On Thursday, our friends Caitlin Werrell and Francesco Femia of the Center for Climate & Security will be at the Center for American Progress to release a new study on “Climate Change and the Arab Spring” that “outlines the complex pressures exerted by the effects of climate change on the convulsions which swept through the Middle East in 2010 and 2011, exploring the long-term trends in precipitation, agriculture, food prices, and migration which contributed to the social instability and violence which has transformed the region, and offering solutions for progress.”
The study builds off a seminal piece of work that Werrell and Femia published last February on how climate change and drought have influenced the social and political dynamics underpinning the revolution in Syria.
“Syria’s current social unrest is, in the most direct sense, a reaction to a brutal and out-of touch regime and a response to the political wave of change that began in Tunisia early last year,” they wrote. “However, that’s not the whole story.”
“The past few years have seen a number of significant social, economic, environmental and climatic changes in Syria that have eroded the social contract between citizen and government in the country, have strengthened the case for the opposition movement, and irreparably damaged the legitimacy of the al-Assad regime,” they wrote in February 2012. “If the international community and future policy-makers in Syria are to address and resolve the drivers of unrest in the country, these changes will have to be better explored and exposed.”
Their study was picked up by The New York Times’ Tom Friedman, who noted in April 2012 that “The Arab awakening was driven not only by political and economic stresses, but, less visibly, by environmental, population and climate stresses as well.
“If climate projections stay on their current path, the drought situation in North Africa and the Middle East is going to get progressively worse, and you will end up witnessing cycle after cycle of instability that may be the impetus for future authoritarian responses,” Femia told Friedman.
Friedman will join Werrell and Femia, along with former State Department Director of Policy Planning Anne-Marie Slaughter, on Thursday at the Center for American Progress for what is sure to be an informative discussion.
Check out the event details and RSVP here.
Happy Presidents' Day from the Natural Security Blog. We will be taking today off, but we look forward to returning to our regular Natural Security business tomorrow.
Photo: Mount Rushmore. Courtesy of flickr user Jvstin.
President Obama delivered his State of the Union address on Tuesday. In his speech, the president promised, in the absence of congressional action, to use his executive authority to address climate change and would seek recommendations from his Cabinet to help “prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change.”
Photo: Courtesy of Pete Souza and the White House.
Yesterday, CNAS published a new Flashpoints Bulletin that examines the influence global energy trends have in shaping oil and gas development in the South China Sea, and, consequently, the dynamic between countries in and around the region: Finding Common Ground: Energy, Security and Cooperation in the South China Sea (PDF).
In the piece, I highlight two important trends that are worth following that could add an additional layer of complexity to the South China Sea imbroglio: energy development as an element of India’s eastward engagement (i.e., Look East Policy); and China’s advances in deepwater drilling technology.
NASA successfully launched its new Landsat satellite on Monday, ensuring that the U.S. government will continue its ability to keep a close eye on environmental change from space, from receding glaciers, deforestation and coastal erosion to natural disasters.
We noted the importance of the Landsat Data Continuity Mission in our August 2011 policy brief, Blinded: The Decline of U.S. Earth Monitoring Capabilities and Its Consequences for National Security:
The health of the Landsat program, which provides information on topics from land use change to urbanization, is a top concern. One of the two remaining Landsat satellites is past its expected lifespan, and the other has declining capabilities. One replacement satellite, the Landsat Data Continuity Mission, has a planned launch date in 2012. The achievement of this mission and its successors is necessary to ensure that one of the most accomplished U.S. satellite programs, spanning nearly four decades, is not lost.
A report in The San Francisco Gate explained the satellite’s important functions and role in generating remote sensing data:
The newest Landsat is equipped with sensors that are more powerful than its predecessors. Once it reaches 440 miles above Earth, the satellite will zip around the planet 14 times a day, snapping hundreds of pictures that will be beamed back to ground stations in South Dakota, Alaska and Norway.
After a three-month checkout period, day-to-day operations will be turned over to the U.S. Geological Survey, which intends to make images and data free on the Internet as in previous Landsat missions. NASA developed the spacecraft and its two instruments.
Learn more about the Landsat Data Continuity Mission at NASA.gov.
On Monday, Quartz published a story about China’s growing foothold in Greenland and the mounting concerns about its quest to produce the semi-autonomous island’s rare earth metals. (See “China’s creep into Greenland is setting off alarm bells.”)
The New York Times reported last September that the retreating Greenland ice sheet is giving way to new opportunities for the 57,000 people living on the once sparse island. In particular, the melting ice is leading to new discoveries of mineral deposits, including rare earths. According to the report, the small Greenland town of Narsaq sits near one of the world’s largest deposits of rare earth elements – which are critical in the manufacturing of advanced technologies, from smart phones and smart bombs to wind turbines and high-end batteries. According to Greenland Minerals and Energy Ltd, the deposit could contain about 10.3 million metric tons of rare earth metals, equivalent to about 10 percent of the known global reserves (which total about 110 million metric tons, according to the U.S. Geological Survey).
Quartz reports that Western officials are particularly concerned about potential Chinese control of Greenland’s rare earth elements given that they are critical to advanced technologies and have few – if any – reliable manufacturing substitutes. (Some technologies can substitute rare earths, but they do not have the same effective properties.) Adding to the angst is the fact that China today produces about 97 percent of the world’s rare earth elements – even though it only holds 50 percent of the world’s known reserves, and that China has been limiting exports in order to satisfy its own domestic demand.
But how worried should Western officials be about China’s potential control of Greenland’s rare earths? A couple of points are worth mentioning that should help allay concerns.
First, China’s share of the rare earth market is in relative decline. Sure, China produces 97 percent of the world’s rare earth resources. But the United States has ample reserves as well; they are just not being produced – yet. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the United States holds about 13 million metric tons of rare earths, or about 12 percent of the known global reserves. One of the largest mines is in California. While the United States used to produce these minerals, more rigorous environmental standards made it difficult for U.S. producers to compete with cheaper Chinese metals, and so U.S. producers stopped extracting them. But that is starting to change as prices rise. The market appears to be doing its thing, and the United States is ramping up U.S. rare earth production to compete with Chinese metals. Naturally this will help diversify the market. Moreover, Australia and Malaysia are also planning to increase production of their known reserves as well. Other countries are likely to follow suit, including India and other states in Central Asia.
Congress is continuing to give increasing attention to the changing energy landscape.
This morning at 10 a.m., the House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on “American Energy Security and Innovation: An Assessment of North America’s Energy Resources.” Check out the complete witness list here.
Adam Sieminski, administrator of the U.S. Energy Information Administration, is among those expected to testify. In his prepared statement, Mr. Sieminski sizes up the recent boom in U.S. crude oil production, which he notes is driven largely by production of unconventional shale resources:
EIA estimates that U.S. total crude oil production (which includes lease condensates) averaged 6.4 million barrels per day (bbl/d) in 2012, an increase of 0.8 million bbl/d from the previous year driven largely by growth in tight oil production (Figures 1 and 2). This increase in U.S. annual production is the largest since Colonel Drake drilled the first crude oil well in Pennsylvania in 1859. EIA forecasts that another record increase in production will occur this year, with domestic crude oil production expected to increase to 7.3 million bbl/d in 2013. The 7.9 million bbl/d EIA currently forecasts for 2014 would mark the highest annual average level of production since 1988. Central to this projected growth will be ongoing development activity in key onshore basins. Drilling in tight oil plays in the Williston Basin’s Bakken formation in North Dakota and Montana, the Western Gulf Basin’s Eagle Ford formation, and the Permian Basin in Texas is expected to account for the bulk of forecast production growth over the next two years.
Senator Chuck Hagel, the president’s nominee for defense secretary, was joined by Senators John Warner and Sam Nunn prior to his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday.
In his responses for the record, Senator Hagel addressed two important issues relevant to DOD energy and maritime security interests.
There was quite a bit of attention on the Hill yesterday as Senator Chuck Hagel, the president’s nominee to succeed Leon Panetta as defense secretary, met with the Senate Armed Services Committee in a daylong confirmation hearing. But while observers were captivated by the proceedings, other events on the Hill made headlines and are worth noting.
Senators John Barrasso (R-WY) and Mark Begich (D-AK) introduced new legislation that could foster U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) trade with U.S. strategic partners. According to The Hill’s Energy and Environment Blog: “The ‘Expedited LNG for American Allies Act’ would put NATO allies and Japan, which is seeking to expand imports as most of its nuclear capacity remains offline, on equal footing with the formal free-trade partners.”
While the proposed legislation names Japan and NATO countries in particular, The Hill also reported that the law could facilitate LNG trade with other strategic partners as well: “In addition to Japan and NATO countries, the new Senate bill would also require DOE to approve exports to other countries if the State Department, in consultation with the Defense Department, determines that it would promote U.S. security interests.”
Senator Barrasso issued a statement about the bill, noting that: “This will expand economic opportunities across America and help lower our nation's trade deficit. Our bill will also promote the energy security of key U.S. allies by helping reduce their dependence on oil and gas from countries, such as Russia and Iran.”
I noted in my January 9 post on the “Top U.S. Security and Foreign Policy Trends to Track in 2013” that U.S. policymakers are likely to develop a clearer position on the future of U.S. natural gas exports. Developments on this issue could happen faster that I initially suspected and are worth watching closely.