De-hyphenating Energy-Climate: The U.S. National Security Strategy



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The U.S. National Security Strategy cover (Credits and Source: The White House

Between the time that I finalised my dissertation topic “Conflicting Goals: Assessing the Paris Agreement through the lens of Energy Security” for my Masters in International Public Policy (Right after COP21, December 2015) to the time when I submitted it (August 2016), it was clear that the topic was a contentious one. I had chosen to analyze the energy ramifications of Paris for the world’s six largest greenhouse gas emitters:China, USA, India, the EU, Russia and Japan. However, global climate politics was fast changing. As the U.K. moved closer to Brexit, energy policy goals in the U.K. increasingly started to differ from the pro-Climate E.U. stance that it had signed on earlier. The coup de grace was evident in the name change of the “Department of Energy and Climate Change” to the “Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.”

Fast forward to the U.S. Presidential election and grand hopes for the “monumental triumph” of the Paris Agreement seem to have evaporated fast. Under the Obama regime, politics and technology were aligned to bring the U.S. and China closer to global climate goals. The world’s top emitters had ratified the deal after years and years of pressure from climate experts and activists. Fast forward to November, with the U.S. Presidential elections of 2016, U.S. had its own “Brexit” – a change in the status quo of politics that was unforeseen by political pundits. With that, the U.S. took its own leaps to bring energy and business interests to the forefront over Climate Change goals.

This December, the U.S. National Security Strategy has made its security direction concrete – and Climate has been asked to sit in the corner. In the current post-factual era, Climate has no place in U.S. Security objectives – contrary to the reality of Climate Scientists, Academics, Activists and starving polar bears:

The document is clear on the new U.S. stance on energy and climate: economic growth supersedes climate goals, and that the U.S. will only comply with energy-climate objectives that can be met through technology and innovation (e.g. energy efficiency through + tech)- but not through regulation. Climate goals are therefore a by-product of energy growth, and not an end goal. This vision de-hyphenates energy and climate. To quote (points that I highlight are in bold):

Climate policies will continue to shape the global energy system. U.S. leadership is indispensable to countering an anti-growth energy agenda that is detrimental to U.S. economic and energy security interests. Given future global energy demand, much of the developing world will require fossil fuels, as well as other forms of energy, to power their economies and lift their people out of poverty. The United States will continue to advance an approach that balances energy security, economic development, and environmental protection. The United States will remain a global leader in reducing traditional pollution, as well as greenhouse gases, while expanding our economy. is achievement, which can serve as a model to other countries, flows from innovation, technology breakthroughs, and energy efficiency gains, not from onerous regulation. (Source: The White House, 2017)

“Energy Security” under the National Security Strategy is “embracing energy dominance” – and precludes Climate policy by its very nature. It is clear – energy by itself is a clear strategic goal and priority – and greater information and the power of data will be key. However, excluding regulation, and by looking at energy dominance first, and climate second, the U.S. has shown naivete in its long-term vision.

Perfunctory discourse analysis of the document shows that business and investor “climate” far supersedes climate in the environmental sense (3:1 ratio). Far from assessing Climate Security as its own risk, the new U.S. vision on National Security explicitly excludes Climate from the National Security narrative.

With the advent of the “Shale Gas Revolution”, developments in renewable energy and energy storage, under President Obama, the U.S. was also on a path of “energy dominance.” However, with stricter regulation for coal, fossil fuels and the energy industry at large, and with the growth of green technology, U.S. leadership displayed great acumen by taking responsibility for global climate change.

Now the U.S. has taken a few leaps back in its understanding of security by denying the impact of climate change to its strategic vision. Global climate change is not just a problem for the future, but a complex, “wicked problem” for today. By denying its importance in its security infrastructure, the U.S. has (once again) displayed a myopic world view that will not only impact its own future – but, as the second largest greenhouse gas emitter – the future of the world.



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