The recently-released Interim National Security Strategic Guidance (“Guidance”), which lays out the Biden Administration’s overarching, if preliminary vision for U.S. national security policy, makes extensive reference to both climate and energy security.
The bottom line? Climate change requires “aggressive” collective action to reduce global emissions and adapt to the extreme weather and climate stress already underway. The United States must make climate change a core pillar of both its domestic and foreign policy as it re-establishes its reputation as a global climate leader.
Key Pillars of Climate Action:
The document mentions five major areas that pertain to climate and energy security.
1. Multilateral cooperation to counter climate change: The Biden Administration has already set the stage to reinvigorate U.S. climate leadership by re-entering the Paris Climate Accord and and appointing former Secretary of State John Kerry as Presidential Special Envoy for Climate. The Guidance commits to:
- Convene the world’s major economies within the next few months to build momentum toward lowering global carbon emissions;
- Strengthen America’s climate leadership within multilateral organizations; and
- Work alongside international partners to develop new rules to govern emerging technologies – including clean energy technologies critical to reducing carbon emissions and slowing climate change.
2. Bilateral partnerships to counter climate change: The Guidance makes explicit mention of working with partners in Latin America and Africa to confront the effects and threats posed by climate change.
3. Climate-conscious development assistance: The Guidance states that U.S. development agencies and financing tools will invest in “climate-conscious food and water security and resilient agriculture.” The Biden Administration also intends to “help partners around the world mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change,” including by offering humanitarian assistance to communities struck by natural disasters.
4. Trade policy that prioritizes environmental stewardship and clean energy: The Biden Administration sets out to reform the World Trade Organization so that it supports the values of the United States and its allies – which include environmental stewardship. The international trading system should also facilitate a global clean energy transition.
5. Domestic investment in climate-friendly energy and infrastructure, science and technology: The Biden Administration will incorporate the transformation to clean energy as a “central pillar” of domestic recovery efforts, both to spur economic growth and to bolster the credibility of the United States as a global climate leader. This includes increasing investments in “research, development, and deployment” of low-to-no carbon technologies and use of federal procurement to spur demand for clean energy technologies. The Biden Administration also intends to modernize infrastructure, including the energy grid, to be more climate-friendly.
Looking Forward to the National Security Strategy (NSS):
The Biden Administration should consider several points as it fills in the details of its climate and energy strategy in the NSS.
1. Climate cooperation with China: The Guidance makes extensive mention of strategic competition with China before adding that the United States would “welcome the Chinese government’s cooperation on issues such as climate change (…) where our national fates are intertwined.” The first high-level talks between China and the United States held last week in Alaska revealed a highly strained relationship but also glimmers of potential alignment on climate. Climate envoy John Kerry and Xie Zhenhua, his Chinese counterpart, also met virtually with European and Canadian allies on Tuesday for the Ministerial on Climate Action, though the two leaders did not meet bilaterally. The American Security Project strongly believes that as the two largest global emitters, the United States and China must find a way to cooperate on climate issues. The National Security Strategy should provide some details on how the Administration plans to work with China on climate change.
2. Climate financing: The National Security Strategy could also include details for expanding climate financing, including public-private partnerships to promote private sector investment in renewable energy, as well increased lending for clean energy projects through the Export-Import Bank of the United States, the Development Finance Corporation (DFC), and multilateral financial institutions.
3. Working with climate pariahs: The National Security Strategy could lay out a strategy for engaging so-called “climate pariahs” like Brazil, which is home to 40 per cent of the world’s tropical forests but whose government has weakened environmental protection and turned a blind eye to record deforestation.
The Biden Administration’s Guidance, released less than two months after President Biden’s inauguration, puts climate change at the forefront of U.S. national security and foreign policy. It also supersedes President Trump’s last National Security Strategy, which did not mention climate change as a national security concern. The work now lies in fleshing out the details into an implementable strategy and doing the work, at home and abroad, to put an ambitious vision into action.