Today marks the eighteenth annual World Water Day, an annual UN-sponsored day to recognize the importance of water management and the role that it plays in civil society – and as we have emphasized, foreign policy. The focus this year is on water and urbanization, and festivities have kicked off in Cape Town, South Africa to recognize the importance of access to freshwater in urban communities, especially as urbanization rates increase worldwide.
UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of UN-HABITAT Dr. Joan Clos recently wrote that “The urban water challenge must be recognised for what it really is – a crisis of governance, weak policies and poor management, rather than a scarcity crisis. We need to shore up water security against the added problems of pollution, and climate change. We need innovative ideas and good practices to implement.” Often, many urban societies in developing states lack the capacity or financial capability to make investments in sustainable infrastructure or exercise good water management programs. As Clos wrote, “Investments in infrastructure and planning have not kept up with the rate of urbanisation…Africa for example invests only 4% of its GDP in infrastructure compared to 14% in China.”
Today we are kicking off a new occassional series, "Satellites You Need to Know," which, as you may expect, explores satellites that we think you should know. It's important to understand what capabilities America needs to advance our interests in the natural security arena. And understanding our space assets is generally good practice for all security types.
China is experiencing one of the worst droughts in 60 years experts say, in part a consequence of the Asian giant’s insatiable appetite for energy and water resources that are needed to sustain economic growth and newly accustomed standards of living. Beijing appears to be working to alleviate these conditions, spending more than a billion dollars on agricultural subsidies and farming irrigation to counter food shortages, deploying weather modification teams that cloud seed the atmosphere to generate precipitation (despite potential consequences from this and other geoengineering activities) and “moving heaven and Earth” to divert water from the south to bring it north to Beijing. But one thing Beijing should do is look for opportunities to cooperate with regional partners to help the country deal with its water woes. And with the Obama administration increasingly elevating water issues in bilateral relations with key partners around the world, Washington could use this as an opportunity to strengthen ties with Beijing.
Last month, Circle of Blue reported on the cascading effect that China’s energy demand is having on water scarcity. “Underlying China’s new standing in the world is an increasingly fierce competition between energy and water that threatens to upend China’s progress,” Circle of Blue’s Keith Schneider wrote. As Schneider pointed out, China’s history is fraught with challenges stemming from scarce fresh water resources, writing that it is nothing new for a state where “80 percent of the rainfall and snowmelt occurs in the south, while just 20 percent of the moisture occurs in the mostly desert regions of the north and west.” But what is different, Schneider noted, is the expanding industrial sector that consumes 70 percent of the nation’s water, and the need for the government to tap into its coal reserves in the north in order to feed this growth. The problem is that mining coal and coal-fired power plants themselves are water-intensive, and according to government officials, “there is not enough water to mine, process, and consume those [coal] reserves, and still develop the modern cities and manufacturing centers that China envisions for the region.”
The biggest natural security news of the weekend was actually hardly mentioned in the weekend’s papers. On Friday morning, NASA’s new satellite to collect climate data, Glory, failed to reach orbit and crashed into the ocean. This is a sad repeat of a 2009 incident in which a carbon-monitoring satellite failed to reach orbit as well.
March 22nd will mark the eighteenth World Water Day, an annual UN-sponsored day to recognize the importance of water, including its increasing scarcity and competition for it. As we approach this annual event, a new Senate Foreign Relations Committee report, Avoiding Water Wars: Water Scarcity and Central Asia's Growing Importance for Stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan, should help frame the conversation that many will have this month on water and security.
Water challenges have increasingly garnered the attention of top U.S. policymakers. Secretary Clinton told an audience last March on World Water Day that “The stability of young governments in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other nations depends in part on their ability to provide their people with access to water and sanitation.” Last month, the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified before Congress that, “The growing pressure generated by growing populations, urbanization, economic development, and climate change on shared water resources may increase competition and exacerbate existing tensions over these resources.” In places such as Yemen, the next decade looks bleak due to the country’s declining oil reserves and water resources, Clapper said. And now the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, while focused on Central Asia, has shed light on the implications of water shortages for security broadly.
Yet Secretary Clinton and others have acknowledged that water scarcity is just as much an opportunity as a challenge. “In the United States,” she said last March, “water represents one of the great diplomatic and development opportunities of our time.” Indeed, the Senate report acknowledged the Obama administration’s efforts to integrate water issues into U.S. bilateral and multilateral arrangements, including in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which received about 47 million dollars from the United States in 2009 to fund water-related projects, according to the committee report. “For the first time, the United States has elevated water-related issues in its bilateral relationships with priority countries, such as Afghanistan and Pakistan,” the report said. “Accordingly, the U.S. strategy and foreign assistance budgets now include significant investments allocated toward activities that promote water security through high-visibility projects, such as expanding water storage capabilities and irrigation.”
Over the past few days, we’ve been highlighting how space technology can be used to improve our understanding of climate and environmental change as we examine the security and foreign policy implications of these issues. Today we turn to a much more sci-fi-ready area of space tech and natural security: space weather disrupting electricity here on the ground.
Many are warning that we’ll see a major increase in electric system vulnerability to space weather events over the next few years as the sun enters a new solar maximum period. So I’ve dug through my archive of research on this topic to provide you with some good resources to look to as the media follows these events, especially as they pertain to energy.
Coronal mass ejections and other solar phenomena can indeed affect a variety of important technologies, including electric infrastructure and GPS systems. Generally, solar events are of top concern for things like electric infrastructure if they are aimed directly at the Earth; the one we saw a few weeks ago turned out to be quite mild, for example, because “the flare’s magnetic field happened to be aligned parallel to the Earth’s,” according to Wired Science.
The launch of NASA’s new earth observation satellite, Glory, was delayed today, but rest assured that it will not have to make the long trip into space alone when it does take off. The Taurus XL rocket that will be sending Glory into orbit will also be carrying three secondary payloads – CubeSats, to be specific.
As Christine discussed in three posts last week, the president’s budget showed much hope for those of us interested in natural security issues. One category particularly near and dear to the CNAS natural security team is earth observation capabilities, and especially the satellite systems that are critical for producing better projections of the effects of climate change. Today, as we are celebrating what we hope will be a successful launch of Glory, we thought we’d look back at several related earth monitoring satellite missions, and examine what might be in store to keep Glory company if the Obama administration’s budget finds Congressional support for these capabilities.
One beneficiary of the administration’s focus on earth observation capabilities is the Landsat program, co-led by the U.S. Geographical Survey (USGS) and NASA. Since the early 1970’s, the Landsat program has used remote sensing to understand how Earth is changing. Landsat was not always popular, and indeed it had to overcome a number of obstacles in its quest for funding. The Bureau of the Budget and the Department of Defense, for example, initially were against using satellites for such civilian purposes. Then, in 1984, Congress pushed through legislation that privatized their operation. In practice, privatization worked out so poorly that NOAA had to order the company to turn off its satellites. After some in Congress began putting pressure on then-President George H.W. Bush, the president agreed to renew funding for the Landsat program.
Last week we witnessed a new high in anti-climate change posturing in Washington (or should I say pro-climate change?), to include extreme measures like de-funding the position of the U.S. climate change negotiator. This week, we hope to focus on good news: tomorrow NASA is launching Glory, our fine nation’s next satellite critical to understanding our changing world.
The pending climate change drama that many Congressmen and Senators are promising is on the way will surely include hearings on climate science. In past statements, top administration science officials have welcomed the opportunity to recount for the public, once again, that the vast majority of scientists in the world agree on the basics of climate change happening, the range of effects and the human contributions to the phenomenon. Given the evolutionary nature of all science, however, there are still many related dynamics that scientists feel we need more information about in order for them to add more detail to climate projections. Luckily, scientists know enough about the changing climate and its causes to know exactly where additional research, data collection and experimentation are most needed.
One of those areas of necessary new research is how aerosols can affect the climate. This is where Glory will come into play. As NASA describes: “The Glory mission will provide the highly accurate aerosol and solar irradiance measurements that are vital to providing planet models and accurately predicting Earth's future climate.”
The Department of Defense released the 2011 National Military Strategy (NMS) this morning. For those not familiar, the strategy is largely intended to outline how the U.S. military – and the military leadership – will accomplish the objectives the Department of Defense laid out in the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) and advance U.S. interests articulated in the National Security Strategy (NSS). Like the QDR and the NSS, there are some relevant natural security items that are worth mentioning. On first glance, here are some excerpts from the NMS that I found particularly interesting:
Demographics and Natural Resources
I thought it was great that the new strategy gives particular attention to demographics and how those trends could have implications from the strategic environment. And the strategy goes one step farther by brining natural resources and climate change into the mix and shedding light on the possible challenges that could be looming in the future:
Population growth and urbanization in the Middle East, Africa, and South Central Asia will contribute to increased water scarcity and may present governance challenges. The uncertain impact of global climate change combined with increased population centers in or near coastal environments may challenge the ability of weak or developing states to respond to natural disasters. (P. 2)