The United States cannot cede the new strategic field of competition. Climate security is not preserving the status quo in the face of a changing climate. The status quo is changing. Climate security is navigating changing global priorities while preserving American interests. As states focus on climate change, the United States must position itself accordingly through its infrastructure. The climate provisions ultimately included in an infrastructure bill will have direct geopolitical consequences.
Despite the recent bipartisan agreement, it is too soon to tell what will end up in the bill or bills. Global investment in clean infrastructure, however, is about to increase substantially. IEA’s Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector report estimates that reaching net zero emissions by 2050 requires clean energy investment triple by 2030 to $4 trillion per year. As countries prioritize their infrastructure, states leading technological innovation will have a foreign policy advantage. Although the US Innovation and Competition Act is a good start, domestic market incentives are required to make the US a preferred partner as global priorities shift.
Without a directed infrastructure effort, established industries in China are likely to be the partner of choice, especially without alternatives to international financing. China installed over half of the world’s wind capacity in 2020 and generates over a third of global wind power. China dominates battery production for electric vehicles and energy storage. The solar industry runs through China, with 80% of global production.
National security at the strategic level requires partnering with states based on their priorities. Partnership opportunities, however, will be lost without clean energy experience. Although the first priorities of an infrastructure bill should be domestic, climate provisions and technology can provide that experience. Many potential inclusions would push the United States forward in key areas. The bipartisan agreement includes improvements to the national grid, investments in electric vehicle infrastructure and renewable energy, financing for clean energy, and infrastructure resilience. More provisions and funding are possible via reconciliation, including carbon capture, tax credits for the clean energy industry, and a Clean Energy Standard. Without them, the US may struggle to keep up with global clean energy markets.
Technology research and infrastructure, combined with legislation like the proposed Solar Energy Manufacturing Act, can strengthen the United States’ position. The US Innovation and Competition Act funds research and development. Infrastructure is an opportunity to implement that technology. Renewable infrastructure technology can be made available to other countries and financed through US International Climate Finance, while materials utilized can be procured through American or partner supply chains. Being the provider and lender of choice for clean energy should be a pillar of US national security strategy, and infrastructure legislation is a key aspect of achieving that aim.