Andrew Schrumm, CIGI Research Officer
As hosts of the Fifth Summit of the Americas, Trinidad and Tobago has placed the monumental issues of energy security and climate sustainability at the forefront if the agenda. While the deepening global economic crisis and America’s modernization of its Cuba policy seem to be drawing the most media attention, agreement on inter-American energy cooperation could make this Summit the one to remember.
As the landmark Blueprint for a Sustainable Energy Partnership for the Americas demonstrates, there is enormous potential for effective hemispheric cooperation to manage energy demands, promote economic growth and reduce inequalities. To do so, however, it will need leadership. Bob Johnstone has succinctly summarized above that the value in summitry lies in “establishing a limited number of clear priorities for future action.” In this vein, expectations should not be elevated to a point that the Summit of the Americas can resolve the multiplicity of economic, energy, and social issues on discussion this weekend. But, it has the opportunity now to underscore the importance, logic and desire for long-term energy partnerships in the region while providing momentum for states, corporations and civil society to consolidate interests.
What we can see so far from the draft Summit Declaration, as posted on the official website, is that the leaders will call for an action plan on energy cooperation. Paragraph 38 calls on the region’s energy ministers to collectively;
… develop a strategy of cooperation among our nations, international organizations and the private sector that will increase energy efficiency, diversify energy sources, minimise environmental impact, strengthen energy independence, and secure access to safe, affordable energy supplies for all, especially the poorest.
Certainly, this timid language leaves much to be desired. Transnational energy governance is a complicated, and largely unprecedented, endeavour that is breaking new ground. Currently there are a number of competing bilateral, multilateral and even sub-national agreements under negotiation within the Americas that lack an over-arching framework. While international agreements require national-level agreements, there are tensions among levels of government on jurisdictional issues on energy and climate that impair strategic coordination. If the Americas can overcome these constraints, working through the proposed Sustainable Energy Partnership of the Americas (SEPA), the region will be at the forefront of energy governance and the loadstar for other regional groups.
These issues will again be raised at the global level as US President Barack Obama prepares to host a summit of his own, the Major Economies Forum (MEF) on Energy and Climate on 27-28 April 2009. While this meeting – billed as a preparatory discussions in the Copenhagen Climate Process – will attempt to build consensus among the leading world economies, it is perhaps most significant as a demonstration of the Obama administration’s interest in breaking the US’ historical aversion to multilateral climate agreements.
The first test of the United States’ expressed commitment to a new climate diplomacy will be the Fifth Summit of the Americas. If it passes, expectations will only be raised for the success of MEF and the Copenhagen process.