Wednesday, May 26, 2010

IISS Conference: The Global Security Implications of Climate Change

I've reprinted below the Press Release for this Friday's Conference on Climate Change and Security.  I would encourage everyone to watch online on Friday!

The International Institute for Strategic Studies’

Transatlantic Dialogue on Climate Change and Security presents:

The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) is pleased to announce the capstone conference of the Transatlantic Dialogue on Climate Change and Security (TDCCS), entitled The Global Security Implications of Climate Change, on Friday, 28 May 2009, from 09:00 to 17:00hrs at the European Commission’s Berlaymont Building in Brussels (Schuman Room, 200 Wetstraat / Rue de la Loi Brussels, Belgium). Attendance is by invitation only, or with prior approval.

Laurence Graff, Acting Head of Unit for International and Inter‐Institutional Relations, DG Climate Action, European Commission, will deliver the Opening Address. Other featured speakers include Sir Gordon Conway, Professor of International Development, Imperial College London and Jamie Shea, Director of Policy Planning at NATO.

Senior IISS experts, including Nigel Inkster CMG, Director of Transnational Threats and Political Risks, Adam Ward, Director of Studies for the IISS and Jeffrey Mazo, Managing Editor of Survival and IISS Research Fellow for Environmental Security and Science Policy, will moderate the panel discussions. Panel topics include: (1) Adapting Water Security to a Changing Climate; (2) Energy Security; (3) Climate Change and Conflict; and (4) Security Planning for a Changing Climate.

Media covering this event are requested to contact the IISS-US in advance to schedule interviews and arrange provisions for technical requirements. The conference will be streamed live online at: .

A full agenda, including all confirmed panelists, is listed below.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

House Intelligence Committe Hearing on Global Climate Change

Via the Politico's Morning Energy Blog, I learned that today (Tuesday, May 25), the Subcommittee on Intelligence Community Management of the US House Representatives' Permanent Subcommittee on Intelligence will hold a hearing on Global Climate Change.  The hearing will be closed, so I don't have much information on it. 

I would speculate that the hearing will look at how the Intelligence Community is arranging its resources to look at climate change.  Currently, both the CIA and the National Intelligence Council (NIC), within the DNI, have programs looking at climate change.  The NIC's unit, on climate change and state stability is led by General Rich Engel, who has spoken at IISS events in the past.  The CIA's unit - which survived a motion to defund it last October - is called "The Center on Climate Change and National Security", and is tasked with providing "support to American policymakers as they negotiate, implement, and verify international agreements on environmental issues."  Previously, the Department of Energy's Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence had also had an Energy and Environmental Security section, led by Carol Dumaine (video of her hear) but that was unfortunately closed up earlier this year.  The IISS-US held an event titled "Security, Climate Change and Uncertainty: Rethinking Strategic Risk” with Carol late last year.

Clearly, with the closing of the Department of Energy's climate unit, and the opening of the CIA's climate shop, there is some reorganizing going on.  This will also be a good opportunity for the intelligence community to demonstrate to Congress the utility of making the climate security argument.  It is difficult to avoid the political debate about cap-and-trade, but they should get beyond that debate.  There is a real need to look at national security impacts of climate change, and the adaptation measures that can avoid it.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Water, Climate, and Conservation in Spain

The Economist has a good, short video on the problems of water usage, agriculture, and water in Spain. It talks about how farmers in Valencia and Andalucia have been tapping water supplies from the wetlands in Las Tablas de Daimiel National Park, south of Madrid. Last summer, the peatlands in this park began to self-combust, because it had become so dry. 

Though there would seem to be little chance of civil conflict over these water supplies, it is important to note that there certainly is political conflcit between farmers and conservationists looking to preserve national parks.  The video also briefly touches on regional ideas to transfer water from the Ebro river in the more lush north of Spain to the drier regions in the south and west.  Though it doesn't discuss it, Spain has a history of regional disunity, and I should think that a large part of the reason that infrastructure to transfer water has never been built has been the mistrust that Catalonia and the Basque regionsit have for both the central government and the southern regions.  If Spain was not a well-established Democracy in stable Europe, it is not hard to see how a similar situation -- further stressed by climate changes -- could lead to conflicts.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Climate and Security Linkages- Friday May 14

Reuters picks up an article saying that intrusions of salt is killing crops, and driving migration in southern Bangladesh. Rising sea levels, a retreating water table caused by the overuse of wells, and storm surges from Cyclones Sidr and Aila (in 2007 and 2009) have combined to cause a large problem for Bangladeshi farmers. 

Unrelated to climate change, and certainly a natural phenomenon, but I just thought it was cool.  This is a time-lapse video of celand, Eyjafjallaj√∂kull - May 1st and 2nd, 2010 from Sean Stiegemeier on Vimeo.  I came across it on Ezra Klein's Wonkbook.  Very cool. 

Iceland, Eyjafjallajökull - May 1st and 2nd, 2010 from Sean Stiegemeier on Vimeo.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Climate and Security Linkages

This week, I'm trying a new technique: the link drop.  I'll put together a list of all the links which I think are interesting and related to climate security (so no baseball links).  The idea is to quickly get a broader cross-section of news and views, as well as to engage more closely with other blogs. 

The Economists' "Free Exchange" blog shows that the US' oil dependence causes a large part of the annual trade deficit. 

The US Climate Bill
Andy Revkin's "Dot Earth" blog has a discussion of the recently released "American Power Act" from Senators Kerry and Lieberman.  He thinks, if passed, it would prove to be a 'nudge' towards clean power-- but little more.

Nicole Allen at The Atlantic says that the bill isn't going anywhere, ironically because of the oil spill.  Dave Roberts at Grist agrees - unless Obama gets involved (I think that's right).  Senator Kerry thinks this is the best chance: "our planet can't wait for the perfect bill. We need to get a really good bill now".  The Chamber of Commerce hasn't decided if they support or oppose the bill - which is a small victory for Kerry-Lieberman

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

NBC Nightly News on Climate Security

Via the Institute for Environmental Security, I found this report from NBC's Nightly News about climate change and security issues, focusing on Egypt.  Though it is from five months ago, I think the reporter, Jim Maceda, does a fairly good job of listing the major concerns about how climate will impact security, particularly rising sea levels, diminished water supplies in transboundary rivers, and climate migrants.  It also includes brief interviews with some of the most high-ranking voices arguing about climate security, including Gen. Anthony Zinni, the former CentCom commander and and Admiral Neil Morisetti, the UK government's lead on climate security.

I do have a couple of quick concerns with the report. First, the reporter blithly say that countries upstream on the Nile from Egypt are building dams that will harm Egypt's future water supplies -- without saying that the fact that there are so few now is a testament to the power that Egypt wields over its upstream neighbors. Second, he mistakenly quotes from a report from "aid group Alert Interntional" -- of course it's International Alert (here is the report mentioned). Other than those, though, this seems to be a fairly robust, if quick, overview of current thinking on climate security

Friday, May 7, 2010

Arguing the link between Climate Change and Security

I've noticed some concerns by critics about how climate change is linked to security.  A common thread I've heard is that military and security planners are just looking for another threat to justify their existence (and their budgets).  Stephen Walt went along this line last summer. I saw it in the comment section of Keith Kloor's blog, where there was some skepticism about the link between security and climate change.  I think that skepticism is misplaced, even if someone is skeptical about the science. 

Military and security planners don’t plan for what they know is going to happen – that would be pretty easy. We have to have the foresight to look for and be able to adapt to any number of contingencies. Part of that planning has to include uncertainty. It even has to include planning for events that are very low probability, if the impact is high enough. Outside of the climate sphere, this is why we spend money on missile defense.  We don't know that Iran or North Korea is going to get a ballistic missile capable of reaching the US, but the potential damages of it are so high, that we're working hard on technology to intercept that threat. 

Another example: the intelligence community was rightfully pilloried for not being prepared for a terrorist threat eminating from Afghanistan. Should Osama bin Laden have been the sole focus of US intelligence in the 1990s -no. But, planners should have had the foresight to look at the possibility and put in place some prudent preventative actions.

So, even if climate skeptics don't believe the computer models or the climate projections, they would have to be 100% certain that they're right in order to justify not planning for the insecurities caused by extreme climate changes.  So, the burden of proof should be on climate skeptics to prove that there is no chance that the climate will change, not on the climate scientists.  Using Dick Cheney's measurement, if there's even a 1% chance that the climate scientist are right, then you have to act, if only prudently.  

When a skeptic says that projections are worth nil — that’s not really true. They’re worth it as a potential contingency that should be looked at. In fact, we should probably prepare for much worse than those projections, on the assumption that if you prepare for the worst, you will be prepared for anything. 

In short, we don’t have the luxury of operating with 100% certainty. Strategic planning is looking at and preparing for all of your “known unknowns” — the things we know we don’t know – and trying to minimize the dreaded “unknown unknowns”.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A Debate About the Relevence of 'Climate Security'

Keith Kloor has an interesting thread of debate going on his 'Collide-a-Scape' blog about climate security, which he started with interviews with Cleo Paskal and Geoff Dabelko.  Before these interviews, Keith says:
In reality, the linkages between climate change, energy and national security are complex. Remember that impenetrable counterinsurgency powerpoint slide that recently bounced around the blogosphere? I bet there’s an equivalent one somewhere under lock and key that has a geopolitical diagram of the climate security threat.
Keith: just for you, I pulled up a slide from a Power Point Presentation that David Robson, a special advisor on energy and climate to the Scottish Government, showed at an IISS workshop on the Impacts of Climate Change on Food Security.  You can see it at the left.

Of course, I also should suggest that Keith gets in touch with the IISS' Research Fellow on Environmental Security, Jeff Mazo, who's new book "Climate Conflict" was just released. He has a full chapter about Darfur, about which there has been significant argument about whether it should be called a 'climate war' as Ban Ki-Moon has said it was. (buy the book!)

The problem we face is that nuance doesn't sell books, nuance certainly doesn't get you on TV, and politicians and their staff don't have time to get into nuanced arguements. I've been approached many times by various Senator's staff saying 'my boss is very interested in using the climate-security argument'. They want to use it because the concept of 'security' brings images of soldiers - the most respected establishment in America - and it allows you to paint an enemy - after all we wouldn't have gone to the moon if the Soviets hadn't put Sputnik up first.

Unfortunately, this leads to some distorted arguments. For example, the least nuanced ad (embedded after the jump) I've seen on this issue -- saying that the US' failure to pass climate legislation = material support for Iran -- was rejected by Fox News because it was "Too Confusing". This is the political and media world we live in, and you can't ignore it. So long as politicians, the public, and the media live in the short-term, notions like climate security are difficult to get readers (as Geoff Dabelko says in the comments on Collide-A-Scape) unless you make some strong and difficult to prove linkages.

Personally, I think the political and economic argument that was advanced in the Stern Review applies to the climate security argument best: relatively small, prudent actions now can act as insurance against the threat of potentially large and destabalising consequences -- whether to security or to the economy -- in the future.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Russia, Ukraine, Natural Gas, and the Black Sea Fleet

This is a guest post from our IISS-US intern, Madeleine Foley, talking about the recent agreement between Russia and Ukraine on gas transit and Crimean Naval Bases.  As Europe continues to rely on Russian Gas to meet its climate targets, this will continue to remain an important focal area for climate and energy security. 

On 21 April, Ukrainian-Russian relations took an uncharacteristically pragmatic turn with the signing of two loosely linked agreements that, together, have become known as the gas-for-fleet deal. The first of the agreements, signed in Kharkiv, Ukraine by Russian President Dimitri Medvedev and Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich, extends Russia’s lease of one of its oldest and most politically important naval installations, the Black Sea Fleet, at Sevastopol in the Crimean Sea for 25 years until 2042. The symbolic value of the Black Sea Fleet (see picture) to Russians is important because maintaining an installation in Ukraine is a nod to Russia’s presence in Ukraine, going back to Catherine the Great's 18th Century wars to gain access to a warm water port on the Black Sea. It is also an acknowledgment of Russia’s sense of propriety over the large Russian population in Eastern Ukraine. The material value of the lease extension is questionable, however, when compared to what Russia offered Ukraine in exchange.

In return for the lease extension, the second agreement established what amounts to a $40 billion discount on natural gas over 10 years. Ukraine’s role as a bridge and energy transit route between Europe and Russia put it in a precarious, but critical position over the last decade. The Timoshenko-Putin years were characterized by tense relations between Ukraine and Russia. Ukraine’s perceived abandonment of their long standing ally to the east in favor of deeper economic, political and ideological ties with the European Union provoked Russia to end a long standing gas subsidy to Ukraine, quadrupling the price from $50 to $230 per 1000 cubic meters last year.

In a press conference following the signing on April 21st, the two Presidents framed the agreement as a first step in repairing their very important relations. Ukraine will free up $40 billion for public spending over the next 10 years and Russia will maintain its presence in the Black Sea and be able to conduct business through Ukraine with fewer restrictions. Moreover, the boost that the Ukrainian economy will receive from Russia’s $40 billion investment will make it eligible for additional IMF loans for the first time since its $16 million loan in 2008.

Opposition to the deal has been fierce throughout Ukraine, however. Upon adoption of the agreement in the Ukrainian Rada this week, a brawl broke out between nationalists and proponents of the deal complete with eggs, head locks and smoke bombs. Similarly fervent displays of the democratic process were noticeably absent in the Russian Duma, where the agreement was adopted without issue.

Domestic politics aside, the Ukrainian opposition seems to be suffering from a vacuum of self-awareness. By attempting to shirk off its responsibility as a ‘bridge’ between the EU and Russia, it is making itself less valuable and less attractive to its Western friends and allies. Ukraine’s role as a political, economic and physical bridge between the EU and Russia is not a temporary charge, it is a geostrategic reality. Until it learns to grow legs, pick itself up and plop itself down somewhere between Denmark and Germany, Ukraine should get used to playing the role of mediator. This latest agreement is less a sign of President Yanukovich’s willingness to drag Ukraine kicking and screaming into the arms of Mother Russia than an indication that he recognizes Ukraine’s unique geostrategic limitations. The Ukrainian opposition should recognize the potential benefits of Russia’s willingness to pay so handsomely for continued recognition of its political and historical legacy in Ukraine.