Washington — The need to maintain safe, reliable and adequate energy supplies will be an increasing priority in U.S. foreign policy of the 21st century, said Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton October 18 in what was billed as an important address on energy diplomacy.
"Energy is an issue of wealth and power, which means it can be both a source of conflict and cooperation," Clinton said, calling this era a time of "profound change" in global energy markets as demand grows in expanding economies, as competition for supplies becomes more intense, and as new supplies of energy are being discovered and developed.
Speaking on the campus of Georgetown University in Washington, Clinton said the United States will strive to provide international leadership to ensure that all countries receive access to the energy they need for growth. Expanding energy access to 1.3 billion people who currently have no access to electricity is also important for the future.
These ends must be pursued without causing damage to the environment and without energy monopolies.
"Energy monopolies create risks," said Clinton. "Anywhere in the world when one nation is overly dependent on another for its energy, that can jeopardize its political and economic independence."
That's why NATO has identified energy as a key security issue, and why the United States is working to promote equitable distribution routes in Southern Europe for Caspian Sea natural gas, Clinton said.
The U.S. effort to encourage the international community to adopt sanctions to dissuade Iran from nuclear weapons development has been the nation's most important activity in the realm of energy diplomacy, Clinton said. "Painstaking diplomacy" has been applied to gain broad support for the sanctions, she said, and to make them effective. In response to concerns about oil shortages in the absence of Iranian imports, she said, the United States has boosted its own production by 700,000 barrels of oil per day.
"We've been able to put unprecedented economic pressure on Iran while minimizing the burdens on the rest of the world," she said.
That success also encouraged the United States to help resolve the dispute over oil supplies and oil exporting infrastructure between Sudan and South Sudan. She said a cooperation agreement has been ratified by the parliaments in each nation, though the situation remains "fragile."
U.S. efforts in energy diplomacy are making significant progress in the Western Hemisphere in the aftermath of the Summit of the Americas earlier in 2012. Led by Colombia, Clinton said, the initiative is called Connecting the Americas 2022.
"It aims to achieve universal access to electricity by the year 2022 through electrical interconnection in the hemisphere," Clinton said. The initiative is receiving broad support in the region in its goal to trade and share power through a unified grid.
"By expanding the size of power markets, we can create economies of scale, attract more private investment, lower capital costs and ultimately lower costs for the consumer," Clinton said.
On a broader scale, a U.N. initiative is leading a campaign to bring electricity to the more than 1 billion now lacking it. Clinton said the goal of Sustainable Energy for All is to achieve universal access by 2030 and double the rate of growth for energy-efficient technologies and the share of renewable technologies as power providers.
The campaign will also urge nations to establish competitive and transparent energy markets to attract more international investments. That will help poor people who pay too much for inadequate and dirty energy supplies such as diesel and charcoal, Clinton said.
These efforts are also consistent with the U.S. Clean Cookstove Campaign, which Clinton launched earlier this year as a route to both improve health and stop indoor pollution that occurs in millions of homes where open fires are used in cooking. Respiratory disease stemming from indoor pollution is estimated to kill 1.6 million to 2 million people each year, most of them women and children.
Great uncertainty still exists in the complex geopolitical influences that will shape energy security, but the importance of the issue is beyond question.
"We have to be involved everywhere in the world," Clinton said. "The future security and prosperity of our nation and the rest of the world hangs in the balance, and all of us, especially all of you here today, have a stake in the outcome."
Inside the Department of State, Clinton said, she has created an organization with energy diplomacy as its primary focus. She is also directing embassies worldwide to become more involved in the issue in every country and build new partnerships to cope with 21st century challenges.