July 22, 2009

Spotlight on the Hill: Vice President Sharon Burke Testifies on Climate Change and National Security

Yesterday the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on “Climate Change and Global Security: Challenges, Threats, and Diplomatic Opportunities.” (CNAS Veep and Natural Security Blogger Sharon Burke testified, and may share her insights here later.) I thought one of the most important comments of the day came from Senator John Kerry in his opening remarks:

…climate change injects a major new source of chaos, tension, and human insecurity into an already volatile world. It threatens to bring more famine and drought, worse pandemics, more natural disasters, more resource scarcity, and human displacement on a staggering scale. Places only too familiar with the instability, conflict, and resource competition that often create refugees and IDPs, will now confront these same challenges with an ever growing population of EDPs—environmentally displaced people. We risk fanning the flames of failed-statism, and offering glaring opportunities to the worst actors in our international system. In an interconnected world, that endangers all of us.

This is an important point, often the focus for our program and others like it, quite different from the academic argument concerning

whether there are direct, causative links from climate change to conflict. This can be an abstraction of sorts: rarely do credible analysts argue that conflicts will ensue solely because of climate change or other single environmental factors (although at least one family has moved to the opposite end of the globe for just that reason).

Peter Gleick, perhaps the world’s foremost water and security scholar, provided what I find to be the best description of the real problem at hand.In his April 1991 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists article, “Environment and Security: The Clear Connections,” Gleick wrote that “traditional military tensions and conflicts are becoming increasingly intertwined with new global challenges,” including those of the environmental and resources. He further described that political, military, and ideological issues “will become more tightly woven” with environmental, demographic, and other problems in the future. (Emphasis mine in both cases.) Just as Senator Kerry described, climate change will add a new and troubling challenge into often already unstable situations. This, of course, will directly impact U.S. security. Back to the idea that with climate change “We risk fanning the flames of failed-statism.” As climate security cannot be divorced from the energy security question and vice versa, I offer the following tables as a reminder that – especially when we focus on instability rather than just conflict – our current system is indeed fanning some flames.

World Proved Oil Reserves Reserves (billion barrels) Failed States Index Ranking (out of 177)
Saudi Arabia 267 89 (warning)
Canada 178 166 (sustainable)
Iran 136 38 (alert)
Iraq 115 6 (alert)
Kuwait 104 125 (warning)
Venezuela 99 77 (warning)
United Arab Emirates 97 139 (moderate)
Russia 60 71 (warning)
Libya 43 112 (warning)



15 (alert)

Sources: Energy Information Administration, “World Proved Reserves of Oil and Natural Gas, Most Recent Estimates,” figures from Oil & Gas Journal (December 2008), available at http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/international/reserves.html; and and Fund for Peace and Foreign Policy, Failed States Index 2009, available at http://www.fundforpeace.org/web/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=391&Itemid=549. Countries are indexed into four categories of severity: alert, warning, moderate, sustainable.

Top U.S. Crude Oil Imports by Nation of Origin Year to Date (thousand barrels per day; out of about 9.267 million bpd) Failed States Index Ranking (out of 177)
Canada 1,889 166 (sustainable)
Mexico 1,196
98 (warning)
Saudi Arabia 1,101 89 (warning)
Venezuela 973 77 (warning)
Nigeria 623    15 (alert)
Angola 572    55 (warning)
Iraq 548    6 (alert)
Algeria 281    73 (warning)
Columbia 257    41 (warning)
Russia 227    71 (warning)

Sources: Energy Information Administration, “Crude Oil and Total Petroleum Imports Top 15 Countries” (April 2009), available at http://www.eia.doe.gov/pub/oil_gas/petroleum/data_publications/company_level_imports/current/import.html; and Fund for Peace and Foreign Policy, Failed States Index 2009, available at http://www.fundforpeace.org/web/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=391&Itemid=549.