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.
Last Thursday the Environmental Law Institute (ELI) hosted a panel on “Offshore Oil & Gas in the Arctic: The Next Five Years.” The event was focused on planned lease sales by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) for the Chuckchi and Beaufort Seas in the coming five years. BOEM is one of three new agencies created within the Department of Interior to replace the former Minerals Management Service. BOEM is responsible for developing and managing the nation’s offshore energy resources, including the leasing of oil and gas blocks on the outer continental shelf. In November 2011, BOEM published its Draft 2012-2017 Oil and Gas Leasing Program requesting comments from the public. Read the notice here. The comment period closes February 8, 2012. Though the ELI program focused on the Arctic - the area likely to draw the most intense comments - the draft covers all proposed U.S. offshore lease sales through 2017. The proposed lease sale dates off Alaska’s coast are 2013 for the Cook Inlet, 2015 for the Beaufort Sea and 2016 for the Chukchi Sea. You can view the draft in its entirety as well several other related documents here.
Among the key thoughts I took away were that the later dates for the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas locations reflect a desire to continue to study the region as well as to afford the opportunity to learn from the drilling slated to occur in these areas in 2012. These leases present significant challenges such as the remoteness of the locations, the lack of supporting infrastructure close by and challenges in conducting spill response in this harsh environment. However, the leases are located in much shallower water than the deepwater drilling currently occurring in the Gulf of Mexico.
CNAS is kicking off the 2012 event season with the launch of Philip Taubman’s The Partnership: Five Cold Warriors and Their Quest to Ban the Bomb. Join us today at 6 PM at the W Hotel’s Great Room for a discussion with Taubman and The New York Times’ Chief Washington Correspondent David Sanger. Taubman will shed light on one of the most divisive security issues facing Washington today and tell the story of the unlikely efforts of five key Cold War players to eliminate the nuclear arsenal they helped create. The Partnership tells the little-known story of a campaign by five men – Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, Sam Nunn, William Perry, and the renowned Stanford physicist Sidney Drell – to reduce the threat of a nuclear attack and, ultimately, eliminate nuclear weapons altogether.
For anyone interested in nuclear proliferation (of energy or weapons), The Partnership is a must read. As The New York Times’ Gary Bass wrote in his review of the book, “Taubman’s book provides an important public service by concentrating on nuclear perils that — despite previous powerful alarms from writers like Graham Allison and Richard Rhodes — continue to slip our day-to-day notice.”
On January 10, 2012, CNAS will formally release its new report Cooperation from Strength: The United States, China and the South China Sea at an event featuring Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert, CNAS Senior Advisor and Senior Director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program Patrick Cronin, CNAS Senior Fellow Robert Kaplan, former Secretary of the Navy Richard Danzig, and Ambassador Chan Heng Chee, Ambassador of the Republic of Singapore to the United States.
RSVP today for what is sure to be a standing-room only event. The report will be available at the event.
As a special note to our Natural Security audience, the report includes a chapter on the role of natural resources in the South China Sea that focuses on more than just the region’s energy resources. It includes an examination of the broad resource and environmental trends affecting the region, from energy to fisheries, from minerals to 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.
Starting at 9 a.m. this morning, our friends at the Pew Center for Global Climate Change are hosting an event at the Newseum in Washington, “Toward Climate and Energy Solutions,” featuring former U.S. Senator John Warner, Entergy CEO Wayne Leonard, Resources for the Future President Phil Sharp, moderated by NBC’s Ann Thompson. For those of you unable to join downtown, you can watch the webcast here. (I recommend you tune in.)
The event couldn’t come at a better time. As the economy slowly rebounds, competing priorities for scarce federal and private sector dollars continue to threaten to edge out important opportunities to invest in green energy technologies. The Pew Center event is meant in part to renew the conversation on energy and climate security and develop solutions for mobilizing action and investment to help foster the clean energy sector America needs to make serious progress on reducing its greenhouse gas emissions while ensuring access to more reliable sources of energy.
And when I say the event couldn’t come at a better time, I mean it. Just this morning, The Wall Street Journal reported that the International Energy Agency (IEA) issued a warning yesterday that “Dangerous climate change will be ‘locked in’ within little more than five years and there are few signs that the world will stop this happening.”
Despite the vast amount of water on Earth, demands for human consumption are reaching constraints with regard to accessibility, quality and use. This concept of “peak ecological water” – limitations to the regional availability of water – has been developed by MacArthur Genius Fellow Peter Gleick in his biennial report The World’s Water, which was launched this past Tuesday at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Now in its seventh volume, The World’s Water continues to build on a diverse set of issues centering on water and its implications for energy security, including the necessity of reforming U.S. water policy and the implications of water contamination as a result of producing alternative energy sources.
The U.S. government’s lack of vision is in part to blame for America’s current inability to revamp aging laws and infrastructure for a 21st century environment. In The World’s Water, Volume 7, Gleick and his colleagues devote a chapter to the need to reform outdated water laws and policies. Policymakers working on water issues across the U.S. government have not sufficiently worked together to develop coherent legislation, in part because most of over 30 federal agencies and programs with water-related responsibilities do not view water as their central mission. For example, Gleick recommends improved collaboration, especially between the Farm Service Agency, the Environmental Protection Agency and State Revolving Loans, in prioritizing projects that better manage the country’s river basins. Concerns over internationally shared water systems with Mexico and Canada will also require increased planning and diplomacy in order to reduce tensions among neighboring countries. According to Gleick, as demands for water increase alongside the growing population, a more integrated water policy that includes all relevant stakeholders in the U.S. government is needed in order to sculpt a more sustainable approach to federal water management.
On Monday, I attended an event sponsored by the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies. Dr. Gary Machlis, the Science Advisor to the Director of the National Park Service, spoke on his experience as the lead scientist for the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Strategic Sciences Working Group during the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. This was an experimental working group designed to aid in the natural resource damage assessment process. Because it was experimental, it was conducted outside the standard response structure mandated for oil spills by the National Contingency Plan, the Incident Command System (ICS). The ICS is also the standard command structure under the National Response Framework and National Incident Management System for all domestic incidents and offers the benefit of a known cadre of key positions and structure that is easily recognizable across first responders from the federal, state and local governments. It does not, however, currently call for a strategic science working group either within the command staff or within the general staff. Having this group outside the formal ICS did not prohibit them from briefing key leaders within the organization on their findings, but they were not staffed or funded by the formal ICS process.
One of Dr. Machlis’ most interesting points was the concept of incorporating strategic science within crisis response. From his presentation I took strategic science to mean a methodology by which an environmental system can be evaluated based on the best available interdisciplinary science being used to assign a likelihood of occurrence to cascading events under desired scenarios. It is not the tactical science used to develop the capping stack, or monitor the flow of oil. His group modeled the impacted human ecosystem, including biophysical resources, socioeconomic resources and cultural resources, and examined the expected impacts across three scenarios: oil flow containment until recovery began; short term and long term recovery and restoration; and recovery and restoration where stress on the human ecological system was declining. Each scenario was based upon the best available scientific information and included variables such as flow rate from the well, time to contain the oil flow, length of time for recovery and others. Each potential event was assigned a probability of occurrence. The likelihood of occurrence drove subsequent events until the scenario had been played out.
Yesterday, the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) hosted key members of the National Petroleum Council (NPC) to discuss its recently released report “Prudent Development of North America’s Oil and Gas Resources.” The panel reported that North America still has huge amounts of natural gas and oil remaining to be produced. This is particularly true for the United States and Canada, with the important caveat that technology must continue to develop to allow for the safe, prudent development and production of those resources from deepwater offshore drilling, the Arctic and unconventional sources such as oil sands, shale and tight oil (fossil fuel resources trapped in rock formations, like shale rock).
On the natural gas front, NPC members argued that there were enough natural gas resources available to satisfy even the most robust projected natural gas consumption models for the United States for several decades. After development, the largest variable in projected modeling for natural gas use was related to the amount of natural gas consumed by power plants as a potential replacement for coal. The demand is likely to depend a great deal on the standards the Environmental Protection Agency settles on for greenhouse gas emissions and the impact this has on the viability for power plants to continue to burn coal.
Continued development of these resources provides additional security for access to petroleum should supplies from other regions be interrupted, the panel argued. Even more encouraging was the ability to completely satisfy the need for access to natural gas from assets in the United States and Canada.
Yesterday at the Rayburn House Office Building, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) hosted a discussion, “Biodiversity Conservation in Afghanistan Advances U.S. Security Interests,” focusing on improving livelihoods and governance through natural resource management in Afghanistan – a cornerstone to long-term stability and achieving U.S. security interests in the state. As I learned yesterday, currently the most significant threats to Afghanistan’s natural resources include illegal hunting and trading, as well as an increase in deforestation and desertification. “Almost 80% of Afghanistan’s people depend directly upon the natural resource base for their survival and livelihoods, and three decades of near-continuous conflict has badly degraded this base,” said Afghanistan program director of the Wildlife Conservation Society, Dr. David Lawson. Most of WCS’s work in Afghanistan is community-based conservation, focusing on the local level, mobilizing local communities to institute new policies, laws and regulations and training community members “in natural resource management so they can work together to help build a sustainable future,” Lawson said.
Another part of WCS’s work involves central governmental capacity building, which works to “improve the capacity of the government to take responsibility and manage the country’s critical resources,” according to Lawson. With help from the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock and the National Environmental Protection Agency, WCS has helped the Afghan government to write environmental laws and regulations, as well as build nationally protected area networks, train officials and build government structures. Afghan individuals and communities participating in natural resource management benefit by generating income (some of them for the first time) and, as Lawson noted, “being able to benefit directly from conservation activities, and that actions taken to protect and preserve the environment can directly contribute to poverty reduction and improved community livelihoods.”