November 13, 2009

Weekly News Roundup: Climate Change Diplomacy

Climate change diplomacy is in the air. With the Copenhagen climate summit rapidly approaching, the newswires are abuzz with governments and private groups expressing their views on what they hope to accomplish at the conference. Though it is unclear whether the United States will raise security issues at Copenhagen, several groups have started to make diplomatic pushes this week to include climate change as a security issue.

President Barack Obama may have upped the ante on the Copenhagen conference when he announced on Monday that he would be willing to attend in person if he thinks his presence will seal a workable deal. Whether his presence would help is unclear, though, given that Congress may not be able to settle on a climate change bill before the conference (and hence, the Senate may not ratify any international agreement that emerges). Obama is currently in Asia, where he is meeting with officials in Japan, Singapore, China, and Korea discussing, in part, climate change issues. Obama sent the Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu, to India and China to begin preparing a climate framework, which is a more likely outcome of Copenhagen than a comprehensive new climate treaty. Given that China’s President Hu believes U.S.-China cooperation on climate will strengthen the bilateral relationship, these talks could avert future U.S.-China tension by establishing relations built on trust and respect rather than suspicion.

In the non-governmental sector, a group of international military advisors based out of the Hague has started peppering international news sources with their message: climate change will cause a host of destabilizing factors that will then lead to more conflicts and necessary military responses (South Africa’s Mail & Guardian profiled this Military Advisory Council [pdf] using the arguably-alarmist title “Climate Wars Looming”). The group’s chairman, a retired Indian Air Force officer, said that unchecked climate change “will be very costly in terms of destabilising nations, causing human suffering, retarding development and providing the required military response.” Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti of the U.K., another member of the group, spoke to Canada’s Ottawa Citizen about the importance of linking climate and security. Although Morisetti is skeptical of a comprehensive deal in Copenhagen, the group still urges leaders to take the opportunity offered by Copenhagen to form a comprehensive treaty limiting greenhouse gas emissions.

The final group in the news this week is the recently dubbed “V-11,” a group of 11 of the most vulnerable nations that could be impacted by climate change. These countries have ramped up their publicity efforts in recent months, with the Maldivian cabinet meeting underwater to demonstrate the threat of sea level rise and the Nepalese announcing a meeting on Mount Everest to point out the threat of melting Himalayan glaciers. Given that none of these countries is an economic or military powerhouse, it’s unclear how much impact they will have over the industrialized nations attending Copenhagen. But those nations should pay close attention, because these and other vulnerable nations could require humanitarian aid if sea levels rise and storms become more frequent or more intense. The United States military has proven perhaps to be the most qualified nation to deliver assistance to those in need after the dreadful 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami (and the U.S. military has been very active in Southeast Asia in recent weeks).