President Obama recently returned from a visit to Latin America and the Caribbean. There was no shortage of agenda items: opening up ties with Cuba, trade agreements, and human rights issues. Climate change and energy security were also prevalent topics of discussion throughout the visit. In many ways, climate and energy issues provide an important avenue for furthering cooperation between the U.S. and the region, including as it relates to security priorities.
Remarks made by President Obama and Jamaican Prime Minister Simpson-Miller after their bilateral meeting, included further cooperation on climate change, energy and national security. President Obama noted:
One area that we spent a lot of time focusing on and will discuss further with the other CARICOM leaders is the area of energy, where oftentimes people of the Caribbean, despite having less resources, are paying significantly higher prices for energy. And if we can lower those costs through the development of clean energy and increased energy efficiency, we could unleash, I think, a whole host of additional investment and growth. And I think there are going to be a whole host of areas where the United States can be helpful…We also addressed the issue of climate change, which obviously many island nations are most concerned about.
Center for Climate and Security Senior Research Fellow, Lieutenant Commander Oliver-Leighton Barrett, USN (ret) wrote an article for the Jamaica Gleaner expanding on how the U.S. and Jamaica could strengthen relations via climate security policies. His piece included a number of practical recommendations for the way forward on security cooperation, including:
- Expanding assistance for addressing climate change-induced degradation to militaries’ operational readiness (that is, facilities and installations).
- More support for response units in the form of capital improvement projects and training evolutions that would help to mitigate the worst damage to security infrastructure that is critical to maritime interdiction operations.
- More frequent environmental security and disaster-related training exercises designed specifically for mid-to-senior level military personnel.
Andrew Holland with the American Security Project also recommended a number of avenues for how the U.S. could enhance energy security in the Caribbean.
To close out his visit, President Obama attended the 7th Summit of the America’s, where climate and energy discussions continued (though Chile’s president Michelle Bachelet pulled out of the summit to be on hand to respond to deadly floods in her country). A “Clean and Sustainable Energy Future” was one of the central pillars of U.S. participation in the summit according to a White House factsheet, and broader cooperation for combating climate change was a subset of this priority.
Remarks by President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil also emphasize opportunities for collaboration around climate resiliency between Brazil and the United States:
We have before us a wide array of different topics in the areas that can serve as subjects for further cooperation, not only between the two countries but also throughout Latin America and the world at large. May I quote just one example of an area for fruitful cooperation, such as climate change, which is not only a pressing need but also a much-needed area for joint initiatives in the world at large. Brazil has experienced a very harsh drought. The U.S., in turn, has experienced a very rigorous winter. So the climate change agenda is an illustration, a clean-cut example of where we can cooperate jointly.
President Obama’s remarks at the First Plenary Session of the Summit neatly summarized the opportunity ahead for greater partnership between the U.S., Latin America and the Caribbean.
So, a new relationship with Cuba. More trade and economic partnerships that reduce poverty and creates opportunity, particularly focusing on education. Increased people-to-people exchanges. More investment in our young people. Clean energy that combats climate change. Security cooperation to protect our citizens and our communities. That’s the new chapter of engagement that the United States is pursuing across the Americas.
A broader discussion of the climate and energy security dynamics of the relationship is long overdue. This visit was a step forward.