Climate Change and Security in the News - January 2010

A round-up of articles relating to climate change and security in the world media for January 2010

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Geopolitical change in Copenhagen

In the aftermath of the climate change negotiations in Copenhagen, several analysts have suggested that the summit demonstrated a realignment of the global order. The former US Senator, Timothy Wirth, now president of the UN Foundation, told a UN conference audience that recent changes to the geopolitical landscape were played out during the Copenhagen negotiations. Dr Jian Junbo, Assistant Professor at the Institute of International Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai, similarly argued that the conference in Copenhagen highlighted 'an emerging new international order that will be dominated by international groupings rather than by individual state powers'.

Negotiations at the conference were dominated by informal groupings, particularly between the US and China, but also in the form of the BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) group of the world's largest developing countries. Meanwhile, the influence of Europe and Japan, as well as the capacity of the UN to offer leadership, was reduced. Confirming some of these shifts, Jonathan Pershing, the US deputy special envoy for climate change, said that America now sees a diminished role for the UN after the chaos of the Copenhagen summit. Pershing, like Junbo, expects future negotiations to be dominated by the world's largest polluters such as China, the US, India, Brazil and South Africa.

Elsewhere, the ineffectiveness of the EU to impose itself on negotiations was recognised by Connie Hedegaard, the new European commissioner-designate for climate action. The UN process has proved insufficient for reigning in the interests of the US and BASIC bloc. In response, Bert Metz, a former chief climate change negotiator for the Netherlands, has called on the EU to develop a new strategy so that it can regain its position as a leader on climate issues. A key part of this process would be to make climate change the centrepiece of its common foreign and security policy. Metz wants to see the EU's new foreign affairs chief integrate climate change into every aspect of the EU's foreign relations. He also wants to see tighter links with the most vulnerable developing countries.
Coverage: Asia Times, Guardian, CSMonitor, NYTimes

Environmental refugees unable to return home

Environmental refugees in Bangladesh, forced to leave their homes after Cyclone Sidr struck in 2007, have been unable to return. However, instead of the large-scale international migration that some experts have predicted, many of the migrants are moving from rural areas to nearby 'mega-cities' in their own countries. This is causing rapid and unplanned urbanisation which, Koko Warner from the United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security warns, could add further strain to scarce water, energy and food resources.

The problems in Bangladesh highlight the important difference between 'traditional' refugees who are usually temporarily displaced and 'environmental' refugees who are being permanently displaced. As Saleemul Huq, a Bangladeshi scientist and senior fellow in the climate change group of the International Institute for Environment and Development in London explains, 'We are going to have low-lying areas in Bangladesh that are not going to be inhabitable anymore, so those people will have to go somewhere'. While Dhaka has managed to absorb millions of migrants, this 'can't go on forever. Dhaka can't take it, and neither can the people'.

Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, is the fastest growing mega-city in the world according to the World Bank. Worryingly, Dhaka is also regarded as one of the cities most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, prompting fears of greater catastrophes to come. 
Coverage: NYTimes

UK climate envoy meets with US Vice President to discuss the potential national security threats posed by climate change

The UK's Climate and Energy Security envoy, Rear Admiral Morisetti met with US Vice President Joe Biden to discuss the potential national security threats posed by climate change. Morisetti told the press that the conversation was part of an ongoing dialogue between the UK, the US and other states about the military challenges associated with a warming world in an effort to bolster cooperation on potential solutions. Central to this dialogue are questions about how militaries can mitigate the threats that are likely to arise from climate change.

On his FCO blog, the British Ambassador to Washington, Nigel Sheinwald, who accompanied Morisetti, described the visit as an opportunity to discuss an 'under-explored area of policy'. He reported that the US Vice President was very aware and supportive of Morisetti's climate security agenda.
Coverage: The Hill, FCO Blog

New report warns climate change will increase the risk of conflict over shared water

A report published earlier this month by the Pacific Institute argues that global climate change will increase the risk of conflict over shared international water resources. According to Dr. Peter Gleick, President of the Pacific Institute, 'new disputes are already arising in transboundary watersheds and are likely to become more common'. The report for the UN warns that existing agreements are insufficient for dealing with the impacts of climate change on water supplies and calls for new treaties focused on reducing the risk of conflict.

The report is available from the website of the Pacific Institute. 
Coverage: IWA, CNAS

Arctic conflict unlikely

Experts from the Fridtjof Nansen Institute in Norway have concluded that there will be 'no armed dash for resources' in the Arctic. The new study finds that 'dispassionate diplomacy' is a 'more likely and rational way of dispute resolution than military confrontation'. Svein Rottem, co-author of the study said: 'since the issues some call 'security policy challenges' are, in fact, already largely regulated by international law that most states find it to their benefit to observe, the room for conflict is limited'.

The full report is available through the Fridtjof Nansen Institute website.
Coverage: Science Daily

New collaboration between spies and scientists

In the US, the CIA is collaborating with top scientists in an effort to use intelligence assets to help unravel the complexities surrounding environmental change. The collaboration restarts an effort which was shut down by the previous administration and is strongly supported by the director of the CIA. An agency spokeswoman reported that the CIA director, Leon Panetta, 'believes it is crucial to examine the potential national security implications of phenomena such as desertification, rising sea levels and population shifts'. Declassified intelligence data is useful for scientists looking to understand the way that the thawing Arctic will impact on the development of new fisheries, sea lanes and resources.

Hilary Clinton told Newsweek magazine that the US is increasing its attention to possible security threats emerging in the Arctic. 'With the melting of the ice, with sea lanes opening that were never there before ... with five countries ringing the Arctic ... With Russia saying that they are going to have an expedition next year to plant their flag on the North Pole. With Canada saying, 'No, you'd better not.' This is an area that we have to pay real attention to' said Clinton.  
Coverage: NYTimes, Toronto Star

Doomsday Clock now stands at six minutes to midnight  

The Bullet of Atomic Scientists (BAS) has moved the minute hand of its famous 'Doomsday Clock' back by one minute, leaving it to stand at six minutes to midnight. In a statement supporting the decision, the BAS Board said that recent international efforts to reduce stockpiles of nuclear weapon and to limit emissions of climate-changing gases are 'signs of a growing political will to tackle to the two gravest threats to our civilisation - the terror of nuclear weapons and runaway climate change'.

To read the full statement visit the BAS website
Coverage: BBC News Online


Further Analysis: Climate Security, Global Security Issues

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