How Biden's Foreign Policy Experience Supplements Obama's Climate Policy

09/24/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Jeremy Jacquot Freelance writer, contributor to Desmogblog, TreeHugger and USC graduate student

Following a week of breathless speculation and wall-to-wall coverage bordering on the stalkerish, we finally have the name of the man who will be helping Barack Obama make his case to the electorate as we head into the final months before the election. Joe Biden, while by no means the best pick (to be honest, I was still holding out for a Kathleen Sebelius or Wes Clark), will bring many strengths to the Democratic ticket, not the least of which is his solid environmental record -- which will help reinforce Obama's credentials and further discredit John McCain's waffling stands.

While the traditional media has largely focused on touting Biden's long tenure in the Senate and foreign policy expertise as key assets that will add gravitas to the Democratic campaign, it has spent little time examining how the Delaware senator's experience could supplement Obama's policies in other areas (the obvious ones being national security and foreign affairs, of course). Though it may not seem obvious at first blush, Biden may end up proving most valuable to Obama in lending his foreign policy chops to tackle climate change.

Think about it: As things stand, the single biggest obstacle to effective climate change mitigation is the lack of a comprehensive, international accord. Though we largely have the Bush administration to "thank" for the current impasse, we shouldn't be deluded into thinking that simply getting rid of Dubya and his skeptic cronies will solve our problems. We still face the seemingly intractable problem of bringing developing countries like India and China -- the latter of which has already surpassed the U.S. in emission production -- on board.

Although their leaders recognize that climate change could have catastrophic consequences, they are still much too focused on raising the standard of living for their people and are willing to rely on dirty fossil fuels to meet their objectives. They also object to any treaty that would impose a large burden on their economies, arguing, with some validity, that the developed world, which has been burning coal and gasoline for decades to build their infrastructures, should assume the brunt of the emission cuts.

One major geopolitical player that hasn't yet received too much attention in this context is Russia, which, as Joe Romm argues in a recent post, could prove even more problematic than China and India because of its plentiful supplies of oil and coal -- and its desire to exploit the resources being opened up in the Arctic region.

Having a skilled diplomat like Biden on hand, who has spent the better part of his career serving on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee -- both as the ranking minority member and, currently, as its chairman -- will undoubtedly be invaluable in bringing foreign leaders to the table and in hammering out new agreements. More important, by helping rehabilitate America's image abroad, Biden would add more heft to a President Obama's climate policies -- potentially paving the way for an international treaty similar in design to the candidate's cap-and-trade with auction system.

With climate change increasingly being portrayed as not only an environmental crisis, but one with critical national security implications, Biden, who has considerable experience in this area, would be an effective advocate for a policy aimed at tackling these emerging threats. As record floods, storms, droughts and other problems become more prevalent over the coming years, the diplomatic role a Vice President Biden would play in mediating international agreements will only become more important.

A report issued last year by the Council on Foreign Relations suggested the following as policies the U.S. should adopt in dealing with the national security aspects of climate change: engage countries like China and India to encourage GHG emission cuts, integrate climate security into the National Security Strategy and create new positions within the cabinet and the office of the president to address these issues. Biden could serve Obama here by assuming the responsibility of coordinating the new offices or acting as a liaison, communicating the key points from meetings to the president.

As the IPCC noted in its report last year, humanity only has a few years to act before the planet is irrevocably altered by climate change. While investing in renewable energy, creating new green collar jobs and reducing our dependence on fossil fuel sources will help, only a robust international treaty that brings all the key players to the table will solve this crisis. Joe Biden is one of the best picks Obama could have made to help us get there: He knows his climate science, he's an internationalist, and he's a strong supporter of clean energy technologies.