March 08, 2012

Read This Now: A Marshall Plan to Combat Climate Change in the Asia Pacific

As the United States continues to draw down from its current
conflicts in the Middle East and South Asia and rebalance in the Asia Pacific,
U.S. policymakers must think creatively about how to integrate climate change
into a U.S. strategy for the region. In many ways, engagement around climate
change could be an opportunity for the United States to achieve some of its
broader national security and foreign policy objectives in the region. Specifically,
as the United States seeks to develop strategic partnerships with countries in
East and Southeast Asia – from the Philippines to Vietnam – a serious commitment to
helping those countries adapt to the pernicious effects of climate change could
enhance our relationship with those countries and make them more comfortable
with partnering with the United States on more traditional security missions,
such as maritime security and nonproliferation.

Francisco Femia and Caitlin Werrell of The Center for Climate and Security have
a thoughtful piece on how to think about climate change in the context of a
strategy for the Asia-Pacific region. “The
U.S. requires the equivalent of a Marshall Plan for the Asia-Pacific to help
countries address the climate challenge, and to complement its current military
and economic engagement in the region
,” they write. “It needs, in other words,
a Climate Investment Plan.” According
to Femia and Werrell, these investments – known in the international community
as “climate finance” – are funds needed by developing countries to adapt to the
of climate change, protect their forests and other natural resources in a
manner that still generates revenue, and develop renewable energy sectors that will
both grow their economies, and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions

Femia and Werrell make a strong case for how climate
finance could strengthen U.S. relations in the region. “These
investments will help the United States build a strong coalition of allies in
the region through: building resilience and goodwill; protecting commercial
ties between the U.S. and the region, and; decreasing the likelihood of
instability, disaster and conflict
.” This last point about decreasing the
likely of instability, disaster and conflict is particularly salient: in these
fiscally austere times, the United States is looking for opportunities to build
the capacity of its partners to provide for their own security. Climate finance
could serve as a means to achieving that goal, specifically by building the
capacity of our partner governments to respond to climate-related disasters
that might otherwise overwhelm their response capabilities and require the U.S.
Navy and Air Force to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. This
of course is not to suggest that the United States would not help its partners
if they were overwhelmed; it is merely to suggest that the United States is
better served if its partners have their own robust response capabilities.

of the work has already been done for U.S. policymakers charged with developing a strategy for the Asia Pacific. According to
Femia and Werrell, a climate finance plan is already in place, the United
States just needs to make good on its pledge to help generate $100 billion by
2020 for developing countries to finance climate adaptation projects. “If
the U.S. were to lead now with the delivery of these investments – or at least
its share or more for vulnerable Asia-Pacific nations – it could be well on its
way to enjoying a Pacific century in which it remains the primary Pacific power
If not, it stands to cede that ground to a rising China (or be a bystander to instability),
and lose the support and goodwill of the region’s many vulnerable countries.”

One point that Femia and Werrell mention that is worth
fleshing out in greater detail is the notion that climate finance could “serve
as a non-threatening way of competing with China for region influence.” This is
an important point that U.S. policymakers need to take into account. As the
United States rebalances in Asia, the greatest challenge will likely come from
managing relations with China, particularly avoiding the perception that our renewed
engagement in the region is some sort of containment strategy aimed at China –
it is not. By focusing on climate finance and other benign areas of
cooperation, the United States can help paint an image as a partner in the
region that seeks to promote mutually beneficial goals, as opposed to a
self-interested hegemon. Moreover, the United States should actively seek to
engage with China on climate adaptation. There are a tremendous number of
lessons learned – non-proprietary ones – that the United States could share
with China to help keep the country from reinventing the wheel when it comes to
climate adaptation. There is no reason the United States and China could not be
partners in combating the effects of climate change. The knock-on effects
promise to pay significant dividends for peace and stability in the region as the United States rebalances there. 

Read the full article,
Marshall Plan to Combat Climate Change in the Asia-Pacific: The Missing Piece of
the New U.S. Security Strategy
,” at e-International Relations.