While on a visit last week to the University of Louisville in Kentucky, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta was asked by a reporter about his thoughts on the national security implications of climate change. Several themes came up, including the need for the intelligence community to track climate trends so that the national security community can understand the consequences of environmental and climate change. What is more, Secretary Panetta pointed specifically to emerging challenges in the Arctic, such as increased activity by countries seeking access to natural resources. Here is an excerpt from the transcript that is worth sharing in full:
Q: Hi. Good afternoon. Thank you all for speaking to me. A 2008 Department of Defense report noted how climate change will impact current and future U.S. national security. The Department of Defense has been progressive in transitioning bases around the world -- solar panels, et cetera -- but the noted climate patterns in Somalia have led to some difficulties with Al Shabaab there. And so first, I was wondering if you could comment kind of on the unusual topic of climate change with regard to the future of the Department of Defense.
And then second, if you could help Senator Mitch McConnell accept that science and stop blocking that legislation. Thank you. (Applause.)
SEC. PANETTA: You know, I learned a long time ago, don’t mess around with people -- (laughs) -- you know, state what you think is right and hope that others will follow and be able to incorporate those thoughts in whatever they do. And I have tremendous respect for Mitch McConnell and I think that -- I’ve always enjoyed the opportunity to discuss with him, not only this issue, but other issues as well.
Last week, Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping visited Washington where he met with U.S. officials, including Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. According to the Department of Defense, the two discussed ways to enhance communication between China and the United States. Vice President Xi is expected to become president next year.
One underexplored opportunity for enhancing U.S-Chinese military communication is military-to-military engagement that uses environmental cooperation as a means for developing stronger relations, communication and interoperability. In 2009, Geoff Dabelko of the Wilson Center and Kent Hughes Butts of the U.S. Army War College wrote a piece in The Christian Science Monitor arguing this point, writing that “Environmental security issues – and climate change in particular – could be among the most productive avenues for US-China military cooperation.” There have not been any developments on this front – to my knowledge – but the opportunity exists.
Photo: Courtesy of Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo and the Department of Defense
Last week, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) released its new climate change and development strategy. The document, according to USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, provides a roadmap for promoting sustainable global growth that leverages USAID’s long history of development activities, including disaster risk reduction, natural resources management and energy sector reform.
According to the strategy, USAID’s goal is to “enable countries to accelerate their transition to climate-resilient low emission sustainable economic development.” To achieve this goal, the strategy delineates three strategic objectives:
- Accelerate the transition to low emission development through investments in clean energy and sustainable landscapes;
- Increase resilience of people, places, and livelihoods through investments in adaptation; and
- Strengthen development outcomes by integrating climate change in Agency programming, learning, policy dialogues and operations.
What is noteworthy is that the strategy explicitly addresses the budget-constrained environment that USAID must adapt to. “In order to effectively use these resources in a budget-constrained environment, USAID is committed to focusing and concentrating climate change investments for maximum impact,” the strategy reads, recognizing that USAID cannot operate in every developing country that is at risk from global climate change. Indeed, USAID – as we’re seeing with many federal agencies now – must make hard choices about where it will operate. To make those choices, USAID lays out three criteria it will consider when deciding which countries to dedicate dollars to for climate change and development activities:
Building on yesterday’s blog post with recommendations for how U.S. policymakers can encourage cooperation around energy in the South China Sea, here are some quick thoughts on steps policymakers should take to help states in the region adapt to climate change, which, as I point out in my chapter on natural resources in our new report, Cooperation from Strength: The United States, China and the South China Sea, exacerbates the resource issues countries must confront.
Broadly speaking, the United States must help states in the South China Sea region adapt to climate change by supporting humanitarian and disaster relief training, science and technology sharing and climate finance programs. Many South China Sea states are preparing to deal with the effects of climate change, including agricultural destruction, flooding, sea level rise and more frequent and severe storms. With the lack of U.S. legislation to curb greenhouse gas emissions, there is an increasing view that the United States is not a credible leader to help these states confront the climate challenges that await them. Yet, the United States does not need to pass “Cap & Trade” or other controversial legislation in order to help states adapt to global climate change.
Yesterday, I took in an event hosted by the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Environmental Change and Security Program on “New Research on Climate and Conflict Links.” There was a lot of great discussion that I found particularly relevant to the policy community. Below are just a few quick takeaways that I found instructive.
Marc Levy of Columbia University’s Center for International Earth Science Information Network, Earth Institute made a great point about the relevance of some of the questions being asked by the policy community. The question that gets asked quite often is could climate change contribute to a greater risk of conflict? The answer, according to Levy, is almost certainly, with the important caveat that we are talking about the risk of conflict, not the actual occurrence. The risk of conflict will go up relative to a hypothetical world of no climate change, Levy noted. Climate adaptation efforts could reduce the potential for actual occurrence if conducted appropriately.
But the point I found particularly important was that we (researchers, practitioners and policymakers alike) need to get passed this first-order question and begin taking the implications more seriously by asking when, where, how much and what types of conflicts are at greater risk of occurring in a world of climate change? This is where the current research effort is moving toward, albeit with some roadblocks.
The question of whether climate change could affect a country’s efforts to become more energy secure is thought provoking, and, as I suspect, less abstract than not. Many of the renewable energy technologies that countries are investing in interact, in some way, with the natural environment. Hydroelectric power, for example, requires a strong, steady stream of water to rotate turbines to produce electricity. Many nuclear power stations are generally co-located near water sources because of the amount of water that must be used in their cooling systems. One wonders then how climate-induced drought may affect these renewable energy technologies.
In China, for example, drought is already affecting the countries hydroelectric energy production. In October The Wall Street Journal reported that China is facing a 30 to 40 percent decline in hydroelectric output this winter due to perennial drought. It is unclear exactly how climate change could affect drought in China, but if climate change exacerbates existing trends – as many scientists expect it may – then drought could become more problematic in the future. To compensate for declines in hydroelectric output, China may be compelled to make up the energy shortfall with greater use of coal and other carbon-intensive energy sources, which could contribute to a dangerous and negative climate feedback loop.
The New York Times reported late yesterday that the 17th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Durban, South Africa ended on Sunday with a promise for countries to work toward a new climate treaty, extending the Kyoto Protocol until countries can reach an agreement. According to The Hill’s Energy and Environment Blog, “The agreement requires countries to develop a new treaty by 2015 that would go into effect by 2020.” According to The New York Times, the agreement also “begins a process for replacing the Kyoto agreement with something that treats all countries — including the economic powerhouses China, India and Brazil — equally,” a perennial sticking point between developed and developing countries, and largely the reason why the United States refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol in 1997.
Beyond the agreement to work towards a new climate treaty, international delegates did agree to establish a Green Climate Fund, which The New York Times reports will “help mobilize a promised $100 billion a year in public and private financing by 2020 to assist developing countries in adapting to climate change and converting to clean energy sources.” The fund could play a significant role in helping vulnerable countries adapt to the impacts of climate change and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by transitioning them away from total reliance on carbon-intensive energy sources.
Opinions appeared to be mixed about the outcome of the Durban climate talks. Observers lamented that “the actions taken at the meeting, while sufficient to keep the negotiating process alive, would not have a significant impact on climate change,” The New York Times reported. Meanwhile, The Hill reports that “Climate advocates were pleased that the Durban deal paves the way for big developing nations including China, now the world’s largest emitter, to face binding commitments.” Others noted that countries now more than ever need to take action back at home, especially given recent warnings from the International Energy Agency and the UN’s World Meteorological Organization that the world could be just a few years away from a dangerous climate tipping point.
As international delegates kickoff the second week of annual climate change negotiations in Durban, South Africa, The New York Times reported on Sunday that global carbon emissions demonstrated the largest jump in recorded history in 2010, despite a still sluggish global economy that contributed to a remarkable drop in emissions in 2009, “upending the notion that the brief decline during the recession might persist through the recovery.”
The analysis found that the majority of global carbon emissions (57 percent) came from developing countries and that “the combustion of coal represented more than half of the growth in emissions.” The analysis suggests that some developing countries increased their share of coal use – long considered one of the cheapest forms of conventional fossil fuel sources – in part as an effort to generate the energy necessary to improve economic growth. China, for example, is the world’s number one consumer of coal, consuming about 16 percent more coal in 2010 than 2009, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency.
Delegates met this week in Durban, South Africa for the 17th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to discuss, among others things, what to do once the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012.
Despite low expectations about an agreement on Kyoto, some reports pointed to potentially meaningful progress, particularly with respect to climate finance for developing countries – that is, a new multilateral Green Climate Fund that would provide cash-flows to countries to develop climate-related projects, including renewable energy technologies and climate adaptation projects that can help dampen the impacts from climate change.
Delegates will meet through next week, December 9, and we’ll continue to track the progress through our friends at the Adopt a Negotiator Project.
Photo: The main conference hall in Durban, South Africa. Courtesy of the Adopt a Negotiator Project.
In January, CNAS will release its study on the South China Sea, including a chapter on how natural resources affect the behavior of states in the region. There has been a lot of attention paid to natural resources and whether or not competition over access to oil, natural gas, fisheries and minerals could lead to conflict in the region. Too often the issues are over-simplified though, and there is either an implicit or explicit assumption that it’s competition over natural resources that could lead to overt conflict. But natural resources have a more nuanced role in international relations, particularly in the South China Sea, and understanding this role can actually enable states to manage their resource issues and avoid instability and conflict.
Competition over natural resources is rarely, if ever, the sole precipitator of conflict. [There is a vast literature on this topic, and though I won’t develop a literature review here, there are some notable sources worth exploring, including the work by our friends at Woodrow Wilson Center’s Environmental Change and Security Program and their New Security Beat blog.] Instead, tensions related to competition over natural resources have the potential to exacerbate existing diplomatic or political grievances between states, which can contribute to instability or conflict. But there are ways to relieve tensions over natural resources. Indeed, where competition over natural resources appears to lead to instability or conflict, it is more often than not a proxy for other challenges states are facing, particularly with governance or other related trends.