Cables Provide Insight Into International Climate And Energy Security

Leaked diplomatic cables provide new insight into the intersection of climate policy and international security. Many of these issues have been raised by the Center for American Progress, in its work to reduce the multitudinous risks associated with oil dependence.


Cables note that leaders like Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy consider global warming to be an issue of top importance. As of November 2009, State Department officials were still confident about the passage of climate legislation by Congress, a cable from Ambassador to France Charles H. Rivkin to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reveals:

Even sophisticated observers are skeptical that long-term reduction goals legislated in the United States can be counted on as more than aspirations, especially if radical cuts are not imposed up front. We have reiterated that U.S. laws are reliably enforced by the Federal government and by U.S. courts, using the Clean Air Act as our example. Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials agree that legislation moving through Congress and the Administration’s proposals would establish a system comparable to the EU’s measures. These officials regard Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo’s public criticisms of Waxman-Markey as “insufficient on the medium term goal” as distracting attention from the need for China and India to reduce their rates of growth in GHG emissions.

In the ensuing months, the U.S. Senate killed any prospect for the passage of climate legislation, making concerns about the reliability of long-term targets a moot point. Industrial polluters have launched a broad campaign to dismantle the Clean Air Act, and a wave of global warming deniers swept into office, firmly opposed to any action to fight climate pollution whatsoever.


As the Wonk Room has previously discussed, the international price of oil has a major impact on the power of the Iranian regime. One cable describes a December 2008 meeting between Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Stuart A. Levey and top Israeli officials, including Tzipi Livni, then the Foreign Minister and now the opposition leader:

Livni asked if the declining price of oil was becoming leverage in the efforts to thwart Iranian financial efforts. Levey said that it was and that the Iranian private sector was becoming more vocal in its criticisms of the government.

A Wonk Room analysis has found that a strong cap on carbon would significantly cut the flow of petrodollars to Iran’s hostile regime.


Center for American Progress experts have also raised concerns about the “risks from technology, natural disasters, and geopolitical turmoil” associated with the oil market. The United States directly imports oil from ten different dangerous or unstable countries. An October 2009 cable from Ambassador to Russia John Beyrle notes that the Russian government “benefits significantly” — on the order of $10 billion a year — from the “instability premium” in the world oil market due to Iran:

As the world’s largest exporter of oil and gas, Russia also benefits significantly from the “instability premium” embedded in world oil prices due to tensions with Iran. Even a USD 5 per barrel instability premium would net Russia almost USD 9 billion per year for oil and approximately USD 2–4 billion from its gas exports. Finally, given Iran’s position as the second largest owner of gas reserves, Russia’s gas sector clearly benefits from the lack of international investment in the development of Iran’s natural gas sector.


Center for American Progress writers have previously noted Saudi Arabia’s intransigence on climate policy and its limited efforts to liberalize its society. In a February 2010 cable preparing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for her visit to the Arab petrostate, Ambassador to Saudi Arabia James Smith describes how the nation is shifting its policy, including its increased engagement with China:

Guided by a vision that dovetails with some key elements of the President’s Cairo speech, King Abdullah has begun to implement an ambitious plan to transform Saudi Arabia’s economy away from excessive reliance on hydrocarbons and towards a knowledge-based economy that can provide sustainable development for the long-term. Achieving these goals will require nothing short of a revolution in the education system and significant changes in most aspects of Saudi society, especially the status of women.

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Saudi Arabia is thinking through how best to take a leaf from the Chinese playbook and use these expanded trade ties to achieve important political goals. In this regard, Saudi Arabia has told the Chinese that it is willing to effectively trade a guaranteed oil supply in return for Chinese pressure on Iran not to develop nuclear weapons.

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Your visit offers an important opportunity to head off a serious clash over climate change. Saudi officials are very concerned that a climate change treaty would significantly reduce their income just as they face significant costs to diversify their economy. We want to get beyond the obstructionism that Saudi negotiators have often shown during the negotiations and persuade senior leaders to work with us in a partnership to meet their strategic concerns, including by cooperating on developing solar and biomass energy. The King is particularly sensitive to avoid Saudi Arabia being singled out as the bad actor, particularly on environmental issues. Your conveying the importance the President places on working as partners with Saudi Arabia on the Copenhagen process will be very important in making this dialogue more constructive. Secretary Chu intends to explore specific areas of collaboration during his February 21–23 visit.