In recent years, global issues such as climate change and supply chain resiliency have become ever more pressing, leading to new developments in collaborative efforts across international borders. The United States and the Republic of Korea (South Korea) have become key allies, as both nations are not only top carbon emitters that have pledged to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, but they are also among the countries most interested in fortifying global supply chains in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the decoupling of the US and China.
Stateside, Nevada has become home to North America’s largest lithium mine, heightening its importance in new economic development priorities. Organizations such as the Northern Nevada International Center (NNIC) have taken advantage of Nevada’s position to spearhead initiatives like the U.S.-ROK Global Supply Chain Leaders Program (GSCLP) and the U.S.-Korea Young Climate Activists Exchange Program (YCAEP) to localize connection efforts.
The NNIC is a nonprofit located at the University of Nevada, Reno, working to connect northern Nevada with the world. For over 20 years, the NNIC has been organizing professional exchange programs and, on average, works with 600 visitors from 120 countries every year through various US Department of State-funded programs, among others. As the United States and South Korea cultivate opportunities for collaboration and mutual learning, the NNIC has worked to bring their shared goals to fruition through people-to-people initiatives such as the GSCLP and the YCAEP.
The GSCLP took place from August 19th-30th, 2023 and saw ten Korean supply chain management leaders stopping in Reno, Nevada, Austin, Texas, and Silicon Valley, California to attend workshops, conduct site visits, and network with industry leaders. The program will also emphasize key aspects of supply chain management, including how to create resilient supply chains with a focus on sustainability and incorporating emerging technologies. The issue of supply chain resiliency is particularly relevant in the areas of battery and semiconductor production. ROK companies comprise approximately one fourth of the global market share for electric vehicle (EV) batteries, and in 2021, was the third largest exporter of semiconductors in the world.
As a result, US-ROK investment between the two countries involving supply chains has also skyrocketed. That same year, South Korean company SK Innovation and Ford announced an $11.4 billion investment for building two EV battery gigafactories in Kentucky and Tennessee. The year after, the SK Group met with President Biden to announce a further $22 billion investment into EV batteries, semiconductors, and pharmaceuticals. The Inflation Reduction Act, which made historical investments into clean energy and climate, saw 31 percent of announced investments belong to ROK companies such as Samsung SDI, LG Energy Solutions, and SK Battery.
The GSCLP builds on the progress of the climate-focused program, YCAEP, that began in August of 2022. The portion that took place in the United States saw the Korean participants traveling to Washington, DC, Boulder, Colorado, and Reno, Nevada to take part in cross-cultural and professional exchanges with American organizations, politicians, and activists. In the process of understanding the United States’ approach to climate change, the Korean cohort met up with their American counterparts in Reno, where they were able to learn from one another about the methodologies and efforts their respective nations are making to address the global climate crisis. Next years’ program is expected to emphasize intra-group and inter-group discussions, allowing the participants to share more insights and ideas with one another and deepening the ties created by the first iteration’s alumni.
At all levels, the United States and Republic of Korea are in a position to work together towards a common, climate-safe future. In Nevada, lithium mining is both necessary for worldwide EV battery production and a topic of contention for climate activists. Hyundai’s new factory in Georgia is coming along despite some unexpected stipulations in the Inflation Reduction Act, which have made it harder to sell Korean EVs even though it is the most robust climate initiative in US history. Furthermore, the inclusion of international youth delegates at this year’s COP28 indicates an increasing emphasis on the collaborative potential of the world’s youth in combating the crumbling climate and its repercussions.
As the United States and South Korea continue to build upon their shared climate pledges and commitment to supply chain resiliency, international ties and person-to-person exchanges like those fostered by the NNIC will become the foundation for an effective and meaningful global effort.
Sarah Pratt is a participant in the Young Professionals Program at the East-West Center in Washington. She is a graduate student at the Fletcher School at Tufts University, where she is focusing on Comparative & Regional Studies and Human Security & Humanitarian Affairs.
Cecilia Winchell is a participant in the Young Professionals Program at the East-West Center in Washington. She is a recent graduate from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas with a major in Philosophy and a minor in Public Policy.