From the start of his tenure, President Joe Biden has made it clear that he plans to center his foreign policy around climate change. With the president appointing veteran diplomat John Kerry, as well as seasoned public servants such as Gina McCarthy and Samantha Powers, he clearly indicated his intention to infuse climate change considerations into trade policies, foreign aid programs, bilateral discussions, and military readiness.
President Biden’s reconfiguration of foreign policy has two goals. The first is to integrate climate risks into America’s national security agenda. The second, and far more important objective, is for America to be the global vanguard in addressing climate change.
“President Biden’s climate change initiatives show America is back in the game.” said Alice Hill, a climate expert for the Council of Foreign Relations. “It demonstrates the Biden administration’s intent to have America reassume the mantle of global leadership on climate, while also solidifying America. commitment to climate diplomacy.”
However, if President Biden hopes to reposition American as a global leader on climate change, a greater focus on utilizing clean technology will be critical.
A 2019 report from the International Renewables Energy Agency (IRENA) titled A New World: The Geopolitics of the Energy Transformation outlined three ways countries will expand their global power in a low-carbon global economy.
The first is by exporting electricity or green fuels. The second is by controlling the raw materials used in clean energy.
But ultimately the most important pathway to climate supremacy is by building up clean technology, such as renewable energy, batteries, and electric vehicles.
There is no country that better understands this better than China. The world’s largest emitter of carbon is the globe’s largest producer of solar panels, wind turbines, and low-energy transportation. From solar farms in Argentina, electric substations in Nairobi, to offshore wind farms in Scotland, Beijing has used clean technology as a way to forge and bolster bilateral relationships.
For over a decade, climate scholars have argued that America should compete with China on clean technology investments. However, this would be a losing proposition. Even if America doubled their private and public investments in clean technology, they would potentially catch up to China in 2120.
There is a better approach. Instead, America should use their existing clean technology for multilateral engagements: creating policies where clean technology is at the core of foreign assistance, bilateral outreach, and coalition building.
While China expands their focus on opportunities from the transition to a low-carbon economy, American can spearhead efforts to tamp down climate risks and use their existing clean technology to create broader and more sustainable coalitions.
Here are a few places to start.
First, America should expand existing clean technology programs. The Development Finance Corporations and Millennium Challenge Corporation invest in solar projects abroad in countries such as Germany, England, Indonesia, and Benin. The Biden administration should work with Congress to increase funding for these programs.
Second, American clean technology can play a role in mitigating climate change’s impact on oceans. The unprecedented rate at which sea levels are rising and marine life is dying will have enormous repercussions. For example, 10–12% of the world’s population depend on fisheries and aquaculture and three billion people worldwide rely on food from the ocean as a significant source of animal protein.
The U.S. Maritime Administration possesses sonar technology that improves the ability of fisheries to detect potential stock. American energy companies have thirty years of history of weather forecasting technology to help fisheries prepare for extreme changes in weather patterns.
The Biden administration can exchange maritime ocean data with island nations such as Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, and Australia. This would expand America’s presence in the Pacific region — an important region for America’s interest abroad.
Third, America can also utilize their agricultural technology to further boost global engagement. Global warming is expected to significantly depress crop yields in the 21st century, depleting the duration of the farming season by half and the area of farmable land by a quarter by 2050.
American public institutions In-Q-Tel and DARPA have existing investments in this space and have already allocated capital to technologynologies that produce climate change resistant crops. Private investment firms have also poured capital into water technology.
America can also build a clean technology assistance policy by providing aid in the form of agricultural clean technology to help developing nations such as India where climate change has a 4–9 percent negative impact on agriculture products resulting in a 1.5 percent loss of GDP.
Fourth, the Biden administration should make it easier for the world to buy clean technology from America. This would be beneficial on a number of levels. Exporting America made clean technology creates millions of jobs globally while helping meet global climate goals established in the Paris Climate Accord.
Finally, America can build a global strategy on dealing with the growing number of climate migrants. Each year, an average of 24 million people are displaced because of extreme climate events. By 2050, the World Bank predicts over 143 million people across sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America will become climate refugees.
The world must build a tracking system of potential climate migrants. Technology can provide a way to track the growing number seeking refuge from unbearable weather conditions. Digital passes can trace identities through fingerprints and used at any Wi-Fi hotspot. Microsoft, Apple, and Palantier, have all entered the field to partner with some of the world’s largest humanitarian agencies.
The Biden climate team should devise a global framework to mitigate climate migration. Partnering with the private sector and sovereign allies to build a central and accessible system for the world to pinpoint the climate migration patterns.
The urgency of climate change commands America to be more aggressive in its efforts. Biden’s reconfiguration around climate change will pull foreign policy goals are strategically sound. Yet, to truly achieve his foreign policy vision, America’s clean technology must play a larger role.