April 28, 2021, 10:14 AM
Last week, U.S. President Joe Biden convened 40 heads of state in a virtual Leaders Climate Summit. Beyond the noteworthy attendance of Vladimir Putin of Russia and Xi Jinping of China, the guest list also included a strong roster of Indo-Pacific countries. Biden was joined by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh, Prime Minister Lotay Tshering of Bhutan, and General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong of Vietnam.
As part of the United States’ official reentry into the global dialogue on climate, Biden discussed opportunities to strengthen worldwide capacity to protect nations from the impacts of climate change, how to address the global security threats posed by climate change, and potential solutions to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.
Biden’s invitation to the Indo-Pacific nations in particular reflects their high-risk status. The region is warming fast, and weather extremes are already leading to the displacement of communities and increasing conflicts over resources. The situation is ripe for violence, and a failure to adapt to climate change puts the region at risk of becoming a breeding ground for greater security threats.
That’s likely why, on Day One of the dialogues, Biden announced his administration’s effort to double U.S. public climate financing to developing countries by 2024, noting the urgent need to increase money for adaptation and resilience in these countries. The success of U.S. climate policy hinges on Biden’s ability to carry these plans.
If he’s serious, he’ll need a grand strategy that encompasses climate change, alliances, and a growing great-power challenge in the Indo-Pacific. While strained by the previous administration’s haphazard approach, international institutions—under U.S. leadership—may once again serve as levers in the interlocking challenges of poverty, climate change, and pandemic-fueled global insecurity.
This brings us to the question of how to transform Biden’s climate ambitions into a grand strategy for the region.
For inspiration, he may look to the U.S. Marshall Plan in Western Europe following the devastation of World War II. The bold strategy, which provided more than $15 billion for rebuilding efforts on the continent, is widely accepted as the catalyst for the birth of NATO and for strengthening the United States’ alliance with European countries. The Marshall Plan helped rehabilitate the economies of 16 European countries and promoted stable conditions in which democratic institutions could thrive.
A similarly bold strategy in the Indo-Pacific region could have a profound and enduring impact. As in 1947, when the Economic Cooperation Administration, a predecessor agency to the U.S. Agency for International Development, administered the Marshall Plan alongside the Committee of European Economic Co-operation, Biden will need to direct the newly formed U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) to leverage its lending capacity of $60 billion to regions in the direct crosshairs of poverty, insecurity, and climate change.
For the Marshall Plan, the Committee of European Economic Co-operation was a joint European conference to determine the priorities for the recovery of the European economy after the war. It consisted of delegates from 16 European nations and convened in Paris. This Committee would later go on to establish the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation, which enabled the countries to control the management and distribution of the Marshall funds themselves.
For robust climate action, active regional cooperation organizations such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations as well as moribund ones such as the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation are likely partners. Alongside DFC, a committee of the Indo-Pacific nations could help determine the priorities for a climate strategy and assist in the administration of U.S. climate investment. A bold strategy would increase the municipal capacity of nations to provide essential services and extend investments in response systems and climate disaster prevention.
Together, the United States and a group of Indo-Pacific nations could do a lot of good. Establishing a platform for others to join will foster greater international cooperation. The so-called Annex II states, as defined in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, may use such a mechanism to fulfill their own financial responsibilities. Meanwhile, initiatives such as the Green Climate Fund and a proposal to link debt relief to investment in climate change at the World Bank and International Monetary Fund should be fully enabled. And the G-20 must drum the centrality of climate change across its deliberations. A reimagined Trans-Pacific Partnership could also focus on climate change investment as part of regional trade.
Consistent with the United States’ success in Europe in the mid-1900s, an Indo-Pacific climate strategy will promote and sustain U.S. leadership while fostering critical alliances in the region. Right now, China has massive economic influence in the region. Spanning from infrastructure projects to threats to limit access to Chinese markets, China is leveraging its tools in the region to compete with the United States. And if Washington is committed to diplomacy in the Indo-Pacific, Biden must foster deeper relationships there beyond Japan and India to include nations on the fringe such as Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam, aided by a robust economic strategy.
Then-British Prime Minister Winston Churchill called U.S. Secretary of State George Marshall’s decision to rebuild Europe “the highest level of statesmanship.” By investing in the future of Europe, the United States helped lay the groundwork that allowed the European Union to become one of the largest global economies and a political force in the international order. Addressing the needs of the nations most vulnerable to the effects of climate change will be a similar act of statesmanship for U.S. foreign policy in the 21st century.
This is not a CAPTIS article. Originally, it was published here.