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Climate Change and the US national security rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific

November 18th, 2015 · 1 Comment

The Center for Climate and Security released a report yesterday with a series of looks at the intersection of climate, the rebalance to Asia, and US national security concerns (pdf of the report).

the effects of climate change are likely to both shape, and be shaped by, the U.S. role in the Asia-Pacific. If the U.S. is to engage constructively in the region – building and broadening alliances, helping advance regional security and prosperity in the face of potentially catastrophic change, and advancing U.S. national security interests – it will have to seriously consider how climate change affects the region, how the U.S. can help advance the climate resilience of the region’s diverse nations, and how the U.S. will adapt strategically to a changed security environment.

From Admiral Samuel Locklear’s, US Navy (retired), forward:

Today we find ourselves in a period of unprecedented global change – change that is offering many new opportunities, but also introducing significant emerging challenges to the global security environment. Foremost among these emerging challenges are the long-term security implications of climate change, particularly in the vast and vulnerable Asia-Pacific region, where the nexus of humanity and the effects of climate change are expected to be most profound … Fortunately, within the context of the ongoing Rebalance to the Asia-Pacific, thoughtful consideration is now being given to the long-term security implications of climate changes – but much more is needed.

The report looks to be rich (disclosure — I’ve only had a chance to read about 20 (somewhat scattered) pages so far), with many top-notch people taking a look at specific issues (such as Marcus King‘s look at Vietnamese fisheries). This report might provide a template for discussions and examinations that should continue not just with US security/climate change interaction in the Asia-Pacific region but across the globe.

The report release panel yesterday was Admiral Locklear; Sherri Goodman; and Eric Schwartz with insightful moderation by Ellen Laipson.

Locklear focused primarily on resiliency and adaptation — commenting that he did not see any consensus on paths forward toward meaningful mitigation.

I think that there is an uphill battle here. New power plants, cars, people are all working against us. I don’t think that there is enough common international consensus on ‘here are five things that we need to do.’ On adaptation, I think that we will see change. This will be lead by militaries tackling consequence management. The other cohort that will be involved is the business community.

In particular, Locklear talked about Bangladesh — a large and poor country which is among the most vulnerable nations to climate change (notably sea-level rise).

Take the country of Bangladesh, sadly a good share of Americans couldn’t find it on a map. It is a country of 150 million people, size of Iowa. If you put everyone on the world between San Diego and the Mississippi, this would be Bangladesh. On any given day, half of the country is under water. Over decades, Bangladesh has built up tremendous resiliency in a problem that is getting worse in a place where every inch of sea-level rise is a big deal for them … Decades ago, a major storm killed 100,000s and today — even in the face of conditions worsened to climate-change driven sea-level rise — only a few thousand, if that, might lose their life in a major storm.

Consider Bangladesh within the context of building resiliency (and adaptation): a poor country executed, due to some good governance and concerns about its people, a long-term set of projects to reduce vulnerabilities to extreme weather events. Adaptation and resiliency. It is also a nation which has, in at least some ways, set templates for developing world mitigation efforts. Notably, but not just, Grameen Bank and the effort to address energy poverty with innovative financing paths to provide renewable energy (such as solar panels for lighting or anaerobic digesters to produce methane for cooking).

Leo Goff, from the CNA Military Advisory Board, commented to Admiral Locklear”you were a rare voice standing out there on climate change. Thank you. How can the security community help the other combatant commanders realize that this threat is real and growing every day? Central Command and AFRICOM are, well, pretty much silent even as Pakistan is perhaps the most water stressed country and Africa faces a multitude of challenges.”

Locklear provided an interesting perspective about why the regional conditions might make it easier for the Pacific Command to engage and speak on climate change issues.

Other commands are in different situation.

With exception of North Korea, we had the benefit of countries with good governance and who are generally heading toward progress. With this basis, a serious and hard dialogue with the countries and people is possible.

If you go to sub-Saharan Africa, where the governance doesn’t exist, it is harder to get attention to climate issues …

Beyond ADM Locklear, Eileen Lapson discussed the power of scientific interactions/science diplomacy with discussion of pollution monitoring at the US Embassy in Beijing and New Delhi. “There is still credibility in American science ability to tell the truth.” Sherri Goodman provided interesting perspectives on the changed nature of DOD looks at environmental issues (internal and external) from the 1990s to today.” Eric Schwartz discussed the

This short post cannot due justice to either the release panel nor to the report — which merits attention outside the (far too limited) climate security community.

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1 response so far ↓

  • 1 John Egan // Dec 5, 2015 at 10:51 pm

    The time has now come, Adam, when the Front National in France is on the cusp of huge electoral gains. I have been saying this for years. While so many on the left have abandoned core economic issues with the refrain that climate change is the number one issue facing humanity, the far right and right populism have been raking up the economically and politically disenfranchised. The contrast between the Paris Climate Conference and the political success of the Front National could not be more stark. And I hold you and your compatriots partly responsible. Profoundly misplaced priorities have led us to this point.

    1. The selective reading of my work continues to frustrate. Again, to place blame re ‘green groups’ or otherwise at my doorstep is beyond inappropriate. To continue the refrain in our interactions, I have always had economic (and job creation) value streams within my discussions of how to tackle climate change. Investing in climate mitigation and adaptation is ‘not just insurance’ but also pathways to improved economic performance with greater jobs in local communities. Energy efficiency pays off directly in savings but also creates jobs in communities. (Roughly a 19 jobs per $1M invested in US …).

    2. Front Nationale (along with right wind in much of the world) has gains for a multitude of reasons — demagoguery capturing the attention/support of people fearful of/struggling amid major world change is certainly a major element.

    3. Climate change is a threat that requires tackling. If you wish to argue about best paths to do so — how to engage in this in ways that foster greater public support, great. If you are simply going to argue ‘ignore climate change because it is bad politics’, then you are contributing to the path of utter catastrophe.