It is always good to be reminded from time to time about why the U.S. national security establishment has a stake in how climate change manifests itself today and in the future. Francesco Femia and Caitlin Werrell of the Center for Climate and Security have an excellent post on their blog that provides a broad overview of why and how the U.S. security community has taken an interest in climate change that is worth reading at length.
According to Femia and Werrell:
The national security establishment in the United States, including the U.S. military and the U.S. intelligence community, understand that climate change is a national security threat, and that we cannot wait for 100% certainty before acting to mitigate and adapt to its effects. But not only do they understand it, they plan for it – considering it’s implications in strategic documents like the Quadrennial Defense Review, and setting up an office within the CIA called the Center for Climate Change and National Security. But why? Why do those organs of government that the public normally associates with fighting wars, devote time and effort to an issue that is branded as hogwash by many on the right of the political spectrum, and the exclusive domain of environmental activists on the left? The simple answer: climate change is, actually, a national security threat. It’s not just a politically expedient narrative politicians use to convince those that couldn’t care less about polar bears, rainforests, or “bugs and bunnies.” It’s actually a problem worthy of attention by those whose primary job it is to protect the United States from harm. The following is a brief outline of how and why the U.S. national security community treats climate change the way it does, starting with:
- The common definition of a national security threat, and how climate change fits into that definition;
- The actual national security implications of climate change;
- Why climate change is a national security threat at least as significant as other traditional threats, such as the proliferation of nuclear weapons and materials.
Continue reading here.
Dr. Jay Gulledge is a Senior Scientist and Director of the Science and Impacts Program at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, and a Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Center for a New America Security. He is a co-author (with Dr. Rob Huebert) of Climate Change & National Security: The Arctic as a Bellwether, a new study published by the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.
Today the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions – C2ES, formerly the Pew Center on Global Climate Change – is releasing a new report, Climate Change & National Security: The Arctic as a Bellwether. The lead author of the report is Dr. Rob Huebert, Associate Director of the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary.
Official military doctrine in the United States now holds that “climate change, energy security, and economic stability are inextricably linked.” Nowhere is this linkage more clearly illustrated than in the Arctic, and that’s why we think the region is a bellwether for how climate change may reshape global geopolitics in the post-Cold War era.
As the planet has warmed over the past few decades, temperatures in the Arctic have been increasing at about twice the global rate. And the Arctic sea ice cover has been shrinking much faster than scientists anticipated. The five smallest sea ice covers ever recorded have all occurred in the past five summers. As a result, the Northwest Passage through the Canadian Archipelago has opened up every summer since 2007, and the Northeast Passage along Russia’s coastline has opened up every summer since 2008.
New and expanded shipping routes through the Arctic can cut the distance to transport goods between Asia, North America, and Europe by up to 4000 miles. We’re seeing increased interest and investment in oil and gas exploration. The United States Geological Survey estimates that 30 percent of the world’s undiscovered gas and 13 percent of undiscovered oil lies in the Arctic. Russia likely possesses the largest share of any country. There’s also growing interest in tourism and fishing.
As the economic potential of the Arctic becomes more apparent, governments and militaries have begun to reposition themselves. What’s happening in the Arctic is the starkest example yet of the way climate change directly affects international security.
For those who did not tune in last week, this is a new feature to highlight the top tweets of the week to hit my Twitter feed (@wmrogers). The list is completely subjective, of course, but I hope it is helpful to readers interested in following natural security news a little bit closer.
The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) published a compilation of polls on the environment and energy, highlighting public opinion on a range of issues, from nuclear energy, the Keystone XL pipeline to global climate change. The findings are instructive, but I don’t necessarily agree with the analysis that AEI makes about some of the issues. For example, the report notes that “Global warming doesn’t rank at or near the top of issues people want the president and Congress to address. In January 2012, 25 percent said global warming should be a top priority, ranking at the bottom in terms of top priorities.” But read another way, a quarter of Americans find that global climate change should be the top priority for U.S. policymakers. Given the litany of challenges the country faces, isn’t it still substantial that 25 percent of Americans want action taken to address climate change and consider it a top priority? Regardless, the report is worth a read and you can make up your own mind about what it all means.
Professor Fravel tweets that India will continue to cooperate with Vietnam to exploit energy resources in Vietnam’s East Sea (also known as the South China Sea), despite objections from China. This has been a huge source of tension recently between India and China. China objects to “outsiders” getting engaged in the South China Sea dispute – an area that China claims is its territorial sea. (To learn more, read this post I wrote in September on India’s South China Sea gambit.)
A new study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences offers an important reminder about the climate-energy nexus that has been largely missing from the energy conversation as of late.
There have been a lot of studies done recently on how America’s boon in domestic natural gas and oil production made possible by hydraulic fracturing can improve American energy security – specifically by reducing U.S. reliance on energy imports. Although this does little in the near term to assuage concerns about high oil prices given that oil prices are set by the international market, it does help mollify concerns about assured access to energy if the United States is increasingly relying on domestic production to supply its demand. Moreover, some studies have specifically noted that America’s abundance of natural gas could displace coal as the dominant feedstock in electricity generation, which could dramatically reduce U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions since natural gas produces about half as many GHG emissions as coal.
Yet this optimism about natural gas and its climate benefits may be premature, according to a recent study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
This is a new feature to highlight the top tweets of the week to hit my Twitter feed (@wmrogers). The list is completely subjective, of course, but I hope it is helpful to readers interested in following natural security news a little bit closer.
This is an interesting story to follow given the potential increase in demand for governments to support humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions due to climate-related and other natural disasters. Institutions like the U.S. military may be called on to support HA/DR missions in order to help dampen the impact of these natural disasters, which can have knock-on effects for security and stability.
The Hill’s Energy and Environment Blog links to a Wall Street Journal report on a new study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that challenges that assumption the natural gas reduces greenhouse gas emissions compared to other fossil fuels. The study notesthat methane (CH4) leakages throughout the lifecycle production process could offset the greenhouse gas benefits. The study is very important given the recent attention to natural gas production in the United States, largely from shale rock.
President Obama, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Mexican President Felipe Calderon met earlier this week at the White House and held a joint press conference in the Rose Garden on April 2, 2012. The three leaders discussed new avenues for multilateral cooperation, including advancing clean energy technology and combating climate change.
Photo: Courtesy of Chuck Kennedy and the White House.
The U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee has been holding hearings with the U.S. combatant commanders over the last several weeks. The combatant commanders have been briefing their posture statements for their individual geographic Areas of Responsibility (AOR). Here are what the combatant commanders had to say about climate change in their prepared remarks.
U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM)
General Carter Ham, Commander of U.S. Africa Command, March 1, 2012
General Ham’s posture statement did not initially mention climate change, which seems strange considering the findings of a 2011 Defense Science Board (DSB) report on national security and climate change that gave “special attention to the African continent due to the vulnerability of African nations with high potential to intersect with United States national interests."
However, in follow up Q/A, Senator Mark Udall asked General Ham to comment on the DSB report and whether “resource scarcity and the impacts of climate change have the potential to cause or aggravate conflicts in your AOR?” General Ham replied:
Senator, there's no question but that environmental security can have a dramatic effect on overall security, both in individual states and more regionally. I would tell you my frank assessment is that we're having better success in response to environmental security challenges than we are finding traction for preventative or predictive actions that could be taken.
On the good side, we have incorporated in a number of regional exercises, which we conduct over the course of this fiscal year, 16 exercises involving as many as 30 different African states that will have as a component of that exercise response to an environmental disaster of some sort, mostly water-related, either flood or drought. We are finding that the African nations are very accepting and understanding of the security impacts of such issues.
As I indicated, though, we're finding -- and perhaps because it's more difficult -- we're finding less traction on the preventive steps than we are on response.
Continue reading the full exchange here.
U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM)
General James N. Mattis, Commander U.S. Central Command, March 6, 2012
General Mattis’s posture statement did not include any mention of climate change, which is expected given that CENTCOM is charged with managing the war in Afghanistan and addressing emergent issues in the Persian Gulf. Of course, General Mattis may have many thoughts about climate change within his AOR; I have no reason to suspect otherwise. Nevertheless, climate change is a challenge that should be integrated into CENTCOM’s strategic planning given the range of resources issues in the region that could be exacerbated by climate change, from water scarcity to food shortages.
Global climate change has doubled the risk of coastal flooding for many American communities. “Global warming has raised sea level about 8 inches since 1880, and the rate of rise is accelerating,” a new report from Climate Central found. “Scientists expect 20 to 80 more inches this century, a lot depending upon how much more heat-trapping pollution humanity puts into the sky.” While the projected range of sea level rise may leave a lot to be desired with respect to certainty, the implications of even the low- to medium-range projections (between 36-48 inches) over the next century could have dramatic consequences for the estimated 5 million Americans living at less than 4 feet above high tide, and more so for the 3.7 million living at less than 3 feet above the tide.
U.S. military planners and others in the national security community should pay attention to the study’s mid-range projections. Depending on the location, mid-range projections are estimated at 1-8 inches in sea level rise by 2030, and 4-19 inches by 2050, with some projections much higher in areas currently home to U.S. military installations. The study’s authors give projected ranges and best estimate predictions. For example, in Virginia, Sewells Point – Hampton Roads (home to Norfolk Naval Base) is projected to experience between 3-10 inches in sea level rise by 2030, and 7-24 inches by 2050, with best estimates projected at 6 inches in sea level rise by 2030, and 14 inches by 2050. In La Jolla, California (the greater San Diego region, home to Camp Pendleton to the north near Oceanside and Coronado to the south), the study projects 2-9 inches in sea level rise by 2030, and 4-22 inches rise by 2050, with best estimates projected at 5 inches by 2030 and 11 inches by 2050. The study provides a list of other communities and the projected sea level rise with 90 percent confidence intervals that are worth reviewing at length.
Although the ranges for projected sea level rise (given in inches, not feet) may seem insignificant, the risks and concerns are quite legitimate. Communities like Hampton Roads are already plagued by sea level rise and have given serious attention to adapting to the increased risk. One concern for these coastal installations is the increased risk of storm surge and the subsequent damage. Indeed, even modest sea level rise measured in single inches portends serious risks with respect to flooding. “Cities such as Norfolk have already experienced the effects of sea-level rise as powerful storms pushed water inland, leading to flooding in places where it once was rare,” The Washington Post reported last year. What is more, climate scientists project an increase in the severity and frequency of storms which may exacerbate the effects of sea level rise and the damages incurred for coastal communities, including U.S. Naval installations. The implications for military readiness cannot be overstated, and military planners need to adapt to these changes, or be prepared to reconstitute their capabilities and facilities in the wake of these events.
As the United States rebalances in the Asia Pacific, cooperation around climate adaptation could be a tremendous opportunity to strengthen our relationships with existing and emerging partners in the region. In a post last week I noted a thoughtful piece by Francisco Femia and Caitlin Werrell of The Center for Climate and Security that fleshes out how U.S. policymakers should think about integrating climate change into a strategy for the Asia-Pacific region, including developing a “Climate Investment Plan” that would encourage the United States to make good on its commitment to help raise climate finance funds that would assist developing countries in adapting to the effects of climate change.
The Climate Investment Plan that Femia and Werrell describe would be an important element of a strategy for the Asia Pacific. But beyond helping raise the funds for these countries to pay for climate adaptation projects, what other opportunities should the United States consider as avenues for cooperation?
One area ripe for cooperation are more science and technology agreements that share lessons learned from U.S. projects that would help our partners navigate engineering challenges or other roadblocks to successfully implementing climate adaptation projects. One project that comes to mind is the New Orleans Storm Surge Barrier. The Science Channel has a great program called “Build it Bigger” that highlighted this project in a recent episode. The idea behind the storm surge wall is to protect the city of New Orleans from another Katrina-size hurricane that could potentially inundate the city again.
As the United States continues to draw down from its current conflicts in the Middle East and South Asia and rebalance in the Asia Pacific, U.S. policymakers must think creatively about how to integrate climate change into a U.S. strategy for the region. In many ways, engagement around climate change could be an opportunity for the United States to achieve some of its broader national security and foreign policy objectives in the region. Specifically, as the United States seeks to develop strategic partnerships with countries in East and Southeast Asia – from the Philippines to Vietnam – a serious commitment to helping those countries adapt to the pernicious effects of climate change could enhance our relationship with those countries and make them more comfortable with partnering with the United States on more traditional security missions, such as maritime security and nonproliferation.
Francisco Femia and Caitlin Werrell of The Center for Climate and Security have a thoughtful piece on how to think about climate change in the context of a strategy for the Asia-Pacific region. “The U.S. requires the equivalent of a Marshall Plan for the Asia-Pacific to help countries address the climate challenge, and to complement its current military and economic engagement in the region,” they write. “It needs, in other words, a Climate Investment Plan.” According to Femia and Werrell, these investments – known in the international community as “climate finance” – are funds needed by developing countries to adapt to the “effects of climate change, protect their forests and other natural resources in a manner that still generates revenue, and develop renewable energy sectors that will both grow their economies, and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.”
Femia and Werrell make a strong case for how climate finance could strengthen U.S. relations in the region. “These investments will help the United States build a strong coalition of allies in the region through: building resilience and goodwill; protecting commercial ties between the U.S. and the region, and; decreasing the likelihood of instability, disaster and conflict.” This last point about decreasing the likely of instability, disaster and conflict is particularly salient: in these fiscally austere times, the United States is looking for opportunities to build the capacity of its partners to provide for their own security. Climate finance could serve as a means to achieving that goal, specifically by building the capacity of our partner governments to respond to climate-related disasters that might otherwise overwhelm their response capabilities and require the U.S. Navy and Air Force to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. This of course is not to suggest that the United States would not help its partners if they were overwhelmed; it is merely to suggest that the United States is better served if its partners have their own robust response capabilities.