Posts tagged “foreign policy”
Joint Statement on ‘Dangers’ of Climate Change
A few weeks ago, Secretary of State John Kerry went to Beijing to meet with the leadership of the Chinese government. This meeting was mostly noted in the press as an effort to defuse tensions in the ongoing crisis over North Korea – and clearly that was important; there has been a notable ratcheting down of tensions since then.
However, over the long term, there was an agreement that came out of the meeting that could be much more important to the world’s future stability and security – a joint U.S. – China Statement on Climate Change. It was so overlooked in the press, that I missed it for the last two weeks. The statement indicated that the U.S. and China recognize the “dangers presented by climate change” and that a “more focused and urgent initiative” is needed.
This statement is invariably true – and these two countries are in a position to have an impact. Together, China and the United States are the largest emitters of greenhouse gases in the world, with 29% and 16% of global emissions, respectively. Like Willie Sutton and the Banks, if you want to affect greenhouse gas emissions, start where the emissions actually are.
Mutual Concern About Present Day Impacts
Importantly, the statement notes that the reasons for each country’s mutual concerns about climate change come from the impacts that are already being seen. The statement lists ocean acidification, Arctic sea ice loss, and the “striking incidence of extreme weather events” as reasons for concern about climate. Climate change has moved from being a hypothetical worry in world politics (this will harm us) to an actual threat (this is harming us).
This agreement is important because it will catalyze action by each country at the national level, it will open up areas of cooperation between the two, and it could act as a signal to international negotiations, leading to an ambitious UN agreement.
Formally, the agreement will create a new Climate Change Working Group in the annual U.S. – China Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED). The S&ED was the brainchild of then-Secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulson, with the first one taking place in September, 2006. Over the last six years, the S&EDs have successfully brought together the highest levels of both governments to meet and discuss important areas of the bilateral relationship. Mostly, however, the discussions have focused on economic and trade issues.
Creating a Climate Change Working Group will ensure that the highest levels of government are forced to deal with the problems of climate change.
Forcing Entrenched Bureaucracies to Collaborate
One of the key reasons why this agreement is important is not even the potential areas of cooperation between the countries – it is the action it will generate within each country’s government. In the United States government (I can’t speak with any familiarity about the Chinese government), it will force entrenched bureaucracies to deal with one another on climate and environmental issues. There is often a tendency in government for issues to become ‘stovepiped’ – and on climate, which is pegged as an environmental issue, but is actually a cross-cutting issue of energy, trade, economics, national security, and more, the stovepipes have not worked.
Increased Domestic Oil & Gas Production, Declining Demand and Shrinking Imports
The American energy revolution is starting to come into focus. Technological breakthroughs in shale gas and tight oil production are poised to make the United States — not Saudi Arabia — the world’s largest producer of crude oil as early as the end of the decade, according to the latest World Energy Outlook published by the International Energy Agency (IEA). The IEA’s analysis found that the United States could even be a net exporter of oil by 2035, a position the United States has not been in since the 1940s, when it had one of the world’s few developed oil industries.
At the same time, U.S. demand for crude oil is in decline and its crude oil imports are shrinking. Higher fuel efficiency standards in U.S. vehicles have contributed largely to depressed demand, with U.S. oil imports falling from 56 percent of total consumption to 46 percent between 2008 and the end of 2011, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency. By 2035, the United States could be importing less than 2 million barrels a day, down from more than 8 million barrels today, according to the IEA. (Read More: Top 15 Sources for U.S. Crude Oil Imports in 2011)
During her visit to the Asia Pacific last week, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke to the dispute over the South China Sea, arguably one of the region’s most intractable challenges that, left unmanaged, could uproot stability in East Asia. Those countries at the heart of the dispute — particularly China, Vietnam and the Philippines — need to “establish rules of the road and clear procedures for peacefully addressing disagreements,” Secretary Clinton urged.
High Stakes at Sea
The dispute is complex. States ringing the sea are becoming increasingly assertive in their claims, driven by concerns of nationalism, sovereignty, and even the need to stake claims to the region’s lucrative (but dwindling) fish stocks. And then there are the potential petroleum resources. Estimates of the region’s energy potential ranges widely, according to the independent U.S. Energy Information Agency: U.S. estimates suggest the region could contain roughly 28 billion barrels of oil; while Chinese estimates are much more optimistic, projecting more than 200 billion barrels of oil beneath the sea.
Despite much uncertainty about the size of the region’s oil and natural gas resources, countries in the region are increasingly behaving as though access to those potential petroleum reserves is zero-sum — a winner take all and leave none for the loser approach — that is pitting countries against each other to tap into those resources first. Indeed, China, Vietnam and the Philippines are actively soliciting bids from petroleum companies to explore for oil and gas in contested waters, escalating tensions and reinforcing this zero-sum perspective. This continued competition is destabilizing and countries in the region need to take efforts to tilt the balance of behavior toward cooperation so that countries across the region can benefit from the sea’s potential resource wealth.
America’s relationship with Middle East energy resources is changing. Technological breakthroughs in hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”), renewed drilling in ultra-deep waters in the Gulf of Mexico and, soon, drilling in the Arctic Circle are re-energizing U.S. domestic petroleum production and shrinking the demand for foreign petroleum imports. Meanwhile, oil and natural gas production in the Americas — from Canada in the North, to Brazil and Colombia in the South — are beginning to displace U.S. reliance on Middle East oil. These emerging energy trends will affect America’s relationship with the Middle East in important ways. But do not expect a fundamental shift in U.S. foreign policy in the region any time soon.
The Carter Doctrine and U.S. Energy Interests in the Middle East
The United States has had historical concerns about assured access to Middle East petroleum resources that have shaped U.S. involvement in the region. President Jimmy Carter famously declared in his 1980 State of the Union address that the United States reserved the right to use force to protect the flow of petroleum from the Middle East to the United States: “An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.”
Although U.S. interests in the Middle East have become more complex since the Carter administration – to include concerns about violent extremism, human rights abuse and nuclear proliferation – it has become almost axiomatic to say that U.S. involvement in the Middle East has been tied solely to concerns about securing access to the region’s petroleum resources. Whether or not one buys that, the perception that U.S. interests in the Middle East are tied solely to concerns about energy supplies raises some questions about whether the United States will lose interest in the Middle East as it becomes less reliant on energy imports from the region.
I am pleased and excited to join the team at Consumer Energy Report. I have been an avid reader of the analysis here and I am looking forward to contributing to the important policy discussions that Andrew, Robert and others routinely engage in on energy, climate change and security policy.
I wanted to take the opportunity with this inaugural post to introduce myself and provide you — the reader — a brief sense of where I am coming from and what you can expect to see here on Choke Points.
First a little about myself. I am a national security and foreign policy analyst in Washington, working largely at the crossroads of science, technology and national security policy. My interests in technology and security policy has given me an opportunity to work on a broad range of issues — from cyber security to the impact of climate change on the U.S. Armed Forces. For the most part, though, my particular focus has been on natural resources and security (energy and climate change in particular), first at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and now at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), a non-partisan national security and defense policy think tank.
Steve LeVine has been running a series of articles over at his blog on Foreign Policy, The Oil and the Glory about whether becoming a petro-state would change America’s character. While Steve is skeptical that the U.S. can in the future account for most of its energy requirements, I do actually believe that we’re going in that direction (see: Is the U.S. on track to join OPEC and Why U.S. Energy Policy is Poised for a Fundamental Shift).
The numbers are pretty convincing to me: we’re using less energy, especially oil, and we’re producing much more. Eventually, those curves are bound to cross, not today, or even this year, but maybe this decade.