Thursday, July 30, 2009

Pre-empting climate conflicts

One of the most often cited areas where climate induced conflict could occur is the Pakistan/India border where the Himalayan glaciers are melting. At today's Senate Commitee on Environment and Public Works hearing, Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn, outlined Egypt as a new scenario where climate change and conflict intersect. Today, talks on creating a framework to govern water sharing on the Nile River collapsed. The UPI directly links the strategic situation of the Nile to climate change stating:

Climate change in recent years has reduced rainfall, leading to lower water flows in the Nile and jeopardizing hydraulic projects in several states.

Egypt and neighboring Sudan are the Nile's largest consumers. Egypt, which lies at the end of the river as it flows into the Mediterranean, does not contribute any water to the Nile system.

But it has the largest population -- 80.24 million -- and the greatest military power among the riparian states and thus the highest demand for water. For Cairo, safeguarding the Nile water is a strategic objective.

While India and Pakistan at least have the Indus Water Treaty that's survived multiple wars, the collapse in talks over any legal agreement among all ten countries in the Nile basin underscores how difficult water negotiating agreements already are. Climate change will make it even more difficult to negotiate water treaties that prevent conflict when river flow decreases.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

South Korea to Rotterdam (Via Russia?)

The New York Times' DotEarth blog reports that the first trip to make the northeast passage from Asia to Europe, via Russia, has embarked from Vladivosktok. They expect to make it through a passage opened by retreating ice, as August progresses.

Something that is very important to take a look at: what kind of fuel will the ship be using for the passage? This is important because of the 'black carbon' emissions (essentially unburned fuel) that comes from burning the low-grade bunker fuel that is typically used by freighters. Black Carbon is a major cause of ice melt, and if other ships start making this journey, they could dramatically hasten the melting of arctic ice. When ice comes into contact with black carbon, it becomes much more likely for it to melt: instead of reflecting the heat from the sun, as it would when white, it will absorb more of the heat, and melt faster. This is a dangerous feedback loop.

One of the things that the Arctic Council is looking at is a ban on the usage of bunker fuels in the High North. I wonder what kind of fuel the Beluga Fraternity is burning for this trip?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Institutional Adaptation

Adaptation measures for climate change should focus not only on infrastructure and renewable energy but also on developing institutions capable of dealing with climate induced stresses such as mass migration. Pacific island nations are among the most vulnerable to rising sea levels and some nations have considered relocating. Oxfam Australia's new report on climate induced migration in the Pacific predicts:

By the year 2050, about 75 million people could be forced to leave their homes in the Asia-Pacific region due to climate change. Pacific island governments are already tackling climate change-related relocation and resettlement. Given the significant implications of these population movements for our region, it is vital that Australia and New Zealand governments hold discussions with Pacific island governments about this issue now. Planning for climate displacement will require looking at the most effective ways to support Pacific islanders who are forced to move from their homes, including through appropriate immigration policies.

In the event of sudden climate change, such as floods and storms, a mass influx of refugees could destabilize neighboring countries. Conflict over climate stresses can occur if neighboring communities don't understand the causes of migration and if existing institutions aren't prepared for climate induced migration. Oxfam's report has good recommendations for policy makers to begin laying the groundwork for dramatic changes in future migrations due to climate change.

Governments must also work with local community leaders to educate citizens about climate refugees in areas where mass migrations are likely to occur. Conflict may not originate from states in these situations but from native citizens responding to an influx of migrants especially if neighboring states are already divided by ethnic or religious divides. International human rights law, while insufficient by itself to prevent conflict, must begin to recognize climate induced migrants as a separate category of people where their claims to migrate can be judged by international law. Otherwise, without any sort of legal recognition, people fleeing from environmental catastrophe have very limited legal claims under international law.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Possible Regional Instability

The recently released report by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee recommending new areas of US-China cooperation exemplifies the US's priority of engaging China on climate. However, the report also mentions that:

In South Asia, India’s rivers are not only vital to its agriculture, but central to its religious practice. Pakistan, for its part, is heavily dependent on irrigated farming to avoid famine. Both share the water that flows from the Himalayas and which could disappear completely by 2035. At a moment when the American Government is working to decrease tensions and preparing to invest billions to strengthen Pakistan’s capacity to deliver for its people, climate change is working in the opposite direction.

The nexus of China, India, Bangladesh and Pakistan is going to become the critical area where climate change, if unmitigated, will have extremely destabilizing effects. The US's recent announcement of an additional $165 million in aid to Pakistan represents a longer term commitment to a region where climate change will exacerbate tensions by increasing resource scarcity. Sharon Burke, from the Center for a New American Security, mentioned at yesterday's senate hearing that strategies for fighting extremism via economic development and strategies for adapting to climate change are complementary. States must provide their citizens with at least minimum levels of economic development to maintain their legitimacy to prevent the rise of violent extremism. Pakistan is a clear example where millions of refugees and the presence of the Taliban undermine the government's stability.

China and India are emerging economies with billions of people aspiring to develop and urbanize. Bangladesh is routinely mentioned as one of the states most vulnerable to climate change. The region encompassing China, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh contains around 2.8 billion people. That region has the most to gain and the most to lose depending on the course of international action on climate change.

Infrastructure at Risk

Climate change is clearly impacting the security of military and industrial infrastructure. Yesterday, at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on climate change and security, Vice Admiral Lee Gunn described how rising sea levels could permanently damage low lying US naval bases at Norfolk, Virginia and on the island of Diego Garcia, strategically located in the India Ocean near Pakistan, and Iraq.

Scientific American also has an article outlining how melting permafrost could weaken the foundation of the 4$ billion dollar China-Tibet railway. Glaciers on the Tibetan plateau are among the fastest melting. Similarly, gas pipelines and other types of infrastructure built over permafrost could face severe design challenges as the ground beneath melts.

At the hearing, all of the testifiers emphasized that climate change's complex and interconnected impacts make it more paramount to examining its security implications. Even the outgoing head of NATO, Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, said yesterday "You cannot deny that the melting of the polar cap, the ice cap on the North Pole is having a lot of security consequences".

Monday, July 20, 2009

Military Incorporating Low-Carbon Planning

ClimateWire has a great article published on the NYT's online edition on how the US military is adopting green technologies out of budgetary, operational and ultimately, strategic concerns. The military's beginning to recognize the opportunity costs of fossil fuels and energy inefficiency. More energy demand means longer and more vulnerable supply lines. It also means more troops devoted to convoy protection rather than front-line combat.

Back in May, the CNA published a report calling for the military to adopt energy security and climate change policies. At the report's release event, Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn argued for the Pentagon to adopt renewable energy policies because they could change the culture of government and of society. The headline of today's paper is "Riding a Wave of Culture Change, DOD Strives to Trim Energy Demand". This is a great example of institutions understanding climate change and energy as new security developments that demand corresponding changes in policy. Dealing with climate change not only requires innovation but also new ways of thinking about the costs of inaction, such as adopting a 'carbon bootprint'.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Climate Induced Conflict Already Occuring

Last week, in Ghana, President Barack Obama mentioned climate change's connection to conflict in his speech. He said:
Africa gives off less greenhouse gas than any other part of the world, but it is the most threatened by climate change. A warming planet will spread disease, shrink water resources, and deplete crops, creating conditions that produce more famine and more conflict.
The conditions for conflict, have already started to occur. The BBC reported that 70,000 people were displaced in Ethiopia because of a conflict between the Oromo ethnic group and the Somalis over the location of a drill for water. Qeerransoo Biyyaa, an Oromo journalist, praises Obama's speech for identifying the link between climate and conflict. He argues that, "symbols and images of the harsh effects of climate change should rather be diversified than just be restricted to cultures that have polar bears and ice." Policymakers and people being affected by climate change are finally beginning to understand how it creates the conditions for conflict. The harder part will be to prevent those conditions from getting worse.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Drought Weakens Iraqi Security

Today's New York Times front page story highlights how droughts are impacting in Iraq. The article describes how the Euphrates, which irrigates much of Iraq's farming, has dried up and discusses how the drought is playing out politically:
bitterness over Iraq’s water threatens to be a source of tension for months or even years to come between Iraq and its neighbors...Along the river, there is no shortage of resentment at the Turks and Syrians. But there is also resentment at the Americans, Kurds, Iranians and the Iraqi government, all of whom are blamed. Scarcity makes foes of everyone. The Sunni areas upriver seem to have enough water, Mr. Joda observed, a comment heavy with implication.
Water scarcity weakens Iraq's external sovereignty because it's dependent on Turkish and Syrian dams for the Euphrates' water level. Iraq's internal stability is hampered by rising tensions over water between the historically hostile sectarian groups. Even if Iraq's water scarcity actually results from poor government management as the article suggests, the mere perception that particular groups, such as the Sunni's, have unequal access to water can still fuel conflict and instability. Reduced river flow hurts Iraq's agriculture yields too with wheat/barley production declining 51%. Now, the scenario laid out in March by the International Institute for Sustainable Development's report on climate change and the Middle East seems all the more dangerous. It states:
[Perceptions of water scarcity] could increase the chances of the ‘pre-emptive’ seizure of resources. This could be in any number of different directions: by Israeli settlers in the oPt [occupied Palestinian territory], between Turkey, Syria and Iraq over the division of the Euphrates and so on. In a sense climate change conflict could become a self-fulfilling prophecy—the expectation of coming environmental wars might imply that the way to deal with shrinking resources is to increase military control over them.
Political leaders must recognize how climate contributes to instability in the already vulnerable regions of the world.

Comments on Applebaum's Column: "Green Futillity"

Anne Applebaum has a column in today's Washington Post about the futility of climate-change summits. Certainly, her op-ed was the better thought-out of the two energy and climate change-related pieces on the page. (Sarah Palin wrote the other one)

She's correct in saying "I doubt the wisdom of assuming that eight or 10 politicians will ever solve this problem during a meeting in a conference center."

She is also correct to identify that the problem we should be working to solve is finding a way to make renewable power most cost effective than fossil fuels. The collapse in energy prices over the last year has significantly undercut the renewable power industry – and that has only been partially offset by stimulus funding. She also correctly identifies that the solution to that problem is for politicians to increase the relative cost of fossil fuels; she suggests a tax, but a cap and trade is another method.

However, she overlooks the utility of an international treaty in creating the conditions for politicians to increase the price of fossil fuels. It is very difficult for any politician to vote to raise the price of fuel or electricity. That is part of the reason why ‘cap and trade’ has gotten more political traction: though it is economically equivalent to a carbon tax, it more effectively hides the price increases from the voter. Even modeled as a cap and trade, however, legislation is the Senate faces a very stiff test. Here is where I think an internationally negotiated, binding treaty could be effective: it will give political cover to politicians who would like to vote for it, know that it is important for the country and the world, but are afraid of their constituents (who can be very short-sighted). We often see such a sentiment in international trade policy. The fact that the WTO exists gives political cover to politicians who would otherwise be pushed to support protectionist measures. For instance, the Byrd Amendment (which gave the proceeds of anti-dumping tariffs to the victim of the dumping) was only repealed in 2006 because it had been ruled WTO-illegal. An international agreement give politicians the cover (and someone to blame) to vote for an unpopular – but necessary – agenda.

Also, I think she's wrong about any treaty being unenforceable. Most nations will attempt meet their treaty obligations, because they believe it is in collective interest. Those that don’t will be punished and ostracized. Thomas Schelling explains it better than I can on the Atlantic, here.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Climate Security in the News

There are two articles worth commenting on.

Yesterday’s New York Times published an op-ed by Paul Hohnen and Jeremy Leggett arguing for framing climate change as a security issue, stating:
“It [Copenhagen] must be seen as a global security conference about the survival
of life on earth as we know it. It would help negotiators get a sense of the
stakes if they likened the challenge to that of stopping the impact of an
incoming asteroid or deterring an alien invasion.”

Also, The Independent previewed a soon to be released report from the Millennium Project on climate changing, warning that:
“The scale of political, financial, humanitarian, and security implications of
the effects of climate change are unprecedented, the causes are generally known,
and the consequences can largely be forecast. Nevertheless, coordination for
effective and adequate action is yet incipient, and environmental problems
worsen faster than response or preventive policies are being adopted.”

Media coverage of climate change is part of the problem. There is a danger that an agreement coming out of Copenhagen may not be enough to prevent catastrophic consequences. The international community made progress after the recent G8 and MEF summits but developed and developing nations remain far apart on emission targets, baseline years, and adaptation financing.

So long as climate change is treated as merely an economic or environmental concern, policy makers will think about climate change in zero-sum terms, which stalls serious action. By recognizing climate change’s security dimensions, these begin to make the case for action from policymakers.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Climate Change Threatens Russia's Energy Infrastructure

Climate change will force countries to reconsider how they develop and maintain their energy infrastructure. For example, this week, French nuclear power plants were forced to shut down because of high water temperatures in French rivers, as the Times reports. This exemplifies how conventional nuclear power may not be sufficient for energy security in spite of its lack of carbon emissions. The underlying problem here is that these power plants were built on the assumption that the water would not get this warm. What engineers had once deemed a constant – the environment – they must now see as a variable.

Few places show this dynamic better than Russia. Climate change threatens Russia's energy security. In 2007, a report done by the United Nations Environment Program on Russia outlined the impact scenario:

Rising temperatures will push the permafrost boundary further north and deepen the surface melt. This may have big implications for future oil, gas and other investment projects...Destabilised, shifting permafrost conditions release greenhouse gases and could lead to flooding that will not only affect coastal and river bank human settlements, but will also require more expensive underpinning of buildings, refineries and other infrastructure such as the Baikal Amur railway and the planned East Siberia-Pacific export oil pipeline. This may increase the costs of pipeline construction because extensive trenching may be needed to combat the effects of coastal instability and erosion, especially that caused by permafrost melting. (italics mine)

Russia's most important industry, petroleum, relies on pipelines built on permafrost that's rapidly melting due to climate change. Developing resilient energy infrastructure is vital for energy security in the context of climate change.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

International Impasse

The countries at the G-8 summit in Italy and the members of the Major Economies Forum reaffirmed their commitments to mitigate climate change, it is clear that there are still substantial disagreements. The perception in the media is that these events were a failure, because of the disagreements, both within the G8 and within the MEF. Taking a longer view, however, it should be clear that today’s events were a significant step forward, with targets that are much more ambitious than anything thought possible earlier this year. Peter Baker, of the New York Times reports:

…negotiators for the world’s 17 leading polluters dropped a proposal to cut global greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by midcentury, and emissions from the most advanced economies by 80 percent. But both the G-8 and the developing countries agreed to set a goal of stopping world temperatures from rising by more than 2 degrees Celsius from preindustrial levels.

However, negotiators did agree to limit temperature rises to fewer than 2 degrees Celsius. Bradford Plumber, at The New Republic has more. In addition to the impasse on emission targets, the negotiators failed to agree on what the baseline year for calculating emission targets is. The G-8 summit document states:

As part of this, we also support a goal of developed countries reducing emissions of greenhouse gases in aggregate by 80% or more by 2050 compared to 1990 or more recent years. Consistent with this ambitious long-term objective, we will undertake robust aggregate and individual mid-term reductions, taking into account that baselines may vary and that efforts need to be comparable. (italics mine)

By leaving open the option for the baseline year to be 1990 or any year after, then countries could cut their emissions percentage based off a year where their economies were strong. Russia, using 1990 as a baseline year for calculating carbon emissions under its new climate change plan, would actually increase emissions by 2.5% and still be 10-15% under its 1990 levels since its economy crashed in 1992. The American Clean Energy and Security Act, which the US House of Representatives just passed, uses 2005 as a base year for calculating emissions. Depending on the baseline year, the percentages of their emissions countries have to cut can vary. Failing to resolve this key dispute increases pressure on negotiators at Copenhagen this December and throws another roadblock to a consensus on cutting emissions.

New Studies Indicate Climate Change Occuring Faster Than Predicted

New studies indicate that the IPCC 2007 estimate that sea levels would rise by .2 to .6 cm by 2100 was too conservative. As scientists understand glacial melting better, a .5 to 1.4 meters rise by 2100 is more likely. The New Scientist has an indepth analysis of the revised studies. For example:

Meltwater fills any crevasses, widening and deepening the cracks until they reach all the way down to the base of the ice. This can have a dramatic effect on floating ice shelves. "Essentially, you are chopping up an ice shelf into a bunch of tall thin icebergs, like dominoes standing on their ends," says Bindschadler. "And they are not very stable standing that way." They fall over, and push their neighbours out to sea.

Climate change also increases wind speeds in the Antarctic which according to the New Scientist article, drives warm water to slowly melt glaciers on the shore from below. Scientists are beginning to better understand the non-linear factors of climate change. Higher temperatures not only raise sea level but also the rate of sea level increases. Hopefully, policymakers at the G-8 summit will understand the urgency.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Vulnerable States: the Maldives

Yesterday, at the World Forum on Enterprise and the Environment in London, Maldives President Mohammed Nasheed framed climate change primarily as a security issue. Being a low lying island nation, the Maldives would be submerged beneath the ocean if climate change continues unabated. Even though the UN General Assembly passed a resolution, which Andrew blogged about, urging study of climate change as a security issue, not enough has been done to frame it in such terms. While the Maldives can afford to buy land to resettle its population, will Bangladesh?

Monday, July 6, 2009

Preventative Adaptation

Oxfam's latest report on climate change, in anticipation of the G-8 summit, echoes the obvious: climate change impacts the world's poorest the most. The report covers how droughts, disease spread, famines and water scarcity are all exacerbated by even minute temperature rises. Even food shortages are magnified by reduced growing seasons. The report states:
Reduced crop yields become all the more grave when combined with large population growth and low economic prospects, which threaten disaster for many countries. One study combines all these factors to predict which African countries will be hardest hit by climate change in the future: it puts Mozambique, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Tanzania at the top of that list by 2030.
Mozambique experienced food riots in 2008. There's been recent and persistent conflict in the DRC for years. Climate change undermines stability by magnifying demographic and economic factors in developing countries.

While much international attention's been devoted to emissions mitigation, adaptation financing is gaining a more prominent role in policy debates but the amount of financing needed differs. The World Bank estimated $5-10 billion annually. Gordon Brown proposed $100 billion annually by 2020. In today's report, Oxfam wants $150 billion immediately. The UN believes $200 billion annually would be needed by 2030. The Major Economies Forum meeting last month had a draft text suggesting a $400 million baseline amount.

Ultimately, postponing serious mitigation and adaptation efforts now just increases the costs in the future as rising temperatures permanently leave lands infertile prompting mass migrations as areas become wholly unlivable. Using adaptation as part of a bigger development strategy can prevent climate induced conflicts from arising at a much cheaper cost.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Foreign Policy: Climate Change Causes Failed States

As part of their "Failed States Index", Foreign Policy has listed the sixty most vulnerable states in the world. These states are stressed by conflict, economic recession, political unrest, migration, resource scarcity, or any other ailments. For the second year in a row, Somalia ranks as the world's most critical state.

The IISS, through our dialogue on Climate Change and Security, has argued that climate change is unlikely to directly cause conflicts, or states to fail. Instead, it will serve to undermine already vulnerable states. When you look at this list, its clear that Somalia, Iraq, the Congo, or Sudan aren't near the top because of just one factor. Instead, they're there because of conflict, human rights violations, refugees, and many other factors. Climate change is a new factor. Foreign Policy calls it "The Last Straw" in their article about how climate change can lead to failed states.

This article uses Pakistan, and the conflict with India over Kashmir as a case study for how climate change could undermine an already weak state. Currently, Pakistan and India have the ongoing Indus Waters Treaty that shares the water rights to the Indus river between these rival nations. However, if water flow fails to meet expected levels, it is easy to forsee scenarios in which conflict over water could arise.

Russia's Adaptation to Climate Change

Russia's adapting to climate change by taking advantage of the warming of the Arctic. In the past few months, a few reports came out discussing a possible cold war over resources in the arctic which this blog discussed. One of the key factors is the relationship of the Arctic to Russia's national identity. The Times back in March quoted the Russian Envoy to NATO when referring to Russia's presence in the Arctic said,

“This topic will not be included in the agenda of co-operation between Russia and Nato ... there is nothing for them to do there," (hyperlink mine).

So Russia views its Arctic claims as non-NATO related even though it's trying to claim vast amounts of territory that Norway contests. The article then quotes Artur Chilingarov, the Russian government's representative to the Arctic who stated,

"Look at the map. Who is there near by? All our northern regions are in or come out into the Arctic. All that is in our northern, Arctic regions. It is our Russia."

'It's our Russia.' Chilingarov's claim is not based on economic considerations but on a perception of Russian identity. An excellent report released this month from The Arctic Climate Change and Security Policy Conference last December indicates:

Russia’s activities could be disruptive to the region if its recent focus on politics and territorial claims retains priority over increased attention to science and international cooperation. The driving factors may be Russian prestige, identity, and image, which converge on borders and territorial claims. For Russia, sovereignty in the Arctic is a “hard” security issue. Russian military interests center on the Kola Peninsula, home to the Russian nuclear submarine fleet, and on rebuilding the Northern fleet." (italics mine)

A melting arctic would allow easier access to resources but it would also provide an opportunity for Russia to regain its status as a great power. To that end, Russia's already manipulated its control over Europe's energy supplies and seeks to do so for the future.

Ironically, Russia's way of adapting to climate change is not to modernize its economy toward renewables and efficiency but to increase its dominance in fossil fuel exports by expanding its supplies in the Arctic. This 'adaptation' explains Russia's reluctance to seriously cut emissions and explains why it benefiting from climate change could come at a cost to the international community. The World Wildlife Fund's report on the climate change policies of the G8 countries has this to say about Russia:
No comprehensive national plan; ratified Kyoto Protocol very late and only under pressure; not very active in the preparatory negotiations, and often an obstacle at the last minute
On the other hand, rising temperatures would wreck much of Russia's infrastructure built on melting permafrost. Securing the Arctic won't adapt to that consequence.

Gordon Brown's Adaptation Fund Proposal

Last week, Gordon Brown, in a speech, said that the UK, and other developed countries should contribute to a 60 billion pounds annually to help poor nations mitigate and adapt to climate change. Key highlights:

"Today there can be no support for agriculture or water management in developing countries, for example, which is not also adaptation expenditure. Giving the rural poor access to renewable energy is both climate mitigation and poverty reduction...

So all official development assistance will now have to be climate-proofed to ensure that it properly takes into account the impacts of climate change...

So today I propose we take a working figure for this purpose of around $100 billion per annum by 2020."

Brown framed this fund as part of global efforts to combat poverty and reach millennium development goals. Not surprisingly, Rwanda, a nation with a history of ethnic conflict, quickly endorsed the speech.

While mitigating carbon emissions is critical, making sure vulnerable and developing countries - often the same - can adapt to the climate scenarios that will already happen and could get worse is just as important. Brown's speech represents a major proposal by a developed nation towards adaptation measures in the developing world, that will pre-empt climate change's destabilizing effects. The draft proposal by the Major Economies Forum suggested an initial $400 million fast start towards an adaptation fund.