I have an op-ed in the international New York Times with Brent Harris and Jen Harris arguing that President Obama has a special opportunity to help Indonesia cut carbon emissions from deforestation.
I encourage you to read the whole thing at this link. But I wanted to highlight one element here because I think it applies more broadly. Discussions of international climate politics typically frame the dynamic as one where countries pressure each other to cut emissions. This leads naturally to questions about what sort of leverage countries have, how to make international agreements binding, and so forth.
But that isn’t the only way in which international interactions can drive down emissions.
In the present case, Indonesia is facing a public health nightmare stemming from illegal forest burning. That burning happens to also release an enormous amount of carbon dioxide. (Sane estimates peg current emissions from Indonesian fires as higher than total emissions from the U.S. economy.) The ongoing fires have created domestic pressure on the Indonesian federal government to crack down on forest burning.
This is not a place where U.S. pressure has a big role to play in getting Indonesia to cut emissions. There isn’t much one could imagine the United States doing that would create more pressure than what’s already been generated domestically in Indonesia. What the United States can do, though, is help Indonesians who want to cut fires and emissions actually follow through. That support is both technical and political – we go into it in some detail in the op-ed.
This sort of international interaction, in which countries help each other deliver transformations that they both want but that are technically or politically difficult to accomplish, is fundamentally different from what many people usually think about when they think about climate change. Leverage becomes less important than capability; whether an international agreement is “binding” or not becomes less consequential. This model won’t replace the traditional one of leverage and pressure, but in many cases, it will be more effective. The more strategists think this way, the more that climate diplomacy will accomplish.