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.