Friday, February 27, 2009

Lloyd's Report

Lloyd's has picked-up a story that the IISS launched our Transatlantic Dialogue on Climate Change and Security.

In April, the IISS and Lloyd's will publish a report on climate change, security, and business risk. We believe this will mark some new and important ground in how businesses, particularly in the insurance industry, should prepare for a warmer climate.

DNI calls Climate Change a top threat to National Security

The new Director of National Intelligence (and former IISS-US board member) Dennis Blair recently called climate change a major threat to our national security.

He said: "The impacts (of climate change) will worsen existing problems such as poverty, social tensions, environmental degradation, ineffectual leadership and weak political institutions."

Old news, but I'm just catchin up.

Russian Bombers Near the Canadian Arctic

Earlier this week, we'd commented about the implied Russian threat to 'monitor' militarization in the Arctic. Today, there is a report from the Canadian Ministry of Defense that a Russian 'Bear' bomber approached Canada's Arctic airspace during last week's visit to Ottowa by President Obama.

Its interesting that Russian General Makarov commented that they were "Looking at how far the region will be militarized." What he didn't note is that, to a large extent, it is Russian actions that are driving the militarization of the Arctic. Flights of "Bear" bombers testing NATO defenses is a recollection of the Cold War, and is a way for the Russian military to project power.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Summary of the Launch Event

On Wednesday 25th February 2009, the IISS successfully launched its new programme, the Transatlantic Dialogue on Climate Change and Security, with an event at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel in Washington, DC.

This event, featuring a four-member panel, was moderated by former Under Secretary of State Tom Pickering, an IISS-US board member. The four panelists were: Ambassador Angelos Pangratis, the Deputy Head of the European Commission’s Delegation to the United States; Nigel Inkster, IISS Director of Transnational Threats and Political Risk; Michael Cain, Director of the Army Environmental Policy Institute; and Major General Richard Engel (Ret.), Director of the Climate Change and State Stability Program in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Ambassador Pangratis began the panel discussion by saying that he believes that global climate change will prove to be the most important challenge facing humanity today; and its effects will be much longer lasting than today’s economic uncertainty. He said that meeting the challenge of global climate change will require an “unprecedented level of global governance and multilateralism.” Importantly, because of today’s increased global interdependence, global climate change presents real national security threats to both the U.S. and Europe.

Nigel Inkster began his remarks by briefly explaining the purpose for this new programme, saying that the IISS intends to pursue research into the impacts of climate change relevant to the intelligence and military communities, because there is no issue more salient in political debate than international security. While noting that it may appear that the Obama Administration will bring a consensus on climate issues among the Transatlantic Community, Inkster noted that there still remains significant differences. He noted that while Europeans view climate change as a “top-down” problem requiring government regulation, most Americans see it as a “bottom-up” search for solutions led by “enlightened self-interest.” He concluded by stating that part of the research for this programme will be to “look into the abyss” at worst-case scenarios, and find ways to manage them.

Michael Cain, the Director of the Army Environmental Policy Institute, began by commending the IISS for this new dialogue, and stated the commitment of the US Army to it. He explained how the Army has turned “180 degrees” in its sustainability initiatives over the past decade. He offered the Army as an example of how stability and sustainability can benefit national security.

General Engel began his remarks by explaining how the National Intelligence Council came to define Climate Change as a national security threat in their recent National Intelligence Assessment. He explained that his program is called “Climate Change and State Stability” because the effects of climate change on national security will mostly be seen as damage to already weak and unstable states. For example, changes in rainfall patterns alone are not likely to severely harm the U.S. homeland, but severe droughts could weaken our allies and bring about the collapse of already weak states.

Following their opening statements, the panel took questions from both Ambassador Pickering and from the audience. Ambassador Pickering asked what, specifically, were the most significant, early security threats of climate change. The panel agreed that the most noticeable threats over the coming years would be changes in precipitation, particularly as it affects glaciers, and changes in food supplies. Prompted by a question from the audience, the panel concluded that it would be unlikely that climate change or carbon emissions could be used as a weapon, but that geoengineering does raise some particularly difficult geopolitical problems. The panel closed with a discussion about the importance of involving developing countries – particularly China and India – in any talk about climate change.

Over the course of the next year, the IISS Transatlantic Dialogue on Climate Change and Security will host a series of conferences, workshops, and discussions to more closely examine the issues brought up in the launch event. Particular areas of focus will be: the effects of a warming climate on weak and distressed states; the shifting balance of power in the Arctic; the implications of reduced food and water supplies; and the potential adaptations of global security organizations to best respond to the challenges of a warming climate. The IISS anticipates that the next conference in this series will take place in Washington in early May.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Russian armed forces are monitoring ‘Arctic militarisation’

The chief of Russia’s General Staff has said that Russia will offer an adequate response to military developments in the Arctic region, in the latest sign that the rapid melting of Arctic sea ice is opening the region for potential territorial disputes.

General Nikolai Makarov commented: ‘Overall, we are looking at how far the region will be militarised. Depending on that, we’ll then decide what to do.'

Earlier, in a conference in Iceland, NATO’s Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer called attention to the rising strategic importance of the Arctic region. The United States also launched a policy directive in the last days of the Bush administration that called for the US to assert its interests in the region.

The Arctic seabed is widely expected to hold large untapped energy resources; the US Geological Survey recently estimated that the Arctic may hold 30 % of the world’s undiscovered gas and 13 % of undiscovered oil. The melting of sea ice is opening these previously inaccessible resources for commercial exploitation.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Launch Event

Wednesday will be the official launch of the TDCCS, at the Willard, as I posted previously.
We've gotten a little write-up on the blog.

Our press release has been posted at the following sites:

AeA (American Electronics Association)
AlphaTrade Finance
AOL News
Arizona Republic
Atlanta Business Chronicle
Austin Business Journal
Baltimore Business Journal
Birmingham Business Journal, Inc.
Bolsamania (Web Financial Group)
Boston Business Journal
Business First of Buffalo
Business Journal of Greater Milwaukee
Business Journal of Phoenix
Business Journal of the Greater Triad Ar
Business Review (Albany)
Charlotte Business Journal
Cincinnati Business Courier
Dallas Business Journal
Dayton Business Journal
Denver Business Journal
E / The Environmental Magazine
Earth Times
East Bay Business Times
Enterprise Open Source Magazine
Houston Business Journal
Human Rights Today
IT Industry Today
Jacksonville Business Journal
Kansas City Business Journal
Los Angeles Business from bizjournals
Los Angeles Times
Memphis Business Journal
Military Industry Today
Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal
Nashville Business Journal
New Mexico Business Weekly
News Blaze
Orlando Business Journal
Pacific Business News
Philadelphia Business Journal
Pittsburgh Business Times
Portland Business Journal
PR Newswire
Puget Sound Business Journal
Sacramento Business Journal
San Francisco Business Times
San Jose Business Journal
St. Louis Business Journal
State House News Service (Affiliated New
SYS-CON Australia
SYS-CON Belgium
SYS-CON Canada
Tampa Bay Business Journal
Technology Today
Triangle Business Journal
US Politics Today
Washington Business Journal
WFAA - Dallas/Fort Worth TV8
Wichita Business Journal
WR Hambrecht & Co.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Mapping the Human Toll of Climate Change

The Science Progress blog, a project of the Center for American Progress, has put up a new global map, using the GoogleMap program, that shows the human toll of climate change. The map can be found here.

This is a fascinating map which places data points at various places across the globe, each showing a particular vulnerability of the area to climate-related phenomena. For example, by clicking a point off the Southwestern coast of Africa, I learn that Namibia fishing stocks, which account for 6% of GDP, are at risk of being depleted by warmer waters and changing seawater composition. This map is interactive, and anyone can add a data point, so long as it is backed-up by scientific research.

An interesting aspect of this map, and of climate research overall, is that it appears that the effects on western countries, especially the US, will be more dramatic than the rest of the world. If you focus on the US as part of the map, the data points are dense and ominous, whereas Russia seems to be reasonably unaffected, for example. Of course, this only betrays a selection bias. Just because more research has been done on the US, it does not mean that Russia is safe, while the US is doomed to burn. It only means that scientists in the US are more active in this area than Russian scientists.

One of the goals of the TDCCS is to expand that base of knowledge beyond the developed world, and to better publicize the risk of climate change to areas around the world.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Official Launch of the Transatlantic Dialogue on Climate Change and Security

On Wednesday, February 25, the TDCCS will officially launch with an event at the Willard Hotel in Washington, DC. The event will feature the European Commission's Ambassador to the US, John Bruton (pictured) as our main speaker. He will be followed by a panel -- moderated by former Ambassador Tom Pickering -- that will include Nigel Inkster, the IISS's Director of Transnational Threats and Risk; Major General Rich Engel, director of the Climate Change and State stability program for the National Intelligence Council; and Michael Cain, Director of the Army Environmental Policy Institute.

A full description of the event is here.

We hope to use this event to discuss the areas of transatlantic agreement on climate change. I will be particularly interested to hear from Ambassador Bruton about how he sees that the EU and the US will be able to work together on climate change issues under the new Obama administration. From General Engel and from Mr. Cain, I'll be interested to hear how climate change is being incorporated into planning and analysis in both the military and intelligence communities.

To register for the event, please send an email to or by ringing 202.659.1490.

Friday, February 13, 2009

House Subcommittee Hearing

Yesterday, the House subcommittee on Energy and the Environment had a hearing on "The Climate Crisis: National Security, Economic, and Public Health Threats."

I had forgotten that its quite frustrating to actually attend hearings: the Members give extended opening statements, then get up and leave before they hear the testimony or ask questions. The result is that the only Members who really engage on the subject are those that really have a strong vested interest.

As a Republican, its sometimes hard for me to listen to our House members discuss climate change. They haven't changed their talking points for a decade, and are still fighting with the scientists. I make it a point to not argue with scientists. The Committee yesterday had a real chance to engage with some of the real experts on this subject: former CIA director Woolsey, and General Gordon Sullivan. Instead, both the Republicans and Democrats spent far too much time trying to score points by arguing with the two climate scientists on the panel (one placed by each side).

General Sullivan, who was one of the leaders of the CNA's report on Climate Change and Security, pointedly refused to engage in the political back-and-forth. He was there to talk about the national security risks of climate change, and wasn't going to get pulled into it.

Over all, I don't think any news was made: everything there had been said already. However, its important to bring this debate back into Congress. Anything we can do to elevate the debate beyond the point-scoring and arguments about he science is best for a true dialogue on climate change and security.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Korea's Food in Africa's Passport blog has a good explanation of how South Korea's Daewoo company has gotten itself wrapped up in an ongoing power struggle in Madagascar. In short, Daewoo leased a huge amount of land (said to be about the size of Qatar) for nothing: the only benefit for Madagascar would be the employment that it would provide.

Many people involved in climate change have been pointing to this and other similar deals whereby richer, mostly East Asian or Middle Eastern, countries set up bilateral deals, in the name of food security. A big fear is that, in a warmer world, patterns of agricultural growth will necessarily change, causing countries to scramble in order to feed their population.

On first glance it is understandable for countries to seek long-term stability for their necessary food imports. However, each deal like this only serves to further segment the world into competing blocks. Moreover, if countries prevent their farmers from seeking the high prices in the global marketplace, they will only reduce the long-term incentives to farm in their country.

A better option for Madagascar in a warmer world is to upgrade agricultural productivity so that it can sell its food on the open market to the highest bidder. Maintaining a free and open market for vital commodities like food will be critical to global adaptation to climate change. While it will always be tempting for wealthier countries like South Korea to monopolize a source, they should resist the temptation. Such a one-sided, neo-mercantalist policy will only serve to antagonize the locals, who must become stakeholders in such a system. However, it is a shame that Madagascar -- a desperately poor and underdeveloped nation (ranked 143 by the UNDP) -- will be deprived of desperately needed foreign investment for upgrading its agricultural sector.

Hopes for an improved international relationship on climate change

Obama has already followed through on his campaign promises for US climate change and energy problems. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon reports Obama’s statement of climate change as a domestic and international priority, and assured Washington’s full cooperation to make the UN Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen a success. This comment came a day before Vice- President Joe Biden spoke at the Munich international security conference on 7 February, where he stated ‘our administration's economic stimulus package, for example, includes long term investments in renewable energy and we believe that's merely a down payment.’ Relations with China are also looking for advancement as US Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s calls for China and the US to act fast and in unison on global warming. This report not only seeks a cap-and-trade system, but calls for a ‘top level strategic partnership’ between these competitors and top emitters.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Words vs. Deeds on Climate and Security

This is just a brief update on the Australian fires (see below).

In the The Canberra Times, Nicholas Stuart writes that "Words give false comfort" on climate change. Just over a year ago, Kevin Rudd was elected as Prime Minister, with a strong platform and mandate to deal with climate change. He quickly signed the Kyoto Protocol in Bali, but then has done little more than photo-ops and commissions regarding climate change since, according to Mr. Stuart.

While this is probably true, the larger lesson is that politicians can no longer say "Climate Change is a security threat" but then only focus on international negotiations. There are very few elections that have ever been decided based on what goes on at a UN forum, no matter how important it is. Instead, politicians are going to have to start to address climate change at the local level. This doesn't mean turning off your tv or turning down your music, like the EU thinks. Instead, it means acting to deal with, and adapt to the effects, whether its fires in Australia, storms on the US Gulf Coast, or changing food production patterns. Politicans and governments will be challenged based on how they predict -- and react -- to climate events.

The Australian Fires

Some have called the horrific South-East Australian fires a symptom of climate change.

Bradford Plummer at on The New Republic's "The Vine" blog talks about the importance of these fires, and how seemingly small changes in long-run temperature can manifest themselves in huge and terrible ways, like this.

We will always have to add the disclaimer that no single, local event can ever be definitively attributed to global climate change. There have always been brush fires in Australia. However, two things have combined to make these fires worse. First, suburban sprawl has encroached into historically fire-prone areas (this is similar to Southern California's fires). Secondly, however, these fires come after a drought that has lasted somewhere close to a decade. In that way, it was clearly attributable to local changes in the climate. The end result is that it doesn't matter to people who've lost their homes whether the fire was caused by carbon emissions, drought, or arson. They have lost their homes, and in the future will only want to make sure that this cannot happen again.

That's why adaptation -- not just in terms of spending, but in terms of our mindset -- to a warmer climate will be so important in the future. Perhaps as we adapt, we'll realize that living in the path of fires is not the best place to be.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Canada- United States Discussion on Climate Change

President Barack Obama plans to make his first trip to Canada on 19 February, where the discussion of a North American climate-change policy will be discussed with the Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Canada wants to have an environmental policy that is more aggressive on climate change. And in doing so, energy issues are at the fore-front. According to Environment Minister Jim Prentice, "When you're talking about climate change policy you're basically talking about the policies of energy consumption." Canada may be vying for a better climate change policy, but they are also seeking for ways to protect development of their oil sands, whose production process is one of the most environmentally destructive. Canada currently accounts for 19 percent of US imports of petroleum, making US security of oil supply an important factor in the discussion. There are also hopes for the laying of groundwork for an agreement on a North American cap-and-trade system to reduce carbon emissions during Obama’s visit.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

What Zimbabwe's Hyperinflation has to do with Climate Change

The BBC reports today that Zimbabwe is chopping 12 zeroes off of its bank notes. This means that a Z$1 trillion note will now be worth Z$1. This hyperinflation, with annual inflation rates in the millions, is an ongoing tragedy that has devastated what was once one of the strongest states in Africa. Let me be clear, climate change is not responsible for a 1 trillion dollar bank note (this was a human-caused catastrophe), it could be a cause in the future of similar disasters in Africa.

Unfortunately, massive state-level failures, like Zimbabwe's hyperinflation, happen far too often across the continent. While there have been notable exceptions, like Ghana's recent election, too often the news is about war in Sudan, piracy in Somalia, a botched election in Kenya, or war crimes in the Congo.

Into this combustible mix, we will throw the very real threat of a warmer climate. The IPCC's 2007 chapter on Africa explains the particular and unique vulnerability of Africa to climate change. Fully 1/3 of Africans already live in already drought prone areas, and climate change will aggravate that problem. Furthermore, the IPCC makes clear that Africa's poverty and its political divisions will undermine many efforts to adapt to climate change.

However, in Africa, it will seldom be clear whether any single problem, whether it's hyperinflation, piracy, famine, or crop failure, are related to global warming. Rather, it will become clear that climate change will be just one of the many factors, included among poverty, disease, lack of clean water, economic isolation, corruption, and many others which could be underlying causes for Africa's misery. As the IPCC says: "The impact of climate variability and change on food security therefore cannot be considered independently of the broader issue of human security."

There are so many problems that Africa faces, and the challenges of climate change will only make each of them worse.