Last week, I participated in the CCAPS Shifting Conflict Patterns in Africa: Drivers of Instability and Strategies for Cooperation conference, during which policymakers, practitioners, military personnel and scholars discussed the various demographic, political and environmental drivers of instability in Africa. Participants at the conference identified strategies for improved collaboration with African nations so as to mitigate the risk of instability and conflict.
The conference highlighted how climate-related extreme weather events and environmental degradation may exacerbate underlying social and political tensions, inequalities and demographic conditions that are already putting pressure on resources and governments, many of which are fragile and lack state capacity. In particular, climate change will accelerate cross-border migration and urbanization, which could fuel regional tensions and destabilize local governments if they do not have the resources and infrastructure to support the influx of people.
Saturday marked John Kerry’s inaugural visit to China as acting Secretary of State. While North Korea’s most recent episode of belligerence took center stage and dominated the news, the United States and China also released a joint statement promising cooperation on climate change.
The joint statement called for “forceful” action on climate change through “large-scale” cooperation. According to the statement,
Both sides also noted the significant and mutual benefits of intensified action and cooperation on climate change, including enhanced energy security, a cleaner environment, and more abundant natural resources. They also reaffirmed that working together both in the multilateral negotiation and to advance concrete action on climate change can serve as a pillar of the bilateral relationship, build mutual trust and respect, and pave the way for a stronger overall collaboration. Both sides noted a common interest in developing and deploying new environmental and clean energy technologies that promote economic prosperity and job creation while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
While this is not the first example of engagement between the United States and China on climate change, it is notably different than previous arrangements. The agreement increases dialogue by forming a Climate Change Working Group to determine specific ways in which the two countries can advance climate cooperation through research, conservation and technology. The Working Group will deliver a report at July’s Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED), which is an annual meeting between American and Chinese cabinet level officials to discuss broad strategic, economic and security opportunities and challenges.
Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, likely surprised many when he said that the biggest long-term security challenge in the Pacific is climate change.
Bryan Bender of the Boston Globe reported the statements on Saturday. Here is an excerpt from his article:
Navy Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III, in an interview at a Cambridge hotel Friday after he met with scholars at Harvard and Tufts universities, said significant upheaval related to the warming planet “is probably the most likely thing that is going to happen . . . that will cripple the security environment, probably more likely than the other scenarios we all often talk about.’’
“People are surprised sometimes,” he added, describing the reaction to his assessment. “You have the real potential here in the not-too-distant future of nations displaced by rising sea level. Certainly weather patterns are more severe than they have been in the past. We are on super typhoon 27 or 28 this year in the Western Pacific. The average is about 17.”
Locklear said his Hawaii-based headquarters — which is assigned more than 400,00 military and civilian personnel and is responsible for operations from California to India, is working with Asian nations to stockpile supplies in strategic locations and planning a major exercise for May with nearly two dozen countries to practice the “what-ifs.”
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.
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.
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.
"We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms.
The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition, we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries, we must claim its promise. That’s how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure -- our forests and waterways, our crop lands and snow-capped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared."
President Barack Obama, Second Inaugural Address, January 22, 2013
As President Obama begins his second term, there is no shortage of recommendations for how he should prioritize and shape his agenda moving forward.
Two new publications from the Brookings Institution and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace offer sensible recommendations for how the administration should take advantage of the opportunities and confront the challenges of America’s windfall production in unconventional hydrocarbons – principally shale gas and tight oil. Both hark on the need for a balanced approach that would allow the United States to reap the energy and economic benefits from increased domestic energy production while seriously addressing the climate consequences of continuing to burn petroleum.
In their piece, “Energy and Climate: Black to Gold to Green,” Charles K. Ebinger and Kevin Massy of the Brookings Institution write that the United States can take advantage of oil and gas exports to energy hungry Asia while using the revenue from those exports to fund two potentially transformative technologies that are essential to reducing greenhouse gas emissions – carbon capture and sequestration technology and advanced batteries.
President Barack Obama officially began his second term yesterday when he took the oath of office in the White House Blue Room. This morning, shortly before noon, he will take the oath again on the steps of the West Front of the Capitol and deliver his formal second inaugural address.
What the president will say is a closely held secret, but many expect him to provide a broad vision for his second term priorities. He will have an opportunity to give more specifics in just a few short weeks when the president gives his State of the Union Address.
Will energy, climate change and natural resources be included in the president’s remarks today? It is hard to say. But I suspect there will be some mention. We can look back to four years ago and get a sense of how the president may touch on some of these issues in his remarks and his vision for addressing them:
The vision: “We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We'll restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories…With old friends and former foes, we'll work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet.”
Photo: Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts swears in President Barack Obama in the Blue Room of the White House on January 20, 2013. Courtesy of Lawrence Jackson.
In a World Politics Review article published last Friday, I wrote that despite record low ice melt last year, the Arctic’s harsh environment is not giving way to commercial growth as quickly as some may expect. For example, after a hopeful summer, Shell suspended its oil and gas exploratory drilling in part because its equipment kept getting damaged by dangerous ice floes and strong ocean currents. Operations are expected to resume this summer.
As a result, U.S. policymakers charged with safeguarding America’s interests in the Arctic should continually recalibrate their expectations for commercial and other activity in the region in order to enhance their planning efforts. After all, the kinds of resources that the U.S. Coast Guard and other federal agencies will need to bring to bear in the Arctic are linked to the pace and development of activity in the region. And while the Arctic may one day be buzzing with eco-tourists, oil and gas drillers and deep sea fishers, it may fall short of our expectations and we should plan accordingly.
Read the full piece on World Politics Review here.