenophobic exaggeration. But an already-porous migration policy does motivate the United States to focus on the development of climate-resilient countries in its own hemisphere first. Fortunately a demonstration project exists in the region: Costa Rica, where reforestation and renewable energy combine in a national commitment to becoming carbon neutral.

One can envision the United States helping clean energy best practices radiate out from there, facilitated by domestic and international regulation. Thus it is heartening to see funding and institutional priorities coalescing around these goals in Sen. John Kerry's recently submitted Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act [PDF]. The bill calls for establishment of a Strategic Interagency Board on International Climate Investment, to be composed of the secretaries of State, Energy, Treasury, Commerce, and Agriculture, the administrators of USAID and the Environmental Protection Agency, and any other relevant officials the president sees fit.

The SIBICI's task would be "to provide United States assistance to developing countries to develop, implement and improve nationally appropriate greenhouse gas mitigation policies," including preparation for participation in "markets for international offset credits for reduced emissions from deforestation." The bill also calls for the State Department to establish an International Clean Energy Deployment Program that would distribute funding either as bilateral assistance, to multilateral funds or institutions formed pursuant to the UNFCCC, or some combination of both. Similar funding would also be distributed under the International Climate Change Adaptation and Global Security Program to "provide assistance to the most vulnerable developing countries... in a way that protects and promotes interests of the United States."

The bill goes on to specify the details for emissions allowances and international offset credits, but much is also left open-ended to ensure that the executive branch has enough latitude to create and carry out these new programs. This bodes well for putting Green Diplomacy in the American power toolbox.

[Photo credit: Volcan Arenal, by Arturo Sotillo (CC).]


Mohan said...

I agree with the post. There will be some cynicism if we chase newer technologies while forgetting where most of the greenhouse emissions come from: traditional industrialized areas. One has to go beyond the glamour of ‘Green’ technologies and also rethink fundamentals (Kyoto anyone?)

Gabriela Cordeiro Antunes said...

In regards to funding distribution under the new bill en, John Kerry proposed, the International Climate Change Adaptation and Global Security Program. It is not clear how funding for international climate change security can be provided "in a way that protects and promotes interests of the United States" while doing it's job. How can the global community rely on the US, which has yet to sign the Kyoto protocol, to administer climate change bilateral assistance?

Evan O'Neil said...

Mohan, I agree. We are in need of a global energy revolution and a redesign of industrial processes.

Gabriela, you are correct. The world cannot and should not rely on the United States to provide solutions, but progress without the United States will prove insufficient, as we've seen with Kyoto.

Kerry believes, and hopefully Obama, too, that being a leader on climate change is in America's interest -- they just haven't convinced Congress and the American people of this yet.

Making the connection between climate change and security is a necessary part of risk assessment, but the Obama Administration also has a new mandate for global engagement, and Green Diplomacy is one means of putting a more constructive and progressive stamp on America's interaction with the world.

Christopher Smith said...

Although I applaud the US government for finally beginning to combat climate change, who are the greenhouse gas polluting developing states that these funds target? China? Is the US going to start paying China to halt their construction of coal-fired power plants in their bid to catch up with the developed world? The worst emitters of greenhouse gases are by far the developed states. So why are funds aimed at developing states who emit the fewest amounts of greenhouse gases? They should be aimed squarely at America's domestic effort to limit their carbon or if they are going to initiate programs in the developing world they should invest in more carbon sinks like re-forestation projects and fire-proofing arid regions.

Evan O'Neil said...

Christopher, check the text of Sen. Kerry's bill. Reforestation projects in developing countries are a funding priority. Presumably this is intended to address several goals at once: diplomacy, development, biological conservation, emissions reduction.

Whimsical and profligate though our government may be in its appropriations, international clean development is a tough sell when even Democratic senators such as Schumer react negatively to Chinese investment in a Texas wind farm.