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Climate Change & International Security: The Arctic as a Bellwether

Climate Change & International Security: The Arctic as a Bellwether

May 2012

by Rob Huebert, Heather Exner-Pirot, Adam Lajeunesse, and Jay Gulledge

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Executive Summary

In its most recent assessment of global climate change, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences concluded, “A strong body of scientific evidence shows that climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for a broad range of human and natural systems.” Impacts and rates of change are greatest in the Arctic, where temperatures have been increasing at about twice the global rate over the past four decades. The rapid decline in summer sea ice cover in the past decade has outpaced scientific projections and is drawing international attention to emerging commercial development and transport opportunities previously blocked by the frozen sea. The Arctic is therefore a bellwether for how climate change may reshape geopolitics in the post–Cold War era.

The trend toward seasonally open waters is driving increased interest and investment in oil and gas exploration, shipping, and fishing in the Arctic. The recent economic recession has not affected these developments significantly, as they were always intended to be middle- to long-term developments following the progression of sea ice retreat. Indeed, high oil prices and advances in technology continue to support the drive toward offshore drilling in Arctic waters. The global economy, which has begun to show signs of recovery, is likely to rebound long before oil and gas exploration and shipping could be scaled up in the Arctic. China, India and the rest of the developing world’s growing middle classes will need oil and gas and other resources, and the world’s shipping routes are already so congested that the development of northern shipping routes is not a question of if, but when.

In response to these changes, many of the Arctic states have begun to re-examine their military capabilities to operate in the Arctic region. Some have started to rebuild their military forces, while most of the other states are drawing up plans to begin the rebuilding process. Multilateral organizations and non-Arctic states are also looking for new roles in the Arctic. All of these actors are attempting to come to terms with the meaning of Arctic security, a concept that was relatively simple during the icy decades of the Cold War. Recent national policy developments arising from the effects of climate change on the Arctic commons demonstrate that climate change is indeed a national and international security interest in the traditional strategic sense.

As the emerging Arctic security environment is in a very early stage of development, whether it will ultimately be predominantly cooperative or predominantly competitive remains an open question. Although the Arctic states invariably emphasize their desire to maintain a cooperative environment, several have stated that they will defend their national interests in the region if necessary. To gauge the geopolitical winds in the Arctic, this study catalogs and analyzes dozens of major policy statements and actions by the Arctic states, other states with Arctic interests, and multilateral organizations between 2008 and 2012.

As a framework for interpreting the totality of these statements and actions, we compare geopolitical developments to date with three future security scenarios posited by the Arctic Council in its Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment 2009 Report. We adopt these scenarios as testable hypotheses for the purposes of this study:

  • Hypothesis 1: There is no emerging security environment and the circumpolar states have no new interests that would increase competition or conflict in the region. If this hypothesis is correct, a close examination of the actions of the circumpolar world should reveal no significant new foreign and defense policies and defense procurement decisions in relation to the Arctic.
  • Hypothesis 2: While showing renewed interest in the Arctic, the interested states are committed to developing and strengthening multilateral instruments of cooperation. New military capabilities are directed towards building local constabulary capacity and largely eschew escalation of war-fighting capability.
  • Hypothesis 3: Increasing accessibility to Arctic resources because of climate change, along with a growing and increasingly modern military presence of strategic rivals in the region, becomes a recipe for competition and potential conflict. Under this hypothesis, the circumpolar states should be actively examining their core interests in the region, expressing concern over what other states are planning or doing in the region, and developing more assertive northern defense postures, including rebuilding their northern war-fighting capabilities. It is also expected that the various actors would be commencing the process of developing new defensive relationships and either strengthening old alliances or building new ones.

We assess which of these hypotheses most closely resembles the behavior of the key actors as revealed in their statements and actions. On the basis of the prevailing scenario(s), we consider the potential for instability and conflict in the Arctic and offer recommendations on how the states should proceed to ensure the region develops in a cooperative and peaceful manner.
 

Main Findings

Finding 1: Unprecedented national attention to Arctic policy.

A confluence of major policy announcements between 2008–2012 have followed Russia planting its flag at the North Pole in August 2007, the same week that Canada announced significant new Arctic military investments. Since then, major Arctic policy announcements have been made by Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia, the United States, the European Union, the Nordic countries (Nordic Supportive Defence Structures, NORDSUP) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). It is unprecedented to have numerous, major policy announcements—not just for the Arctic but for international affairs in general—from so many major players in such a short timeframe.

Finding 2: Emphasis on environmental security.

By 2005 all Arctic governments and many others had come to officially accept that climate change was melting the Arctic ice cover, which meant that the Arctic was becoming more accessible to both the Arctic states and to the international community. This new accessibility raised two main concerns for the Arctic states. First was the need to maintain environmental security. In this context, environmental security can be understood as avoiding or mitigating acts leading to environmental damage or deterioration that could violate the interests of states and their populations, in particular their northern and northern indigenous peoples. The need to maintain the region’s environmental integrity in the face of increased economic activity was a prevalent theme in much of the Canadian, American, and Russian documentation. The second concern was the need for a constabulary capacity to monitor who arrives in each state’s waters and what they are doing there. Most of the Arctic states said they had inadequate means to police the area. Much of the proposed Arctic security policy has been justified as improving the states’ abilities to meet these new environmental and constabulary needs.

Finding 3: Desire for cooperation but resolve to protect national interests.

In most of their statements, the states have reiterated their commitment to collegiality and the principles of international law to ensure that an accessible Arctic is developed in a peaceful and cooperative manner. On the other hand, many of the Arctic states’ actions and statements make it clear that they intend to develop the military capacity to protect their national interests in the region. This approach implies that while diplomacy and cooperation are preferred, the Arctic nations will reserve the right to use unilateral force to defend their interests if necessary.

Finding 4: Remilitarization of the Arctic.

While the two previous findings suggest that the Arctic states are focused on building a cooperative security environment in the region, there is a third, apparently contradictory trend toward modernizing their military forces in the Arctic. Some have already begun rebuilding their Arctic military capabilities, and most of the others are drawing up plans to do so. Consequently, if political cooperation in the region should sour, most of the Arctic nations will have forces that are prepared to compete in a hostile environment.

Finding 5: Non-Arctic states and organizations seek roles in the Arctic.

The EU and NATO have been examining the issues of governance and security in the Arctic. NATO’s initial focus appears to be on improving coordination of security-related issues, such as search and rescue. Given the importance of the region to NATO members such as Canada, Norway and the United States, it seems likely that NATO will remain engaged in the region. The EU’s interest is framed in the context of ensuring that new governance mechanisms are designed to include the interests of all European states. The EU has also issued policy statements that place a strong emphasis on protecting the environment. Separate from the EU, France has announced that it plans to provide its military with some Arctic capabilities. Although it has not expressed geopolitical interest in the Arctic, China plans to increase its scientific research activities in the region and has added a strategic studies department to its Polar Research Institute.

Finding 6: Underlying causes of policy developments.

The principal cause of renewed national interest in the Arctic is the increasing accessibility of Arctic waters resulting from global warming and new maritime technologies. Accessibility leads to the potential for new sea routes or the expansion of old ones, an important issue for both Russia and Canada. Western nations have focused on augmenting scientific research, environmental protection, sustainable development, and a constabulary and military presence. The United States stake in the Arctic is comparatively small, and historically it has tended to act with minimal interest in the region compared with the other Arctic states. Russia has invested tens of billions of dollars in Arctic oil projects, and its recent policy statements and actions suggest that it will act assertively to safeguard its oil wealth and position in the Arctic. Although oil and gas are less central to the core interests of the rest of the circumpolar powers, the importance of Arctic oil will grow for all nations as oil prices continue to rise and the desire for energy security grows.
 

Conclusions & Recommendations

Taken as a whole, the Arctic policy statements and actions taken since 2008 clearly disprove Hypothesis 1. There can be no doubt that there is renewed national and international interest in the Arctic along both economic and strategic lines. However, distinguishing between Hypothesis 2 and Hypothesis 3 is more difficult, as many of the statements and actions of the polar states indicate both a sincere desire for peaceful cooperation and serious preparations for strong military capabilities to defend core national interests in the region.

While Hypothesis 2 is the preferred outcome of all Arctic states, significant national investments in establishing a modern military capability in the north signals that core national interests are the top priority of most of them. Under these circumstances, competition and conflict (i.e. Hypothesis 3) could become the Arctic reality if cooperative mechanisms cannot keep pace with developments or otherwise prove inadequate to settle international disputes in the region. Continued monitoring of national and international developments in the Arctic will help clarify whether conditions are tipping more toward cooperation or more toward competition. A living component of this study will continue to track these developments over time and can be accessed via the Web at http://cmss.ucalgary.ca/arcticsecurity.

Maintaining security and peace in the Arctic will require adapting policies and institutions to the emerging environment there. First, the Arctic states need to strengthen existing multilateral institutions and agreements, especially those related to security. The U.S. Department of Defense, for example, wisely advocates the accession of the United States to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which provides an important framework by which to resolve disputes over, for example, the delimitation of the continental shelf in the Arctic. States also need to develop practical bilateral and multilateral agreements whereby their new Arctic capabilities can work together. Where practices develop to allow cooperation, that cooperation is easier to maintain should relations become strained due to factors developing outside of the Arctic. An early example of such practices is the development of a search and rescue treaty, the first legally binding agreement to come out of the Arctic Council, which was signed by member states in May 2011. Joining these multilateral regimes, however, is not enough; Arctic states must renew a commitment to comply with existing obligations and implement their commitments as well.

Second, the Arctic states will need to acknowledge and deal with the renewal of military strength in the Arctic. This need runs counter to the tendency of states to publicly downplay the potential for military conflict in the Arctic in order to emphasize their legitimate desire for cooperation. The Arctic Council should reconsider its existing prohibition on discussing military security issues. Failure to do so may encourage the development of alternative forums such as the “Arctic Five” group of states (Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States) that met at Ilulissat, Greenland in May 2008 and Quebec, Canada in March 2010. The challenges facing the Arctic are multi-dimensional and require both bilateral solutions, such as the Russian-Norwegian maritime border agreement, as well as a unified international response. A sectoral response to the multitude of issues that are increasingly developing in the region threatens to create a piecemeal, ad hoc governance system that may act to prevent the level of coordination needed to resolve future disputes.

The widely held notion that climate change will occur gradually over the 21st century, allowing ample time for society to adapt, is belied by the unprecedented pace of both climate change and policy developments in the Arctic today. Such rapid changes will challenge governments’ abilities to anticipate and diplomatically resolve international disputes within the region. The lesson to the rest of the world might be to anticipate changes and adapt and/or react as soon as possible, using new and existing diplomatic tools, before core national interests take center stage and promote competition and possibly conflict. With global warming, time is of the essence, not only for mitigation, but for adaptation at both the community level and the international level.

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Can Nuclear Be Part of Our Clean Energy Future?

Nuclear energy is often touted as a reliable, carbon-free element in our electricity portfolio, but three major challenges must be overcome before it can play a bigger role in our energy mix: cost, reactor safety, and waste disposal. Recent progress on each of these fronts shows that nuclear energy may indeed be a greater component of our clean energy future.

As a zero-carbon energy source that also has the highest capacity factor, new nuclear generation is especially well suited to provide baseload generation, which is an emerging gap in our electricity system. As electricity demand rises, aging coal plants are retired, and we pursue greenhouse gas emission reductions, there is a growing need for new low- and zero-carbon baseload electricity generation. Without technological breakthroughs in electricity storage technology, wind, and solar, energy cannot adequately meet baseload demand due to intermittency. Natural gas is lower emitting than coal, but it still emits greenhouse gases and has historically been vulnerable to price volatility.  

March 2012 Newsletter

Click here to view our March 2012 newsletter.

Learn about new EPA power plant rules, an action plan to get more electric vehicles on the road, recommendations from the National Enhanced Oil Recovery Intiative to boost domestic oil production while cutting CO2 emissions from power plants, and more in C2ES's March 2012 newsletter.

February 2012 Newsletter

Click here to view our February 2012 newsletter.

Learn about the new international coalition aimed reducing short-lived climate pollutants, a framework for carbon capture and storage, and how federal agencies are incorporating climate adaptation into their decision making, the start of a clean energy standard conversation, and more in C2ES's February 2012 newsletter.

How U.S. Can Lead on Short-Lived Climate Pollutants

With Secretary Clinton’s announcement this week of a new coalition aimed at short-lived climate pollutants such as methane and soot, the U.S. is helping to focus international attention on a critical but frequently overlooked dimension of the climate challenge. To maximize its leadership on this front, the U.S. should also take stronger steps to tackle these pollutants at home.

The new multilateral effort to address short-lived climate pollutants (also called short-lived climate forcers) is an important recognition of both the scientific and political realities that surround climate change. A growing body of scientific evidence underscores the importance of near-term action to slow the rate of climate change, which is proceeding more rapidly than scientists predicted. Because methane, black carbon and hydroflurorocarbons (HFCs) have relatively short atmospheric lifetimes, reductions in these compounds will have significant near-term benefits in reducing climate change.  In contrast, carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for hundreds of years. Reductions in CO2 are critical to limit the amount of warming over the longer term, but have more limited impact in the near term.   

Eileen Claussen Comments on the Climate and Clean Energy Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollution

Statement of Eileen Claussen
President, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions

February 16, 2012

The Climate and Clean Energy Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollution offers a promising avenue for practical action to slow the pace of global warming.

Going after black carbon, methane and other short-lived climate forcers is no substitute for a strong, sustained effort to significantly reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, the main driver of climate change. Nor can this new coalition take the place of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, the principal forum for mobilizing the global climate response.

But targeted efforts to reduce short-lived climate pollution can moderate climate impacts in the near term while we work toward the longer-term strategies needed to rein in carbon dioxide emissions. They could prove especially critical in slowing the loss of sea ice and of glaciers that millions rely on for freshwater. Many of these measures would also protect public health by curbing local air pollution, particularly in developing countries.

At a time when comprehensive solutions to the climate challenge are not yet at hand, we need to tackle it piece by piece, pursuing practical strategies wherever we can. This coalition is a good example. If the countries launching it can deliver the resources, and succeed in recruiting others to the effort, this new initiative has the potential to make a real difference.   

Contact: Rebecca Matulka, 703-516-4146

Learn more about short-lived climate forcers

 

Addressing Climate Change in the Near Term: Short-Lived Climate Forcers

There is growing recognition within the scientific and policy communities that efforts to address climate change should focus not only on substantially reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, but also on near-term actions to reduce climate-warming substances with much shorter atmospheric lifetimes. These are called short-lived climate forcers (SLCFs). This two-pronged strategy would accomplish two goals:

  1. Reducing CO2 emissions limits the ultimate amount of warming. Because CO2 represents by far the largest source of climate-warming emissions, and because it stays in the atmosphere for hundreds of years, large reductions in CO2 emissions are required to meet any long-term climate stabilization goal, such as the 2°C goal set by the international community.
  2. Reducing emissions of short-lived climate forcers would, on the other hand, slow the near-term rate of climate change. Scientists estimate that SLCFs account for 30 to 40 percent of the human-induced warming to date. Yet as SLCFs remain in the atmosphere for periods of only a few days to a few decades, their warming effect is short-lived, and reducing their emissions would result in more immediate benefits. In addition to limiting climate impacts already underway, including important regional impacts such as glacial melting, SLCF reductions would reduce local air pollution and produce other co-benefits. The U.N. Environment Programme recently estimated that aggressive efforts to reduce SLCFs would avoid 2.4 million premature deaths by 2030 and reduce warming between now and 2040 by a half a degree.

 

Key Short-Lived Climate Forcers

Methane has an atmospheric lifetime of about 12 years. Human-induced methane emissions result primarily from oil and gas production and distribution, coal mining, solid waste landfills, cultivation of rice and ruminant livestock, and biomass burning. Reductions in methane emissions improve local air quality by reducing ground-level ozone, which harms agriculture and human health, and is itself an SLCF.

Black carbon (BC) results from incomplete combustion of biomass and fossil fuels. Its major sources are diesel cars and trucks, cook stoves, forest fires, and agricultural open burning.

Because of a very brief atmospheric lifetime measured in weeks, black carbon's climate effects are strongly regional. BC particles give soot its black color and, like any black surface, strongly absorb sunlight. In snow-covered areas, the deposition of black carbon darkens snow and ice, increasing their absorption of sunlight and making them melt more rapidly. BC may be responsible for a significant fraction of recent warming in the rapidly changing Arctic, contributing to the acceleration of sea ice loss. BC also is contributing to the melting of Himalayan glaciers, a major source of freshwater for millions of people in Asia, and may be driving some of the recent reduction in snowpack in the U.S. Pacific Northwest.

Black carbon's short lifetime also means that its contribution to climate warming would dissipate quickly if emissions were reduced. Additionally, since BC contributes to respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses, reductions in BC emissions would have significant co-benefits for human health, particularly in developing countries.

Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) are a family of industrially produced chemicals widely used in refrigeration and air conditioning. They were developed to replace ozone-depleting substances a few decades ago, HFC-134a, the most widely used of these compounds, has an atmospheric lifetime of 13 years.

As many ozone-depleting substances are also potent greenhouse gases, their phase-out under the Montreal Protocol has contributed indirectly but very significantly to climate mitigation efforts to date. The treaty's net contribution to climate mitigation is estimated to be five to six times larger than the Kyoto Protocol's first commitment period targets.

Many countries now favor working through the Montreal Protocol to phase down HFCs. A proposal by the United States, Mexico and Canada would require an 85 percent reduction in specified HFCs by 2033 for developed countries, and 2043 for developing countries. A proposal by the States of Micronesia and Mauritius calls for a 90 percent reduction by developed countries by 2030, but specifies no schedule for developing countries.

 

C2ES Resources:

  • Bachmann, John and Seidel, Stephen, Domestic Policies to Reduce the Near-Term Risk of Climate Change. Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, 2013.
    This paper sets out a series of cost-effective steps that the Obama Administration can implement under existing authorities that would deliver substantial near-term reductions in the rate of climate change.
  • Fast Action to Reduce the Risks of Climate Change: U.S. Options to Limit Short-Lived Climate Pollutants, Feb. 2012
  • Bodansky, Daniel, Multilateral Climate Efforts Beyond the UNFCCC, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, Nov. 2011.
    This report looks at a number of multilateral entities that could play a role in addressing certain of the SLCFs including: the Montreal Protocol as a possible venue for HFCs and the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution as a possible venue for BC, methane and other ozone-precursors.
  • Bachmann, John, Black Carbon: A Science/Policy Primer, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (formerly the Pew Center on Global Climate Change), 2009.
    This paper summarizes current knowledge on the effects of soot components—black carbon and organic particles—on climate, and identifies sources and technologies to mitigate their impacts. It also presents perspectives on the potential role of soot mitigation approaches in developing more comprehensive climate strategies.
  • What is Black Carbon?, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (formerly the Pew Center on Global Climate Change), April 2010.
    This factsheet provides an overview of black carbon as a major contributor to global climate change. It describes why reducing black carbon is a win-win scenario for both climate and health reasons.
  • Read Eileen Claussen's statement on the Climate and Clean Energy Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollution

 

Additional Resources:

 

International Forums Focused on SLCFs:

 

SLCF-Related Initiatives:

January 2012 Newsletter

Click here to view our January 2012 newsletter.

Learn about the Climate Leadership Conference, Australia's new carbon pricing mechanism, the Make an Impact energy conservation challenge, and more in C2ES's January 2012 newsletter.

Eileen Claussen Reacts to President Obama's State of the Union Address

Statement of Eileen Claussen
President, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions

January 24, 2012

We share President Obama’s enthusiasm for homegrown solutions to America’s energy challenges. Without question, America has the resources and know-how to produce more energy at home, strengthening both our economy and our national security. But protecting the climate also has to be part of the equation. If we sensitively develop domestic reserves, get serious about ramping up new energy sources, and push efficiency across the board, we can both meet America’s energy needs and dramatically shrink our carbon footprint.

Even if comprehensive legislation remains off the table for now, we can make important progress tackling these challenges piece by piece. C2ES is working with policymakers and stakeholders on ways to expand enhanced oil recovery using captured carbon dioxide – an approach that can boost domestic oil production while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Similarly, we’re working with automakers, environmentalists and others on a plan for integrating plug-in electric vehicles into the U.S. electrical grid. We look forward to sharing the results of these and other C2ES initiatives aimed at practical solutions to our twin climate and energy challenges.

Contact: Tom Steinfeldt, 703-516-4146

Read the full transcript of the 2012 State of the Union Address

Global Survey Names C2ES the World’s Top Environmental Think Tank

The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) was named the world’s top environmental think tank in a global survey of top public policy research institutes.

The University of Pennsylvania’s 2011 Global Go-To Think Tank Rankings are based on a survey of more than 1,500 policymakers, scholars, journalists, think-tank executives and others worldwide. The survey assessed more than 5,300 organizations nominated in 30 categories to create a global list of top think tanks by region and policy area.

C2ES’s predecessor organization, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, was named the world’s top environmental think tank in the same survey in 2009.  The center began operating as C2ES in November 2011, and is listed in the new survey under its former name.

“While our name has changed, we remain as committed as ever to fact-based analysis and common-sense solutions to our climate and energy challenges,” said C2ES President Eileen Claussen. “We are thrilled to again be recognized as the world’s top environmental think tank.  I’d like to commend the C2ES staff and thank all of our partners and supporters in the United States and abroad for helping to make this possible.”   

The independent, nonpartisan center provides impartial information and analysis on energy and climate challenges; convenes policymakers and stakeholders to work toward consensus solutions; works with members of its Business Environmental Leadership Council and others to promote on-the-ground action; and promotes pragmatic, effective climate and energy policies at the state, national and international levels.

The annual survey, first published in 2007, is directed by James G. McGann, assistant director of the University of Pennsylvania’s International Relations Program and director of the Think Tanks and Civil Society Program.

The World Resources Institute and Chatham House ranked second and third, respectively, among the study’s top 30 environmental groups. Brookings Institution was named the top overall think tank. Additional categories in which the report ranks organizations include health policy, international development, and security and international affairs, among others.

The complete study, released in January 2012, is available online here.

More about C2ES's work to advance climate and energy solutions can be found here.

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