Barack Obama and Mitt Romney face each other for the final presidential debate tonight. The conversation will focus exclusively on foreign policy — potentially opening up numerous opportunities to talk about climate and energy issues.
If the last two debates are any guide, the candidates and moderator may ignore the issue of climate altogether. But as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton rightly pointed out in a speech last week, clean energy and climate policy will continue to be deeply important to U.S. foreign affairs, and the next president will play a strong role in “shaping the global energy future.”
Indeed, almost every major international issue — energy access, international trade, food prices, technology sharing, military operations — have a deeply embedded climate component.
There are a number of different angles that could be explored in tonight’s conversation. In a preview of the final debate, Brad Plumer of the Washington Post points out the national security implications of a changing climate:
There have been a whole slew of reports in recent years about how global warming could pose a security threat to the United States. The Pentagon even highlighted climate change in its 2010 defense review. There’s the possibility that droughts, floods and water shortages could destabilize key regions, for one. These things aren’t certain—here’s a more skeptical take on the prospect of “global warring” that I wrote a few years ago—but they’re on the minds of plenty of foreign-policy analysts.
Of course, the impact of global warming is, after all, a global issue. After the first debate, Andrew Revkin of the New York Times explained why he thought the final debate was the best place for a discussion around climate, “Global warming, both in its most significant drivers and consequences, remains a global issue.”
Michael Levi of the Council on Foreign Relations touched upon this same issue in a post today. He makes a very important point about why climate change why isn’t just a single issue that can be separated from others:
Climate change is a really big global problem. You don’t need to be convinced of impending doom to believe this – you just need to accept that we’re running some pretty large risks. When the moderator of the last debate half-apologized to “the climate people” for not touching on the subject, she revealed something important: too many people think about climate change as a special interest issue. It isn’t, and the candidates’ approaches deserve to be debated. This one is simple to tee off: just ask each candidate what he’d do.