Friday, January 30, 2009

Ban Ki Moon in Davos

One thing that sometimes gets lost in dialogue about security and climate change by focusing on relatively short-term issues like droughts, melting arctic ice, and others is the possibly existential nature of climate change. It is important to have people like UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon call climate change "the one true existential threat to the planet."

His speech in its entirety can be found here.

"The Battle for the Arctic" on CBC

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) last night broadcast a new documentary called "The Battle for the Arctic." Unfortunately, it is only available to watch in Canada. However, you can watch a trailer here. The New York Times has a good 5 minute video synopsis as well.

There are two things that are driving the rush to exploit the Arctic. The obvious one is the acceleration of summertime melting. This means that areas previously covered by ice year round are now able to be exploited for material gain. The second driver of exploitation in the Arctic is the UN's Law of the Sea treaty, which could extend the sovereign reach of a nation out beyond the current 200 mile exclusive economic zone, if that country can prove scientifically that their continental shelf extends further. However, they've only got 10 years to prove that. Russia's ten years expires at the end of this year. Canada has until 2013. The United States has not ratified the treaty, so they're left out for now.

The gist of the CBC documentary seems to be that the Canadians are far behind the Russians and the Americans in the far north. Although I can't speak for the Russians, the United States has not yet made the investments necessary for a true arctic naval presence. Although USNavy submarines have had a 50-year presence under the arctic, we don't have the icebreakers needed for a surface presence.

The Russians, however, seem to be the most active in the arctic. The flag planting was the most visible, but they appear to be trying to figure out how to use their existing naval resources in the arctic. This announcement from the Russian Navy says that they may be looking at their nuclear submarine fleet as undersea oil drilling rigs.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Gore Opening Statement

Gore is doing his power point, which anyone who has seen his movie will know very well. It appears that most Senators are actually staying to watch: which has to be a surprise.

The problem with Gore is that he is too alarmist. He cherry-picks the scientific evidence from the worst-case scenarios. It almost makes it sound like such a huge problem, and that there's nothing we can do about it.

Personally, for public-relations issues, I would prefer we look at the (very real) short-term problems (migration, drought, famine, etc.) instead of the truly apocalyptic view that Gore puts forward.

Climate Security at Gore's hearing

I just thought it would be interesting to put in some quick thoughts as I watch today's Senate Foreign Relations Committee with Al Gore testifying.

Kerry's openning statement at Gore's hearing really focused on the security aspects of climate change, particularly focusing on migration, rainfall, and shrinking glaciers in the Himalayas.

Lugar's opening statement, however, focuses more closely on technology, science and 'energy security.' Then, he shows his farming background by putting a plug in for genetically modified crops and biotech. This is an interesting tack, that I haven't heard before.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Gore to Testify

On Wednesday, Al Gore will testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on "Addressing Global Climate Change: the Road to Copenhagen." (note: apparently the SFRC's website says it will be on Thursday, but is wrong).

I hope that this will be an interesting hearing, with tough, illuminating questions, not just a love-fest, that some of these high-profile hearings can become.

Here's my outline for questions that I'd like to see asked:

A climate change treaty is only good so long as its truly international (i.e. every country, not just developing countries sign on for binding reductions). In the vernacular of Kyoto and the UNFCC negotations, this is called 'annex 1' and 'non annex 1.' Annex 1 countries are the U.S., Europe, Japan, Russia, etc... Non Annex 1 countries are the 'developing world.' This includes obvious ones like all African countries, the Pacific islands, and other poorer states, but it also includes places like China, India, Brazil, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the UAE. The problem is clear.

So, if I were still working for Senator Hagel, I'd push him to ask: "Do the principles of Byrd/Hagel still apply?" These principles are: 1. that the U.S. will not sign a treaty that would cause mandatory reductions in our emissions, if it does not require binding restrictions on all the major economies; and 2. that the U.S. will not sign a treaty that will harm our economy. Why should the US commit itelf to binding restrictions, when this will only make our industry non-competitive, compared to our competitors (i.e. China, India)? This is likely going to be the line of attack from Republican Senators like Corker and Isakson. DeMint, Barasso, and probably this new guy Risch (Idaho) may go even further, and go towards the old questions about the science of cliamte change. Gore will skewer them on this, because he knows the issue much better than they do.

From the Dems, I'd like to hear a rephrasing of the question. Gore would probably be more likely to give a straight answer to them. I think would be interesting to hear, the Dems (maybe a moderate like Shaheen or Casey) though, would be along those same lines, is 1: how do you get the Chinese/Indians to move away from their position that they will never put any restrictions on their emissions? 2: should there be some mechanism to 'graduate' countries from 'non-annex 1' to 'annex 1' status? i.e. why are South Korea, Singapore, UAE, Saudi, and Qatar 'developing' nations? Clearly, they have high amounts of capital and growth, and therfore should be involved in a truly global treaty.

Obama answers appeal for tighter fuel efficiency standards

President Obama will instruct the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider its previous refusal to California’s waiver application as well as order the Transportation Department to issue guidelines to ensure that the nation’s auto fleet reaches a higher average fuel efficiency standard. California, along with thirteen other states, has applied for this waiver to the US federal emissions standard, in order to implement stricter regulations. In the past, California has won numerous waivers for controls on emissions that cause smog, as opposed to climate change, which is on the global agenda as well. Wanting to act swiftly, President Obama will order temporary regulations to be completed by March, so automakers have enough time to retool for the next set of vehicles sold. Daniel Weiss, director of climate strategy at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, commended President Obama’s actions by acknowledging that this “will reduce our oil dependence by speeding the production of the gas-sipping cars of the future.”

Thursday, January 22, 2009

EPA Report: Coastal Sensitivity to Sea-level Rise (SC)

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a report (784 pages long) that discusses the impacts of sea-level rise in the coastal areas of the Mid-Atlantic Region of the United States. The report includes opportunities for governments and coastal communities to plan for and adapt to rising sea levels. It focuses on eight coastal states, from New York to North Carolina, giving advice on what needs to be done to prepare for potential changes to these vulnerable coastal areas. Local governments are adopting policies that divert new developments away from the coastal regions likely to flood in the future. Areas in Maryland, close to Washington DC are especially prone to flooding and even small rises in ocean levels can cause much land to disappear. Dr. Boesch, an oceanographer from the Maryland Commission on Climate Change and the US Climate Change Science Program, said it's important to address climate change from two directions: we should reduce greenhouse gases that cause global warming and we need to be prepared for the consequences of global warming, such as sea-level rise.

White House Directive Guides Policy on Arctic (SC)

The White House signed this policy directive last week, guiding government decisions involving the Arctic, focusing especially on the impact of rising temperatures in the region. Climate change will spark a rise in economic and military activity in the area, as these environmental concerns will have to be dealt with in a timely and comprehensive manner. President Bush’s signing of this ten-page policy document asserts the U.S. government’s interests in this region that is becoming increasingly desirable to countries that may wish to exploit its natural resources and strategic possibilities. White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said that this update reflects the creation of new federal agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security. Jeremy Rabkin, professor at George Mason University regrets to say that the document really is not policy because it does not outline the priorities, instead lists the issues that need to be addressed. Because the Arctic region is extremely sensitive to the effects of climate change, it ‘should be recognized as a strategic priority for our nation.’ (John F Kerry, D-Mass.)

Friday, January 16, 2009

Climate and Security News: January 16

There's not much new in the climate change and security field over the last day or two. Although not strictly security related, its worth noting that USCAP, a business and environmental coalition, introduced their plan for a Cap-and Trade regime to strongly reduce carbon emissions. Interesting that they've been attacked by both the right and the left.

CFR Analyze's Obama on Climate

The Council on Foreign Relations has a new analysis of "Climate Policy in the Age of Obama." The gist of it that there's high hopes for Obama to seriously address climate change -- hopes which were boosted by the selection of his energy team. However, the analysis goes on to address why those hopes could be dashed:

1. Obama has not spoken about climate change or 'cap and trade' legislation since November.
2. Pelosi (never mind more centrist Dems) are starting to back away from passing a bill this year
3. Obama has focused more on stimulus and 'green jobs.'

Here's the political problem: anyone who believes that carbon is causing a potentially very harmful change to the global environment has to believe that there needs to be a price placed on carbon, whether through a Carbon Tax or a Cap and Trade system. In no other way can you efficiently address this problem. However, politicians want to be liked -- not necessarily efficient. A price on carbon is inherently a negative, not matter how it is packaged. 'Green Jobs' however, is a way for politicians to claim their creating jobs: a political positive. The efficient response, therefore, will have a very difficult time overcoming the political response.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

NATO conference on Security in the Arctic

NATO is set to hold a seminar on January 29-30 on "Security Prospects in the High North." There has been significant talk recently about the shifting strategic priorities in the Arctic, given that more and more of the Arctic is open sea in the summer. If the Arctic is open to shipping lanes and to resource exploitation, then there will inevitibly be an increased military presence.

It seems that most of the attention has focused on disputes over soverignty, with the Canadians saying the Northwest passage is theirs, while America asserts the rights of international navigation through the passage, and the Russians appear to claim sovereignty for as much as they can get their hands (or a flag) on.

NATO, at least, will offer a venue for the Canadian and American dispute to be settled.

Not sure that Rekjavik in January is the optimum time to visit, but this promises to be an interesting discussion for NATO.

New Center in the British Government

The British Government's Department of Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has opened a new "Centre of Excellence in Understanding and Managing Natural and Environmental Risk."

Although I generally am a little skeptical of government bodies calling themselves "centers for excellence" (it all sounds a bit Orwellian), it does show that the British government is interested in adding some facts and numbers to the debate. It is important for politicians and policymakers to say that Climate Change is a national security risk, but it is even more important to have some serious research and numbers to back-up that statement.

Hopefully the new Center will be 'excellent' in doing that.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Climate and Security News: January 14

Just a few things in the news today:

As I mentioned, two of Obama's nominees who will be directly involved in Climate Change policy testified before the Senate yesterday: both Chu and Clinton vowed that addressing climate change would be a top priority, for national security reasons as well as environmental reasons.

In Senator Clinton's hearing it was interesting to hear that both her and John Kerry spoke about climate change in their openning statements, but once it came down to questions -- which were limited to only 10 minutes per Senator -- no Senator put climate change as a high enough priority to ask about it.

Although I didn't watch or listen to any of Chu's hearing, it is interesting to look at the media follow-up to it. Most of the spin given by the newspapers, like the WaPost or the NYTimes, is that he is backpedalling from statements he made about coal and the price of gasoline before he was nominated. Of course he would moderate his statements: he has to answer to politicians now, not to scientists. It seems that the only way you can avoid controversy is to not take a serious position on anything. But, I guess that's just where our political system is right now.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

More Arctic News

Senator Murkowski asked Clinton during her confirmation hearing about America's arctic policy. I'm not sure how Clinton responded. Probably by saying "this is a very important issue, and I assure you I'll give it my closest attention." All the while knowing that she'll pass it off to a deputy undersecretary while she jets off to meet a roundtable of sheiks.

Tom Ricks, over at says that Global Warming is now a national security issue.

Climate and Security News: January 13

It seems to be a big day in climate security issues in the arctic:

Does the Northwest Passage still matter?
The Canadian Globe and Mail says that Canada should protect its sovereignty in the Northwest passage, but it may be superceded by a direct over-the-pole route, should melting continue.

In Parting Move, Bush Sets Arctic Priorities
The New York Times' "DotEarth" blog reports that the Bush Adminstration issued new national security directives asserting free navigation in the arctic, through both Canadian and Russian waters.

Update: Clinton also calls Climate Change a Security Threat

Responding to Sen. Kerry's statement, Clinton also said: "At the extreme, it threatens our very existence but well before that point it could well incite new wars of an old kind over basic resources like food, water and arable land." (Hat tip: Gristmill)

It is I didn't watch much of the hearing, but I did catch some of it this afternoon. It is good to see that policy-makers are beginning to move beyond climate change as an environmentalist-only issue.

Interestingly, it doesn't appear that any of the Senators asked Clinton about Climate Change, either in regards to the ongoing UN negotiations or its national security impacts. What that says to me is that the long-term threat of climate change will never be the number one priority for Senators when near-term shooting wars are filling the front pages.

Senator Kerry: "Climate Change is a National Security Threat"

At today's confirmation hearing for Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, the new Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, specifically refferred to climate change as a "national security threat." Personally, I would prefer that policy-makers would not simply say "climate change is a national security threat" without explation. In this case, it seems that Kerry is just using it as a slogan. I would like to see him -- or others -- explain why they think its a national security threat.

This is from his prepared opening statement:

Before turning to Senator Lugar, let me say one thing about global climate change: Many today do not see it as a national security threat. But it is -- and the consequences of our inaction grow more serious by the day. In Copenhagen this December we have a chance to forge a treaty that will profoundly affect the conditions of life on our planet. The resounding message from the recent Climate Change Conference in Poland was that the global community is looking to our leadership. This Committee will be deeply involved in crafting a solution that the world can agree to and the Senate can ratify. And as we proceed, the lesson of Kyoto must remain clear in our minds: all countries must be part of the solution.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Climate and Security News: January 12

Focus on the Environment
In an opinion piece on Defense News, Sherri Goodman and David Catorious of the Center for Naval Analysis (CNA) argue that the Obama Administration will need to treat global climate change as a national security threat. They argue that domestic action on infrastructure, clean energy, and improved energy security is an important, but not sufficient, step to addressing climate change. In order to truly address climate change as the global security problem it is, they argue that the Obama Administration lead in negotiating a truly global climate change treaty.

Climate warming means food shortages, study warns
A study recently released in the Journal Science says that global warming will drastically reduce crop yields and lead to a disastrous food shortage for billions of people. Conflicts caused by food and resource shortages are considered one of the largest security threats from climate change. However, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, in Boulder, CO points out that "The reality would be somewhat less grim than what they're presenting," because crops would be adapted for higher temperatures.

A New Dialogue on Climate Change and Security

Today, the IISS has brought the Transatlantic Dialogue on Climate Change and Security (TDCCS) online. This blog was set-up to be the online forum for anyone interested in the overlapping worlds of climate change and global security.

The scientific evidence on climate change and the role of human activities is overwhelming and impossible to ignore. One influential transatlantic constituency which has begun to take the threat of climate change seriously and to examine it from a global strategic perspective is the defence and security community.

The TDCCS is a forum within which North American and European policy-makers and experts can discuss security issues arising from climate change and identify policy options for mitigating some of these outcomes, including ways of engaging with other major carbon-emitting nations such as China and India.

Although the main goals of the TDCCS is to facilitate face-to-face meetings, conferences, and workshops, in today's interconnected world, it is increasingly important to build an online-presence. This blog will allowa free-flowing and open debate for any interested parties.

As the TDCCS Programme Manager, I (Andrew Holland) will be responsible for posting updates to the blog. Ever day, I will try to sift through any important related news articles, and post their links. As we gain a larger readership, I will attempt to post questions for a full and open discussion. This blog is an experiment, and I hope that we can build it into a real online forum.