Energy and Climate Change Implications of the QDDR

The QDDR included three relevant sections on energy and climate change, each of which elevates the importance of the energy and climate agenda in U.S. foreign and development policy. The first is the consolidation of economic growth, energy, and environmental issues under one under secretary in order to “better address clusters of related issues that need greater attention,” according to Secretary of State Clinton. Currently energy is primarily addressed in two main areas (not including regional bureaus)—the Bureau of Economic, Energy and Business Affairs under the current under secretary for economic, energy, and agricultural affairs and the Office of Global Climate Change in the Bureau of Oceans, International Environmental and Scientific Affairs under the Undersecretary for Democracy and Global Affairs. There are, however, also three special positions that exist somewhat outside this structure: the Office of the International Energy Coordinator, the Special Envoy for Eurasian Energy, and the Special Envoy for Climate Change. The second major action is to coordinate several of these offices under the renamed under secretary in a newly created Energy Resources Bureau “to unite our diplomatic and programmatic efforts on oil, natural gas, coal, electricity, renewable energy, energy governance, strategic resources, and energy poverty.” These two actions taken together make a lot of sense given the sheer number of energy-related advisers currently at the Department of State and the need to coordinate the line of authority for those streams for strategic and practical reasons.

It is too early to tell whether these organizational changes will have a material impact on the face of U.S. energy priorities abroad, but it does seem to address some long-held criticism that our international economic, energy security, and environmental agenda is often poorly coordinated, contradictory, or overshadowed by other more important foreign policy priorities. Indeed, the report explicitly recognizes that “the ability of the United States to lead global policy on economics, energy, and the environment requires State to see linkages across these issues, to seize opportunities that allow breakthroughs, to ensure that our policies on all three issues are coordinated and complementary, and to advance these issues collectively in regional and multilateral institutions.”

The third and final mention of energy and climate change in the QDDR is in the context of climate change as one of the key pillars of development where we have a comparative advantage. For the last two years, the administration has worked hard to elevate and integrate climate change within its broader foreign policy message and approach to development. It seems evident that the State Department intends to continue to lead on this effort and bolster its expertise and reach. Despite recent pessimism over the U.S. commitment to climate change, given the lack of progress on advancing climate change policies within the Congress, this is a clear signal that the administration is determined to carry out its vision (and the spirit of its international commitments) of a low carbon transition consistent with the principles of sustainable development.

Sarah O. Ladislaw is a senior fellow in the Energy and National Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

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Sarah Ladislaw

Sarah Ladislaw

Former Senior Associate (Non-resident), Energy Security and Climate Change Program