“When it comes to the stability of one of the world's most volatile regions, it's the fate of the Himalayan glaciers that should be keeping us awake at night,” warns Stephan Faris in Foreign Policy, on the specter of Pakistan unraveling as natural resource consumption and climate change take their toll on this withering nuclear club member.
The Himalayan glaciers are the primary source of the Indus River and its six tributaries that flow through Kashmir to form freshwater supplies for millions of Indians and Pakistanis. To date, Pakistan and India have amicably governed the shared Indus waters under the 1960 Indus Water Treaty, which established a governing body – the Permanent Indus Basin Commission – to adjudicate grievances associated with water management between the two rival states. For many, governing the Indus waters has been a hallmark example of how resource issues can act as an opportunity for peace and engagement rather than as the basis for conflict. But, as Faris writes, “the treaty's success depends on the maintenance of a status quo that will be disrupted as the world warms.”
BBC News reports that an international group of academics has recommended that world leaders ditch current policies related to climate change due to continued failures, and completely redesign their strategies moving forward. And although this probably was not exactly what the academics had in mind, Reuters reports that the world’s biggest polluting nations have agreed to drop their goal to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Meanwhile, The New York Times reports that European nations, while happy about the progress the United States has made on setting climate goals, fear that the United States and China will reach an independent climate deal on their own. Finally, a new study has concluded that geoengineering will be largely ineffective in reducing CO2 levels and ocean acidification. In energy news, billionaire T. Boone Pickens has called off a $10 billion plan to build the world’s largest wind farm. And, while attacks continue in the Niger Delta, crude oil prices have fallen for a sixth day.
In the wake of recent volatility in the commodities market, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission is considering significant reforms to reduce harmful speculation. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and Energy Secretary Steven Chu are heading to China next week to work towards increasing U.S. exports of clean energy technology. In other China-related news, CNN profiles an alternative energy project underway in Yunnan province, and Xinhua reports that China will start building the first 10 million-kw-level wind power station later this month – a project dubbed the “Three Gorges on Land.” An emerging El Nino weather pattern is threatening to pose a variety of challenges, including triggering forest fires that will cause a spike in greenhouse gas emissions. Finally, Turkey has lost financing from Austria, Germany, and Switzerland for the Ilisu hydroelectric dam due to concerns over the project’s environmental ramifications.
While analysts inside and outside of DOD have been studying the potential effects of climate change on the future operating environment of the U.S. Navy – including CNAS’ own report on the subject – an assessment on the implications of climate change on future air missions is harder to come by. Nonetheless, it is safe to say that as the climate changes and resources become increasingly scarce, U.S. air power will feel the effects, and the U.S. Air Force (USAF) will have to adapt to a changing operating environment. The U.S. Air Force has acknowledged the complexity of the challenge climate change presents, noting in its December 2007 white paper, The Nation’s Guardians: America’s 21st Century Air Force that “dislocating climate, environmental, and demographic trends... are salient features of [an] increasingly complex, dynamic, lethal, and uncertain environment.”
Specifically, the U.S. Air Force will likely face a significant uptick in the number of humanitarian missions they will be expected to take part in over the coming decades. From the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to the World Bank and the U.S. government, there is a consensus that climate change has the potential to wreak havoc on many coastal areas, both in the domestic United States and internationally in areas of geostrategic importance. Ever since the Berlin Airlift, American air power has played a front-and-center role in humanitarian missions and disaster relief for the U.S. military, and this shows little signs of changing. American air power was prominent in the responses to Hurricane Katrina, for example, with the USAF tracking the storm before it made landfall and then airlifting supplies in and the injured out. Additionally, American air power was critical to the response to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, and the relief effort following the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan, during which the Air Force was at the forefront of the international relief efforts.
BBC News reports that G8 leaders are set to issue a statement agreeing to try to cut global greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2050, including an 80% cut by rich nations. In Afghanistan, land use continues to play an important role in U.S. strategy, with units from the Nebraska National Guard Task Force Warrior agribusiness development team and the Kentucky National Guard agribusiness development team deploying to the country to assist Afghan farmers. Meanwhile, Oxfam has released a new report detailing the dangers climate change poses to less developed nations. Finally, the Los Angeles Times reports that water scarcity is beginning to seriously threaten California’s agricultural industry.
The Natural Security bloggers thank all those who have served and are serving our nation this Independence Day. We wish everyone a safe and happy 4th of July, and we’ll return with more Natural Security news and commentary next week. Here’s to you, America!
Photo: U.S. Navy Master-at-Arms 1st Class Alex Roelofs raises the American flag to half mast in recognition of Memorial Day in Helmand province, Afghanistan. Courtesy of MC2 Patrick W. Mullen III and the U.S. Department of Defense.
A recently released report from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature finds that over 44,000 species worldwide are now under threat of extinction. One species not facing extinction, however, is the mountain pine beetle, which, due to warmer winters in recent years, is now threatening pine forests throughout all of North America with a “beetle plague,” according to BBC News. Meanwhile, Bloomberg News reports that a draft document for the upcoming Group of Eight meeting indicates that the United States will officially join other developed countries in calling for reaching peak emissions by 2020. Finally, Turkey has announced that it will restart work on the controversial Ilisu hydroelectric dam on the Tigris River.
In a preview of some of the issues likely to arise at the Copenhagen climate change conference in December, India has warned that it will not agree to targeted decreases in greenhouse gas emissions. Another potential sticking point appears to be U.S. leadership, as both Europe and China have been underwhelmed by the Waxman-Markey climate change bill that recently passed in the U.S. House of Representatives. In climate science news, a new study shows that Arctic permafrost contains twice as much carbon as previously thought, reports Bloomberg News.
In energy news, The Guardian reports on a scathing report recently released by Amnesty International on the activities of oil companies in the Niger Delta, arguing that much of the violence in the region is fueled by the conditions created by the oil industry. After securing one contract, bidding in Iraq for development rights to six of the country’s oil fields has fizzled out. Finally, BBC News profiles Mexico’s struggle to balance developing biofuels while avoiding food crises.
The director of the UN’s Food an Agriculture Organization has warned that climate change will likely create an increasing number of food crises across the world over the next 20 years. The Guardian reports on a new paper in Nature Geoscience which says that climate change will also adversely affect the U.S. Gulf Coast, warning that up to 13,500 square kilometers of coastal lands surrounding New Orleans will be underwater by the turn of the century. In other news, the United States has joined the International Renewable Energy Agency, a new organization founded in January. Meanwhile, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar is pushing hard for the development of renewable sources, announcing measures that aim to hasten the development of solar energy projects on federal lands. Finally, a consortium led by BP has accepted a contract to develop the Rumaila oil field in Iraq – the country’s largest – after the contract was rejected by the Exxon Mobil-led consortium which originally won the bidding process.
On Friday, the House of Representatives passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES), but not without considerable effort. Though debates about F-22s and the economic merits of a cap-and-trade system will continue as both bills head to the Senate, it’s worth a moment to take a look at what the legislation could do to improve the natural security of the United States.
Provisions in the House version of the NDAA tackle the problem of greenhouse gas emissions head on. For starters, it authorizes the creation of a Director of Operational Energy, who would report directly to the Secretary of Defense and would review how the Department of Defense might better incorporate carbon-free, renewable fuels into its daily operations and broader strategic posture. The recommendations from the Director of Operational Energy, due no later than February 1, 2010, would address how combatant commanders, the heads of military branches, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff could use algae- and other biomass-based fuels for aviation, maritime, and ground transportation and to more widely power forward operating bases.