NPR: Climate Policy Best Path to Counter Russia – Former National Security Advisor

January 23, 2022

Once again, if you follow this blog, and my Yale Climate Connections video series, you understand and anticipate the headlines.

Financial Times:

The head of the International Energy Agency has accused Russia of throttling gas supplies to Europe at a time of “heightened geopolitical tensions”, implying that Moscow has manufactured an energy crisis for political ends.

Fatih Birol said on Wednesday that the IEA believed Russia was holding back at least one-third of the gas it could send to Europe, while depleting Russian-controlled storage facilities on the continent to bolster the impression of tight supplies.

“We believe there are strong elements of tightness in the European gas market due to Russia’s behaviour,” Birol said. “I would note that today’s low Russian gas flows to Europe coincide with heightened geopolitical tensions over Ukraine.” Birol added: “Russia could increase deliveries to Europe by at least one-third — this is the key message.”

The comments from Birol are his most pointed yet on Russia’s role in the energy crisis. They come as households in Europe expect steep increases in energy bills after wholesale gas and electricity prices hit record levels.

Worth noting that France’s famous nuclear program has not been a hedge against Russian gas manipulation this winter. Germany, with more renewable generation, taking a hit, but less so.



President Biden and his administration say if Russia invades Ukraine, there will be serious consequences for Moscow, meaning mainly economic sanctions. But instead of backing off, the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to mass troops near Ukraine, even as diplomatic efforts to end the standoff continue. So if possible new sanctions don’t deter Russia, what, short of a military response, would?

We’re going to start today with a look at another idea – to use climate and trade policies to put pressure on Russia’s financial interests in Europe. That proposal was put forth in a recent piece for foreign policy written by Senator Kevin Cramer, Republican from North Dakota, and Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, who served in the Trump administration as national security adviser from March of 2017 until his resignation in March of 2018. And General McMaster is with us now to tell us more. Welcome. Thank you so much for talking with us.

H R MCMASTER: Thank you so much for having me.

MARTIN: So first of all, we should say that Russia makes a lot of money from exporting natural gas through a number of pipelines to Europe, and European governments are eager to not have that supply disrupted or shut off, especially in the middle of winter. So that being said, can you describe this idea of using climate and trade policy to put pressure on Russia? What exactly are you proposing?

MCMASTER: It’s really important to recognize that economic security is national security, and energy security is national security. And we can’t really compartmentalize these aspects of policy. They ought to be consistent with one another. We ought to reward economically those who produce energy sources in a way that reduces carbon emissions, and this is, in particular, natural gas production and shipment. Russia – the way that Russia produces natural gas is dirty itself. The United States, the way we produce and export natural gas with LNG and others is relatively clean, and this is a way to align economic incentives with using, in this case, natural gas as a bridge to renewables and zero-emissions energy sources. We know we can’t do it really any other way, Michel. I mean, this is why, you know, Europe can’t keep the lights on. And the fact that they are dependent on Russian gas has given Vladimir Putin tremendous coercive power over Europe’s economies.

MARTIN: What role should the United States be playing in this?

MCMASTER: The United States should play a leading role in ensuring that energy supplies are resilient and the supply chains associated with energy are resilient and don’t give authoritarian rival powers coercive power over our democracies.

MARTIN: In the United States, the fossil fuel industry, including the natural gas industry, is very powerful. There are many in the United States, including many Republicans, who are very critical of carbon fees on imports and other interventions in the production and supply of fossil fuels because they say that these are bad for consumers and that free trade is the best way to keep prices low for consumers. So what do you say to those critics?

MCMASTER: Well, I say they have a point – right? – because what we also have to recognize is, as we all know, carbon emissions and the problem set associated with global warming and climate change and carbon emissions doesn’t respect borders. So of course, if you don’t have solutions that are economically viable in developing economies, they are, in effect, not solutions. So it’s important that the market incentivize these solutions. But I think there are ways to incentivize clean production and cleaner sources of gas as a bridge into renewables. So what we need is we need to align our national security policy, our foreign policy with our energy policy. Michel, I could not understand, for example, why the Biden administration canceled a Canadian pipeline and greenlighted the Russian pipeline Nord Stream 2.

MARTIN: It’s a deep conversation, and, obviously, this – we’re not going to sort of resolve all this here. But before we let you go, putting on your former national security adviser hat for a minute, how worried are you about Russia’s actions in Ukraine? Do you think there could be an invasion and a military conflict?

MCMASTER: I’m worried. I’m very worried about it, Michel, because as I write in “Battlegrounds,” what Putin is driven by is a desire – an obsession, really – with restoring Russia to national greatness. And to do that, he’s been engaged in a sustained campaign of disruption, disinformation and denial – the three Ds. And because of what we’re talking about, I would add a fourth D of dependency – right? – energy dependence. And I think that the Biden administration is doing a great job diplomatically. They’re doing a great job with the potential imposition of economic costs.

But I think what we’re undervaluing is the military dimension of deterrence. I would like to see us do what the U.K. has done and accelerate defensive capabilities to the Ukrainians so they could defend themselves. And I think that Putin understands power, and it’s important to understand that he’s driven by this desire to overcome his sense of honor lost after the breakup of the Soviet Union and the associated desire to restore Russia to national greatness.

MARTIN: That was lieutenant general and former national security adviser H.R. McMaster. He’s now a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. General McMaster, thanks so much for talking with us about this.

MCMASTER: Michel, thank you for having me.

The key point here is not that HR McMaster and (conservative Republican from big fracking state) Senator Cramer suddenly have become greens – it is that there is an opening for what they call “ a joint trade mechanism between the United States and the European Union that levels a common carbon fee on imported goods“.
Republicans, as I again pointed out in a recent YCC video, (below) are looking for a way out of the corner they’ve painted themselves into on climate. Without having any illusions about this path, advocates for clean energy should realize that Russian manipulation is already increasing pressure for an accelerated green transition. A “common carbon fee on imported goods” is a key piece of the carbon price that a lot of us have advocated for many years.
Perfect? No, but we’ll take it.
It is a step toward leveling the playing field with renewables even further, and progressives might press for a package that includes elements of the Build Back Better act that they’ve been blocked from enacting. Anything approaching fair fight between renewables and fossil fuels, , that begins to acknowledge the larger costs of fossil fuels, especially in light of current technology is a fight that should be welcomed.

Foreign Policy via Senator Kevin Cramer website:

“Instead of complaining about some European allies’ poor choices, the United States should lead in responding to Russian intimidation. We have an opportunity to counter Putin’s playbook with a bold initiative consistent with European priorities: a transatlantic climate and trade initiative that would cut global greenhouse gas emissions, increase energy security, and reduce Russia’s power to coerce Europe. One aspect of that initiative could be a joint trade mechanism between the United States and the European Union that levels a common carbon fee on imported goods. This would not only encourage the domestic production of goods and energy, but also demonstrate a model of clean and efficient production for other nations to emulate.

“Free trade proponents on both sides of the Atlantic, who prioritize cheap imports, may oppose this proposal. However, the current global trade regime has tolerated unfair practices that have resulted in a vast transfer of wealth from the West to undemocratic, non-market countries bent on undermining U.S. and European security. It is time to correct the mistakes of the past and prevent state-controlled, mercantilist economies from continuing to ignore environmental, labor, and human rights standards to gain an unfair competitive advantage. Currently, the United States imports more Russian oil than it produces in Alaska, and European reliance on Russian energy is only set to grow. A new strategy could level the playing field by prioritizing cleaner, more ethically produced oil and gas. Such an approach could be an important part of international efforts to cut emissions; it is also consistent with U.S. and European economic and geopolitical interests.

“A U.S. initiative to merge climate and trade policy should find support in the EU, which has already introduced a proposal to impose carbon fees on imports of energy-intensive manufactured goods. Current EU plans, however, have a NordStream 2-shaped loophole because Europe wants to buy affordable but dirty Russian natural gas while discouraging the development of its own and the United States’ energy resources. U.S. diplomats have an opportunity to work with European allies to promote cleaner fossil fuels as part of a trade and climate policy that aims to reduce emissions while ensuring energy security and preventing Russia from using energy dependence for coercion.

“Russian fossil fuel interests dread a transatlantic merger of climate and trade policy. A U.S.-EU agreement could lead to a deal among the G-7 and the other economies that joined the summit this year—Australia, India, New Zealand, and South Korea—which in turn would account for at least half of the market for Russian exports. Igor Sechin, CEO of Russia’s state-owned oil producer Rosneft, has reportedly warned the Kremlin that carbon border fees could be much more damaging to the Russian economy than sanctions. Sechin’s fears are well grounded: Russia is heavily dependent on exporting fossil fuels and energy-intensive goods like steel and fertilizer. Profits from oil and natural gas exports account for roughly 40 percent of the government’s budget.

4 Responses to “NPR: Climate Policy Best Path to Counter Russia – Former National Security Advisor”

  1. renewableguy Says:

    Trump pressured Ukraine to look into Biden’s son being on an advisory board. Ukraine is in the middle of all the tension in this. Trump was withholding weapons against Russia to get what he wanted out of them. And then, the weapons could not be used in a lethal way.

  2. Keith McClary Says:

    It depends what you mean by “dirty”. LNG uses 10% of its energy for liquefaction and transport. Does that count as dirtiness? What sort of dirtiness does Russian gas have?

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      “What sort of dirtiness does Russian gas have?”

      Just guessing, of course, but I would expect much poorer leak control in the Russian system.

  3. John Kane Says:

    What world does McMaster inhabit?

    I could not understand, for example, why the Biden administration canceled a Canadian pipeline and greenlighted the Russian pipeline Nord Stream 2.

    A simple signature on an executive order cancelled a pipeline carrying oil to US refineries and, IIRC, eventual export. Pissed off a very few Canadians and had no effect on strategic US energy supplies that I can see.

    The Trump admin, clawing, kicking, and fighting for years totally failed to stop Nord Stream 2. It is a fait accompli except for the paperwork and a lot of European investors who have billions invested are probably not too pleased with US shenanigans. Biden seems to have realized it was a lost cause and acted sensibly.

    Given the age and decrepitude of Ukrainian pipelines Europeans have to worry about security of supply over the next few years. Nord Stream 2 probably looks a lot better than leaky Soviet-era pipelines that might fail at any moment Especially as it is the same gas.

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