Wednesday, September 30, 2009

SYRIA: Drought is driving farmers to the cities

The middle east is facing a serious drought. IRIN, the media outlet of the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that in Syria, Drought is driving farmers to the cities. The cities of Syria are already o

Perhaps its not a loss of food security that will be how droughts and climate change affect countries. Perhaps it will instead be the gradual end of rural livelihoods as their income literally dries up. In this case we see climate-induced migration, but its within countries.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Leadership on Climate Change

International actors are preparing to take leadership roles in dealing with the impacts of climate change. Dr Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the IPCC that shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore in 2007, called for NATO to focus on climate induced conflicts, saying that:
"I think, given the fact that NATO is an organization which has enormous strengths, with the inputs of a large number of extremely important countries, I think it has to redefine its role...I would imagine that it should be driven by a much greater study of what is likely to happen in the future, than to be caught unawares. And if that’s the case NATO certainly can play an extremely important role in preventing or managing some of these threats and problems."
Part of adapting to climate change requires altering the aims and functions of institutions. For example, NATO is seeking to engage Russia on ensuing conflict does not result from the melting of the arctic. There are enormous untapped and contested hydrocarbon reserves under the melting ice that could be available.

This week, US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao will both address the UN general assembly. Premier Hu expected to announce a carbon intensity target to show its commitment to international efforts to mitigate climate change. Xinhua, China's state controlled media service, warned that "Any attempts by a party in the UN negotiations to maximize its own interest at the cost of interest of others in the negotiation process is not conducive to powering green economy and protecting our planet." China and Europe have both criticized the US for insufficient commitments to climate change mitigation and both may be seeking to cement itself as the international leader on climate change issues.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Aid to Bangladesh: Part of US Strategy for Copenhagen?

The United States' strategy for achieving an international agreement on climate change at Copenhagen this December is becoming clear. Bilateral deals and negotiations efforts will complement the efforts under the UNFCC for a more comprehensive consensus. In an effort to convince China and India, the US has assured aid to Bangladesh, one of the most vulnerable states to climate change, for adapting to climate impacts and food security.

These efforts could bolster US credibility at the negotiations even when it's unclear if the Senate will vote on climate change legislation before the year's end. By assuring Bangladesh that the US will provide aid to mitigate food insecurity and climate change, the US has strengthened its bargaining position ahead of the Copenhagen negotiations.

Senator Kerry's Speech

As I posted below, Senator Kerry spoke this morning at GW about climate change as "New Challenge to Global Stability". Kerry's speech was excellent; it was very well researched and well documented. Often, members of Congress say ‘climate change is a threat to security’ but I now think Kerry is the only one who can actually enumerate why. It was good to see him outline this debate, and I hope that he's making this case to his colleagues.

I've pulled the text of the speech from Senator Kerry's website, here. I think its important enough that I copy the text below in its entirity.

Eight years ago today, on September 10th, 2001, America experienced one last moment of complacency before plunging into crisis. That day, the world was already being transformed, but too few knew or understood the new era we were about to enter.

On September 10, Washington was consumed with business as usual. The top headline in the New York Times read, “Fear of Recession Ignites Discussion of More Tax Cuts”—we know how that turned out.
Cable news was wrapping up an entire summer of wall-to-wall coverage of Americans under attack. Unfortunately, the grave threat they warned us about came not from al Qaeda or Bin Laden, but from sharks attacking swimmers at the beach.

In retrospect, it’s hard to fathom the level of collective naiveté, but that was America’s reality on “the day before.” In the weeks and months that followed, so many in rooms just like this one shared the same regret: Washington simply didn’t connect the dots in time.

Well, today Adil Najam, Michael Oppenheimer, and I, along with many others, are working to connect the dots on another emerging threat. Once again the world is being upended, and too few are taking action. The latest science warns that we have a ten-year window – at most – to prevent catastrophic, irreversible climate change. That means we are once again living in a “day before” moment that cries out for action.

This is not hype. I’m not trying to compare two challenges that, frankly, are incomparable to each other or anything else in our history. I’m not arguing that we view the wide-ranging threat of climate change entirely through the narrow lens of terrorism—though there are good reasons to think that climate change could worsen the terrorist threat.

The real lesson of “the day before,” ladies and gentlemen, is that when we see a threat on the horizon, we can’t afford to wait until it arrives. Unless we take dramatic action – now— to restrain global climate change, we risk unleashing an aggressive new challenge to global stability, to the livelihoods of hundreds of millions, and yes, to America’s national security.

Frankly, we have no excuse to be caught by surprise in 2009. It was 1988 when Al Gore and I held the first Senate hearings on climate change, and NASA scientist Jim Hansen testified that the threat was real. Four years later, Al and I and a group of Senators went to Rio and worked with 177 other nations to put in place a voluntary framework for greenhouse gas reductions. Unfortunately, 17 years after Rio, 12 years after Kyoto, we are further behind than ever.

Facts, as the saying goes, are “stubborn things,” and here are a few incontrovertible ones: Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have risen 38% in the industrial era, from 280 to 385 parts per million. Scientists have warned that anything above 450— a warming of 2 degrees Celsius– would result in an unacceptable risk of catastrophic climate change. Some scientists even set the maximum at 350, but that’s too terrifying for many to contemplate since we're currently at 385. In short, the science is screaming at us, more definitively than ever.

And the simple reality is, we’re not doing nearly enough about it. The Heinz Center, MIT, and The Fletcher School analyzed the latest climate modeling from the 17 countries who have offered to do anything – China, 20% energy intensity reduction; Europe and the US, 80% reduction by 2050. The result? Even if we met today’s ambitious goals, we’re projected to hit 600-700 ppm by century’s end. Bottom line: none of the current proposals get the job done. In short, the challenge is growing more – not less—urgent.

Let me be clear: The threat we face is not an abstract concern for the future. It is already upon us. A new study in Science shows our CO2 emissions have already reversed a 2,000 year cooling trend in the Arctic, and the last ten years are the warmest since 1BC! At the other end of the globe, a 25-mile wide ice bridge connecting the Wilkins Ice Shelf to the Antarctic landmass shattered earlier this year.

We are deluding ourselves if we think these problems stop at our borders: the tiny coastal village of Newtok, Alaska, recently voted to relocate 9 miles inland because melting coastal ice shelves made their old home too dangerous. No longer can Newtok’s residents “see Russia from their porch” (if they ever could)—but go to Alaska and you can see with your own two eyes the impact of its permafrost melting. You need only talk to Alaska’s Senators to hear worrisome stories of warming’s direct impact on their state. Not projected impact—current impact.

Alaska’s melting is not a future prediction or possibility. It is being measured, and it is happening now. More than one-third of Americans live in coastal counties. As climate change intensifies, we risk repeating the story of Newtok, Alaska further south and on a terrifying scale.

People are taking notice. Our Pentagon and intelligence community have begun planning for climate contingencies, and security experts have been sounding the alarm. In 2007, eleven former Admirals and high-ranking generals issued a report from the Center for Naval Analysis labeling climate change a “threat multiplier” with “the potential to create sustained natural and humanitarian disasters on a scale far beyond those we see today.” In 2008, a National Intelligence Assessment echoed these warnings from inside government. General Anthony Zinni was characteristically blunt in assessing the threat. He warned that without action—and I quote—“we will pay the price later in military terms. And that will involve human lives. There will be a human toll." This not an alarmist talking—it’s the former commander of all American forces in the Middle East!

Why, with so many other regional problems brewing, would a CENTCOM commander be so concerned about climate? Well, the Middle East is home to six percent of the world’s population but just two percent of the world’s water. A demographic boom and a shrinking water supply will only tighten the squeeze on a region that doesn’t need another reason to disagree violently.

Worldwide, climate change risks making the most volatile places even more combustible. Climate change injects a major new source of chaos, tension, and human insecurity into an already volatile world. It threatens to bring more famine and drought, worse pandemics, more natural disasters, more resource scarcity, and human displacement on a staggering scale. We risk fanning the flames of failed-statism, and offering glaring opportunities to the worst actors in our international system. In an interconnected world, that endangers all of us.

I’d be the first to acknowledge, the individual data points may sometimes be murky. But the pattern they create is irrefutably clear: We don’t know if Hurricane Katrina or the California forest fires were caused by climate change, but we do know that we are rapidly heading for a world where climate change causes worse Katrinas and worse forest fires. We don’t know with certainty whether severe drought pushed Darfur over the edge, but we do know that increasingly severe droughts worldwide will exacerbate ethnic tensions and conflicts even further.

Nowhere is the nexus between today’s threats and climate change stronger than in South Asia–the center of our counterterrorist operations and the home of Al Qaeda. Scientists are now warning that the Himalayan glaciers, which supply water to almost a billion people from China to Afghanistan—including three nuclear powers—could disappear completely by 2035.

Think about what this means: Water from the Himalayas flows through India into Pakistan. India’s rivers are not only vital to its agriculture, but absolutely central to its religious practice. Pakistan, for its part, is heavily dependent on irrigated farming to avoid famine. At a moment when the American government is pouring troops and resources into Afghanistan and preparing to invest billions to strengthen Pakistan’s capacity to deliver for its people, it’s infuriating to think that climate change could work so powerfully against our long-term goals.

Meanwhile, by some estimates, next year more people will be displaced worldwide by environmental changes and natural disasters than by war. Because food security depends on water security, which climate change threatens, yields from rain-fed crops could drop by up to 50% by 2020—pushing more people off their land. Africa, no stranger to the instability, conflict, and competition over resources that drive people from their homes and create refugees and internally displaced people, will now confront these same challenges with an ever growing population of “EDPs”—environmentally displaced people.

Many of the worst impacts of climate change will be human tragedies—natural disasters, more virulent disease, and people forced to flee their homes. Some will directly touch on our security and vital national interests. Others will require America, as the country with the world’s best and fastest expeditionary capacity, to offer direct assistance. And even when our security and our resources are not directly challenged by the impacts of climate change, our leadership will be—and our conscience ought to be.

In addition to the increased demand for expeditionary capacity, the effects of a changing climate will also pose significant practical challenges for our military. Diego Garcia Island in the Indian Ocean, a vital hub for our military operations across the Middle East, sits on an atoll just a few feet above sea level. Norfolk, VA, home to our Atlantic Fleet, will be submerged by one meter of sea level rise. All of our Navy’s piers are actually cemented to the ocean floor—which means that any rise in sea level will literally require the Navy to rebuild all of them. Are these problems insurmountable? No. But they will be expensive, and they risk compromising our readiness.

We all know the future has a way of humbling those who try to predict it too precisely. But we also know, from scientists and security experts, that the threat is real, grave, and growing. And if we fail to connect the dots—if we fail to take action—the simple reality is that we will find ourselves living not only in a ravaged environment, but also in a much more dangerous world.

Even as we make the case for climate change as a national security issue, we should remember that there are other costs of inaction. We also run the risk of missing a once-in-a-generation opportunity to lead the world into a new economic era. If we take the steps and invest the resources necessary to meet this challenge, we can spark an economic renaissance of new technologies, new industries, and – just when we need them most—millions of new jobs.

With more than 15 million Americans out of a job, the need couldn’t be any more compelling for an economic strategy to get people back to work in good, high-paying jobs that can’t be shipped overseas.
Some say we can’t afford to act. They have it exactly wrong—we can’t afford not to act! We are already falling behind unnecessarily. It was Americans who developed the technological foundations of wind, solar, and advanced battery power. And yet just one of the top five wind power manufacturers is American; just one of the 10 largest solar panel producers is American; only two of the top 10 advanced battery manufacturers are American.

The world’s largest producer of renewable energy is not the United States, but Germany. And the economic benefits, as well as the environmental gains, are obvious: More than 280,000 Germans are employed in the renewable energy sector—a nine-fold increase in the past decade. While other countries debated how much their emissions could increase, since 1990 Germany has actually cut its emissions by over 20%!

Just think – for all the talk that China won’t act to prevent climate change, China today is producing cars a third-more fuel efficient than ours and making massive new investments in wind power and mass transit.
The fundamental challenge is this: Are we going to step up and put in place the policies that will galvanize entrepreneurs, drive development of new clean technologies, re-energize our economy and tackle global climate change – all at the same time? What’s at stake is not whether the 21st century will be a green economy – it has to become one, and it will. The question is whether America will lead, and reap the jobs that come with being ahead of the curve.

To do that, we need to act now. And to persuade Washington to act, we need to continue to win these arguments, and win them publicly. We have to educate and mobilize the American people. And I can tell you from my own conversations with colleagues, we have to educate Senators too! In the Senate, I’ve held hearings on climate and security and invited ASP experts like including Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn, who is speaking at today’s conference—but also former Senator and Secretary of the Navy John Warner, who is doing a heroic job traveling the country and raising awareness on this issue. He’s doing more in retirement than some sitting Senators are!

I’ll tell you, if we had ten John Warners in the Senate, we’d already have a bill on the President’s desk. But unfortunately, not everyone in politics appreciates the urgency of this issue. After the last few months of health care demagoguery, we all know what’s coming when the Senate takes up climate change legislation. In this atmosphere of economic fear and political fear-mongering, one thing is certain: we won’t pass the strong legislation we need without a fight.

And make no mistake, the other side is gearing up. In the first half of 2009, the environmental community raised about $10 million to lobby for climate change legislation. This is impressive, but the oil and gas industry spent nearly $83 million lobbying against the bill. One DC lobbying firm actually forged letters—complete with the names and logos of a Hispanic nonprofit and (believe it or not) a local branch of the NAACP – urging House members to vote no on the House climate change bill!

In Washington, having truth on your side isn’t always enough to ensure that David beats Goliath. It’s up to us to get the message out. That’s why I’m pleased that the American Security Project is taking this on. I want to congratulate you on a hard-hitting set of ads, which I encourage all of you view at
You know, the 9/11 Commission report found that in the lead-up to the attacks, we suffered from a “failure of imagination.” We need to close the “imagination gap” on climate change and help people to envision a new kind of threat—and ads like yours are a helpful step in that direction.

As we weigh the options going forward and make our case to the American people, we also need to consider a simple comparison. What if Al Gore, John Kerry and thousands of scientists and security experts and leaders around the world are wrong? What’s the worst that would happen if we do the things we’re proposing? Well, if we respond adequately, change our energy habits, provide new technologies and solve the problem on a global basis, the worst that would happen is we are all healthier because of cleaner air; we will have transformed our economies and created millions of clean energy, high value added, sustainable jobs; we will have lived up to our environmental responsibility to create sustainable development policies, planted and saved forests and reduced disease and toxic poisoning that comes from antiquated industrial practices; we will have lived up to our humanitarian responsibilities to help developing countries avoid disease and dislocation; and we will have hugely enhanced our security by becoming less fossil fuel and foreign-oil dependent. That’s the worst that will happen if we’re wrong!

But what if the deniers and delayers are wrong? What are the consequences then? Plain and simple: sheer catastrophe. Folks, is there even a choice here? I believe there isn’t.

When you look past the trumped-up fears and partisan talking points, the science is clear, the economics is clear, the security argument is strong, and so are the actions we need to lead the world in taking. The more people understand the real implications of our choices—the upside of action, and the immense cost of doing nothing—the more I really believe they will embrace the argument we are making.

We all know about the August 2001 memo warning President Bush that terrorists were determined to strike inside the US. 36 days later, they did. Today, scientists are warning us that climate change is arriving faster than expected, and stronger than expected. Time is short. This is our memo. These are our warnings. The moment to act on them is now.

So let’s have the honest discussion the American people deserve. Let’s put America to work, marshalling the best of our markets and our minds to lead the world in solving this problem, and let’s act now—before it’s too late—to keep America safe. Thank you.

American Security Project: The Climate Security Index

This morning the American Security Project (ASP) held a conference at GW University entitled “The Day Before: A Conference on the National Security Implications of Climate Change”. You can see the full line-up through that link, but I will just mention a couple of important presentations. Senator Kerry gave the keynote address, and I'll put a post on the blog on his speech alone. The ASP used this conference to launch their new Climate Security Index report.

The program led-off with a speech from former CIA chief Jim Woolsey, who has made a name for himself on energy and environmental security. He spoke mostly about energy security and vulnerability. He said that there are two types of threats to security: Malignent or Malevolent. A Malignent threat (like a tumor) grows in unpredictable and dangerous ways, but is nobody's fault; while a Malevolent threat is one that is directly attributable to a person or group that seeks to do harm. Woolsey said that climate change poses a clear malignent threat -- because we don't know how it will play out -- and that it can feed malevolent threats, like extremism or terrorism.

The other worthwhile speech was from Dr. Adil Najam, the Director of the Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future. Najam is skeptical about the securitization of climate change policy. In his presentation he said that climate change is a security problem, but it doesn't have a security solution. He said: "you can't shoot carbon". Unlike other security problem,s you can't independantly create what he called 'secure islands' in a world beset by climate change. This is a problem that operates at the global level and at the human level, but we only have national institutions to prevent the problems of climate change.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Miliband(s) on Climate Change and Security

Foreign Secretary David Miliband has put together a very nice presentation on the foreign policy and security risks of unabated global warming. The map at left gives a good summary of some of the largest security risks of climate climate change.

You can see the presenatation, given by both of the brothers Miliband in the embedded video, below.

Carl Bildt: few issues are as important as climate change

The Swedish Government -- as the current President of the EU -- will play a critical role in Copenhagen. They have long been involved in study and discussion about what the

This week, Foreign Minister Carl Bildt arrived in Paris, and climate policy was the lead area of focus. As an event, titled “Can political action successfully address climate change?” at the Parisian university Sciences-Po, Bildt spoke with French Foreign Minister Kouchner British Foreign Minister Miliband. Reportedly, the presentation focused on the security policy consequences if we fail to curb global warming.

Bildt explained that climate change has had political consequences in the past, but never before have we seen the likes of what we are experiencing today. Mr Bildt said that he and Messrs Kouchner and Miliband, as foreign ministers, must step up their efforts and explain for colleagues around the world that climate change is not just a climate issue, but also most certainly a political one.

"Climate change affects stability and security in parts of the world that are key to global stability and security,” said Bildt

Korea: was the water weapon used?

This weekend, 6 South Koreans were killed by a flash flood. However, unlike usual flash floods (like this tragic flood in Istanbul), this one was not caused by heavy rains. Instead, it appears that the North Korean government opened the gates of its Hwanggang dam, which was just completed in 2007. Because it is only 5 km away from the DMZ, there is a good chance that this dam was built solely for the reason of threatening South Korea with just such an event.

Apparently, North Korea explained the event as a necessary discharge because of high water levels. Unification Minister Hyun In-taek sayis that this was not credible because rainfall the week before in that region was below 0.2 mm. He said that rainfall was not enough to motivate the North to release the water.The South has demanded that the North apologize. f

Korea is not usually an area that is mentioned when talking about the security effects of climate change. However, this event shows how water can be used as a weapon. If climate change causes either extreme drought or extreme rains (both likely events, but in different areas), it is not improbable to believe that water could be used as a real weapon.

(thanks to FP's Passport for the story)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Better Climate Predictions Needed

One of the complaints that we often hear from the strategic planners looking at climate change is that the scientists cannot predict regional or time-specific weather patterns. They can broadly predict global trends, or long-term regional trends, but climate scientists are not weathermen. At this year's World Climate Conference, Andy Revikin of DotEarth is reporting that Jane Lubchenco, the administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, will expand the "strengthen production, availability, delivery and application of science-based climate prediction and services” by creating a new National Climate Service.

Forsight about climate prediction lies somewhere between being a weatherman and climatoligist. A climatologist will tell you what the earth's climate will look like in 100 years, and a weatherman will tell you what tomorrow's weather will be. Strategic planners need to know what the regional weather will be like over the next 5-30 years (the lifecycle of most infrastructure investments).

Up to now, scientists have not been able to say with any certainty whether a long-term drought or other security-altering weather will hit. However, they're becoming more accurate. For example, this today's New York Times reports that the drought in Eastern Kenya has been predicted for much of this year. As predictions become more precise, aid organizations, like the Red Cross, will be able to issue appeals for aid before a harsh weather pattern becomes a humanitarian crises. The only trick will be to attract the aid before the media can put pictures of starving children in the newspaper.

Better prediction will allow for better adaptation. As governments, businesses, and individuals begin to know how the climate will change, they can take precautionary measures to avoid the worst effects. Strategic forsight about climate change will be critical.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Can 'Security' argument get Climate action through the Senate?

According to Jill Lawerence at PoliticsDaily, the talk of climate change as a national security threat could 'power then energy bill to Senate Passage.' I think this is an important debate to have, but unfortunately, its become simplified. Its impossible to do 'nuance' when you're trying to use a message to 'power' something through the Senate. Is climate change a threat to security? Of course. I wouldn't be running this blog if I didn't think so. However, will climate change cause a war? Its complicated, but probably not on its own. Will climate change kill Americans? Yes -- absolutely, but they probably won't think about that as a hurricane is coming after them.

As I mentioned earlier, we should not overstate the climate security argument. Unfortunately, this seems to be the only way that it will get traction. Supporters have tried green jobs, but that's run into headwinds. They've tried energy independence, but that is a mirage. Now, we hope that security can convice people to take the real threats of climate change seriously. We're already seeing a backlash, but can this convince just a few?

Why couldn't be be more like the French? They're taking action on climate to protect their wine!

US-China deal

According to Senator Cantwell (D-WA), who is in China this week, the scene is set for a US-China deal. Cantwell says that the President's visit to China in November provides a perfect oppotunity for the signing of such a deal. She said: "I'd place higher odds on the ability of the United States and China to reach an agreement than I would on us passing legislation or on having Copenhagen agreed"
Read the whole reuters article here.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Afghanistan's vulnerabilty to climate change -- as if they don't have enough to worry about

Climate change may exacerbate security challenges in Afghanistan, a country already torn by war and instability for almost a decade. A recent report by the Asian Development Bank cites Afghanistan, along with India, Nepal and Bangladesh, as a country likely to face water and food security challenges due to climate change.

With a GDP of only $23 billion and 80% of the labor force in agriculture, Afghanistan's vulnerable to drought and famine. NATO's security commitment to Afghanistan involves not just military operations but efforts to provide a stable government and improved economy. In order to prevent the rise of extremism, the US counter-insurgency process will take years not months. The question now is to what extent, if any, has the US accounted for climate change modeling in its long counter-insurgency strategy? What measures will the US take to help adapt to climate change in Afghanistan?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Glaciers of Greenland

Earlier this week, the Guardian printed a long, in-depth report by Patrick Barkham from Greenland. The arctic is the front-line of climate change: what happens there in the next decade will point the direction that the world is heading. Barkham's article makes clear that we're heading in a dangerous direction.

When it released its most recent report in 2007, the IPPC did not include predictions about the fate of the ice sheets, because they were too little understood, and too complex. That was a mistake, but researchers are working to learn more. We need to understand how this complex system works, so that we can best predict the consequences of warming in the arctic.

The glaciers of Greenland are not a direct security challenge: there will be no military engagements over newly openned land in Greenland. However, they are a harbinger of the security challenges which we will face. If the Greenland ice sheet does melt entirely, that will raise global sea levels by 7 meters. At this point, nobody's predicting that the entire sheet (2 miles thick at points) will melt, but as noted in the article, its only the first meter that counts. That first meter will put the homes and places of work of 10% of the world's population at risk. Our major cities -- London, New York, Shanghai, Mumbai -- will require massive flood protection systems to keep the tides back. Some will be overwhelmed. This is a threat to our security, and it must be addressed.