Friday, May 29, 2009

How the Military Can Shape Public Opinion on Climate Change

Yesterday, the Wilson Center’s Environmental Change and Security Program hosted a presentation based on a report done by the CNA Corporation entitled “Energy, Climate Change, and the Military: Implications for National Security.” This report – a follow up to their 2007 report on “Climate Change and National Security”—presented the impact of America’s Energy and Climate policy on US national security and offered new proposals for a role the military can play.

The military can shape the terms of the debate on climate change. Vice Admiral (ret) Dennis McGinn recommended the Department of Defence (DoD) should take the lead on renewable energy and efficiency; as this can change the culture of the government and the country. He even compared carbon reductions to past campaigns to reducing smoking. The report shows that the military can be an agent of change, citing Truman’s decision to integrate the armed forces.

The report emphasizes that energy affects national security, and that the military’s use of energy can act as a model for American society at large. General Wald discussed weapon system acquisitions that are made with long time horizons; DOD must consider the carbon “bootprint” of weapon systems. This carbon bootprint could constrain operational readiness in coming decades when oil is scarcer. However, several questions cited the problems of entrenched interests in the Pentagon, including lobbyists, appropriations committees, and large-scale weapons systems that can have opposing agendas.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Implications of Canada's Tar Sands

Last week’s New York Times has an summary of a report by the Council on Foreign Relations about Canada's enormous oil sand reserves. The Council’s report encourages the coordination of climate and energy policies between the United States and Canada. The oil sands are estimated by the government of Alberta to contain about 170 billion barrels of ‘technically recoverable’ oil. These reserves would make it second only to Saudi Arabia.

However, extracting and refining oil from the tar sands is typically much more water and energy intensive (and expensive) than pumping crude straight out of the ground. Consequently, the report also recommends that the Canadian government invest more heavily in developing carbon capture and sequestration technologies to make the oil sands less dangerous to the climate. Since last year’s economic downturn and oil price collapse, investment in the tar sands has collapsed, but recently Exxon-Mobil announced they are resuming investment activity, indicating their confidence in the tar sands as an economically viable source of oil despite the uncertainty over what the US Congress will pass on climate change and carbon.

Additionally, the report suggests that any US carbon trading framework (like the new Waxman-Markey bill) includes Canada; it should at least result in similar carbon prices on both sides of the border. Of particular relevance to the ongoing debate in the United States Congress over Waxman-Markey is the article's contention that carbon permits should be freely allocated to companies developing the oil sands. In terms of US energy security, the report highlights how purchasing oil extracted from the tar sands could potentially cut into OPEC's revenue stream as well as reduce US dependence on oil from the Mideast.

This debate on the merits of the tar sands highlights the complexities of balancing environmental and energy concerns (see: Greenpeace's attempt to lobby Norway to divest from the Alberta tar sands).”

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Is a Tropical Storm a Climate-Change related event?

Below, Sophia recounts the damage of Tropical Storm Alia in Bangladesh and Eastern India. Thankfully, it looks to be a low (relatively) death toll.

In the intersecting worlds of climate-change and security policy, we spend a large chunk of time talking about how climate change will increase the likelihood of large, fatal, highly damaging storms. We focus on regions that -- because of geography, population, or poverty -- are particularly vulnerable to these storms. We say that a warming climate will cause more damage to coastal regions. However, we will never be able to say that climate change caused this storm. Weather is not climate, and climate is not weather. There are simply too many factors that affects storms like this. What we can say is that tragedies and disruptions like this are likely to become more dangerous as well as more common.

Joe Romm at Climate Progress has a good post that marks the beginning of the North American Hurricane season. He says that its scheduled for June 1, but he makes a strong case that climate change means that it has already arrived. What that means for policymakers is that more attention and resources should be given to climate adaptation, like Oxfam's flood disaster project in Bangladesh, and national governments should give consideration to intense planning to reduce the damage from these sorts of disasters.

Tropical Storm Alia

Monday, May 25, Tropical Cyclone Aila hit West Bengal, India and Bangladesh. Although the number of casualties appears to be lower than previous tropical cyclones, the tidal surges and flooding has caused hundreds of thousands of people to be sent from their homes. Both India and Bangladesh’s Armies have been mobilized and joined civil servants and volunteers to search for the missing and rescue the marooned. India evacuated 100,000 people before the cyclone hit West Bengal. The consequences may be worse for Bangladesh (the death toll is expected to rise) because coastal areas of Bangladesh are still recovering from Tropical Cyclone Sidr, which killed 3,268 in November 2007. The storm is especially devastating for farmers preparing to harvest rice and other crops.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Review from New Security Beat

Geoff Dabelko at the New Security Beat has posted an informed and substantive summary and review of the Stimson Center's Troubled Waters: Climate Change, Hydropolitics, and Transboundary Resources. He's right to focus on this report, which was an interesting and informed summary of how water politics -- already an area of potential conflict -- is being complicated by climate change in South Asia.

This was an interesting report that was worth reading.

The Economist on Waxman-Markey

The Economist has an article out this week that does not like the House's Waxman Markey Climate Change bill. It supports President Obama's plan that would have auctioned all credits, creating revenue the the government could then hand out as it likes. Instead, Waxman-Markey gives away 85% of its carbon credits to industy. In this way, they will recieve the windfall from this bill, not the government.

So, the Economist seems to favor tax increases, while Waxman-Markey favors corporate welfare. The article makes the good point that: "it means that the permits go not to those who value them most (as in an auction) but to those whom the government favours." Republican's (who claim to oppose both tax increases and corporate welfare) the article expects to: "berate the bill as both a job-destroyer and a handout to big business." Its hard to be both, which points to the difficulty that Republicans are having trying to craft a message on this issue.

Environmentally, all that matters, however, is that the cap is tightly put on. The rest is just how you share the money.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

More Details from US-China Meeting

Lisa Friedman at ClimateWire has a story today about this 'secret meeting' last year.

The most interesting part to me is when Chinese Minister Xie Zhenhua said that its time to move 'beyond the rhetoric.' It is interesting to hear such a candid statement fro a Chinese Government official: in my experience, a Chinese government official is not given that much latitude to say what they want. In this case, his candor may have helped move China and the US away from their 'suicide pact.'

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Secret US-China Talks on Climate Change

This is exciting news from the Guardian about US-China talks on what they are calling "secret talks" on a bilateral climate change agreement.

Two things that strike me about this article:

1. These talks were initiated during the Bush Administration in 2007. I contend that, by the last two years of the administration, there were some very helpful policied being put together on climate change, incuding the Asia-Pacific Partnership, the Department of Energy's Loan Guarantee program, the Major Economies Meetings, and apparently, these meetings. Unfortunately, the denials and hesitations of the previous 6 years had set the storyline, and no one was ready to believe that they could do any good on this issue. Also, these programs were very much led by Congress, not the Administration.

2. Why is this news being broken by a British newspaper? I wonder if the Obama administration had been able to convince American papers to keep a lid on it, or if the Guardian simply scooped the Washington Post and the New York Times? The Chinese can sometimes be difficult in negotiations, and I hope that this publicity doesn't undercut the good work that has been done up to now.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Antarctic Ice will only raise seas by 10 feet

Andy Revkin at the NYTimes' DotEarth blog has posted the lead story on the New York Times' website this afternoon, saying that the collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet would raise sea levels by 10 feet, not 20. For most scientific disciplines, these arguments over magnitude and implications of change take place quietly. However, climate change is a major topic of public policy, so the scientists get front-page coverage. This is not he best place for these arguments to happen, because it muddies the water, and promotes paralysis.

There seems to be a continuing litany of studies -- some extrememly worrying, and some that are vaguely reassuring (i.e. Downtown Manhattan will only be partially, not completely flooded). It is unfortunate, however, for leaders and policymakers that there seems to be so much 'noise' but little consensus.

In 2007, the IPCC created a strong international consensus that climate change was a threat that must be addressed. The result was the Bali roadmap.

Two years later, the studies and observations are almost uniformly worse than IPCC predictions. Unfortunately, these studies often disagree and there is no coordination. The result is this 'noise' that only serves to undermine political will and cause paralysis among leaders. I'm afraid the result will be the collapse of Copenhagen.

The IPCC must move faster in preparing their next report.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Grist Post on Climate Change as a Security Threat

Grist has posted an article by Geoffrey Lean about how militaries are beginning to address climate change and sustainibility. Lean is the Environment editor of the Indpendent on Sunday in London. He says that we may be seeing the beginning of the 'military-ecological complex.'

It seems that the environmental community is beginning to understand the moral and economic power that the military can wield. However, greens should not expect the military to take over this area: properly addressed, the entire government should be working to address climate change. The role of the military should be to use its powerful predictive capability to outline the threats. The role of the civilian government should then be to address those threats.

Friday, May 8, 2009

UN Conference in Copenhagen

After a brief luncheon, the conference moved into a third plenary session, chaired by Alexander Nicoll, the IISS Director of Editorial. This session, titled: “The UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen: Should we reassess how ‘security’ is defined for a warming world? Can a UN agreement in Copenhagen guarantee long-term climate security?” Panelists included: Ambassador Steffen Smidt, the Royal Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Representative for Climate Change Issues; Ambassador Paula Dobriansky, the former Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs throughout the Bush Administration; and James Lee, a Professor in the School of International Service at American University.

Ambassador Smidt began the panel by saying that “an ambitious global climate deal” at December’s summit of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is a top priority for the Danish Government. He stated that climate change is more than just an environmental issue to be addressed at UNFCCC conferences. Instead, it must be addressed comprehensively throughout the government. He laid out a series of areas in foreign policy that should be addressed, including in multilateral forums, development financing, energy security, and international investment policy.

Ambassador Dobriansky focused on the necessity of negotiating a truly global emissions-reduction treaty that is both environmentally effective and comprehensive. It must not undermine the ability of poor countries to develop, but it cannot simply allow large developing nations to continue their emissions with no limits. Unlike Kyoto, any treaty must include real commitments from developing nations that are “Measurable, reportable, and verifiable.” Beyond the environmental effectiveness of a treaty, a successful Copenhagen summit will include new efforts to develop clean technology, will protect against deforestation, and will help to foster good government policies. Finally, Ambassador Dobriansky concluded that the world will not need a new global institution to protect the environment, as the UN process – though in need of reform – will prove sufficient to handle the task.

As the last presenter of the day, Professor James Lee gave a thought-provoking presentation on the long-term security risks of climate change, based on a new book, entitled Climate Change and Armed Conflict: Hot and Cold Wars. Using a map of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s projections overlaid with a map of the world’s largest security risks, he made a persuasive case that – unless global warming is successfully mitigated – the world faces a range of new and potentially very dangerous security threats. Some specific scenarios that he mentioned included an end to ice caps and glaciers, the creation of an integrated ‘Great World Desert’ that stretches 600 miles from the Kalahari in Namibia to the Gobi in Mongolia, the specter of rising sea levels that could swamp existing islands and low-lying deltas, and the possibility of countries aggressively trying to change local and international weather patterns through cloud seeding or other geoengineering processes. Lee’s presentation underscored the long-term necessity of actively addressing climate change before these dire forecasts come to pass.

Overall, the questions surrounded how to achieve a successful result in Copenhagen. Several questioners asked how to involve China; the consensus was that it must be done in every way possible, including regional, multilateral, and bilateral agreements. All panelists agreed that the issue of how to enforce any agreements would be an important part of an agreement. One questioner asked why nations should continue to negotiate in the UNFCCC, when the Major Economies Forum, involving the 17 largest global emitters (85% of emissions), is moving towards crafting its own agreement. Dobriansky answered that it was most important to build capacity and governance through the UN process. All panelists agreed that, in the short-term, the UN process is sufficient, and there is no need for a new international environmental enforcement body. This panel provided important detail in how the international community could move towards a comprehensive treaty at December’s Copenhagen Conference, and it also talked about the dangers if we fail to act.

What Role for the Military?

The second plenary session, chaired by Andrew Parasiliti, IISS-US Executive Director and IISS-Middle East Corresponding Director, was titled: “Managing Climate-Induced State-Threatening Crises: What is the role of the military in climate-induced crises?” The three panelists were: Major General (ret) Muniruzzaman, of the Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies; Brigadier General (ret) Nigel Hall, a Senior Associate Fellow at the Defence Academy of the UK; and Kent Butts, the Director of the National Security Issues Group at the US Army War College.

General Muniruzzaman began the panel by stating that Bangladesh is a “Front line state in the fight against climate change” because of its dependence on large international rivers, its low elevation, and its poverty. He underlined that climate change is not just a future threat to his country, but something that is happening now, citing increased salinity of drinking water and a reduction in land available for farming. He stated that of its 155 million people, 30-40 million could become refugees due to climate-induced crises. The Bangladeshi military is beginning to plan for the inevitable disruptions this will cause, but more needs to be done.

General Hall made the important point the climate change is too important to be dealt with solely by militaries. In Europe, militaries must remain focused on short-term kinetic security threats, like the war in Afghanistan. In the long-term, Western militaries will inevitably be called on to deal with the crises caused by climate change, but now we have an opportunity to limit and mitigate the potential future damages of climate change. Hall strongly argued that this should be a “whole of government” focus, which will require “Visionary leadership” for a “21st Century Mobilization” of government, science, and society in order to successfully deal with this problem.

In contrast, Kent Butts stated that the American military can and should be involved in the fight against the effects of climate change. The most important way for the US Military to be involved is through engagement with militaries most likely to be harmed in climate-related disasters. He quoted the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review, which stated that the Department of Defense’s policy should be to take “preventative actions so problems do not become crises.” He argued that environmental stability is a prerequisite for state stability, and therefore climate change can undermine the legitimacy of states, so the US Military should engage in action to prevent these outcomes.

Overall, the panelists agreed that the role of militaries in dealing with climate change is different around the world, depending on the relative size, importance, legitimacy, and stability of a country’s military and it government. General Hall cited the example that President Zadari of Pakistan was unlikely to be worried about climate change, because he is dealing with major existential threats to the Pakistani central government. The role of European militaries, however, in planning for climate-related disasters may remain small, because of shrinking military budgets, and an understanding that the civilian arm of the government is competent in preparing for environmental change. In the United States, however, a large and well-funded military should use its projection powers to warn of climate threats. It was agreed that civilian governments should lead in the fight to mitigate climate change, so that a military leader “like Marshall or McArthur” does not have to respond to a crisis.

Energy Security and Climate Security

The first plenary session, chaired by Inkster, was titled “Energy Security and Climate Security: Are long-term security from climate change and short-term energy security compatible?” The three panelists were: Lieutenant General Larry Farrell, retired from the U.S. Air Force, of the CNA Corporation’s Military Advisory Board; Christophe Sammartano, Principal Counselor for Energy Security at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and David Buchan, a Senior Fellow at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies.

General Farrell underscored that dependence on imported oil is a clear national security threat to the United States, and has been since 1970. He stated that moving away from oil will be a major technological undertaking, taking decades. Citing his experience as the Air Force’s deputy chief of staff responsible for planning, he said that it was critically important for long-term planning purposes that oil and gasoline prices are predictable, and that fluctuations from $50 per barrel to $147 and back over a nine month span makes long-term budgeting impossible for large institutions like the military. The Department of Defense – as the United States’ largest consumer of fossil fuels – should be a leader in this fight. He highlighted that the goal of U.S. policy should be to “Change oil from a ‘strategic commodity’ to a regular commodity, just like wheat.”

Christophe Sammartano, a specialist on Europe’s energy relationship with Central Asia and Russia, spoke about the need for Europe to achieve energy security by diversifying its energy supply away from dirty sources like coal and from politically risky areas like Russia. Like General Farrell, he emphasized that there needs to be significant technological advances, including in battery storage, new nuclear power, and carbon-capture and sequestration, before true long-term energy and climate security can be achieved.

David Buchan, author of the recently released book Energy and Climate Change, Europe at the Crossroads, spoke about how climate change policy has helped to unify a European energy policy that has traditionally been dealt with at the national level. Policies of climate-mitigating carbon reduction, however, can not be considered in isolation from the two more traditional strands of EU energy policy: market liberalization and security of supply. He stated that the US can learn from European policies, especially stating that prices in the US are too low, and suggested that a significant increase in the gas tax will be necessary.

Questions from the audience were varied and insightful. All participants agreed that prices for fossil fuels will need to rise in order to provide economic incentives for renewable energy. Over the long term, panelists expressed concerns about the ability of Russia to meet its role as an energy supplier: citing a lack of investment, problems of transparency, and a politicization of energy supplies. Sammartano explained the January 2009 Russia-Ukraine gas crisis as a combination of political and economic disagreements that led to an impasse. Finally, there was a sense that energy security has two different definitions: for Europeans, it means a diversity of suppliers and sources; while for Americans it means a reduction in imports.

Successful Conference

On Tuesday, May 5 the Transatlantic Dialogue on Climate Change and Security held a successful conference on "The Global Security Implications of Climate Change." The agenda can be found here.

Planning for the conference has regretably kept me from posting to the blog as I should be, but now I'll be back. In coming posts, I'll put up brief summaries of the panel discussions.