Science

Post-Durban and Pre-Election: The Climate Outlook

Remarks of Elliot Diringer, Executive Vice President of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions
Deputy Minister's Speaker Series-Environment Canada
Ottawa, Canada
April 19, 2012

Watch a video of Mr. Diringer's remarks

I’ve been asked to talk today about the international picture – about where the U.N. climate negotiations might be headed after Durban. And I promise I will eventually work my way toward that topic.

But I’d like to start with some reflections on a few recent events in Washington–events that I think in many ways sum up where we stand in our struggle with climate change.   

This past weekend, some of you might know, Washington celebrated its annual Cherry Blossom Festival. This was a special year – the festival’s 100th anniversary. Tens of thousands of people from around the world joined in the festivities. There was only one problem: no cherry blossoms. They’d already come and gone – early – in fact, it was just about the earliest bloom in the century since the festival began. Washington was not the only place that experienced summer in March. Some 15,000 temperature records fell across the eastern half of the U.S.  In parts of Canada, temperatures were higher in March than the previously recorded highs for April.

Now we all know that you can’t really attribute any single event – like a blossom-less Cherry Blossom Festival–to global warming. But even among TV weathercasters, who are generally skeptical of climate change, its emerging influence is getting hard to ignore. Here’s what Stu Ostro, chief meteorologist at The Weather Channel, had to say about the record heat: “While natural factors are contributing to this warm spell, given the nature of it and its context with other extreme weather events and patterns in recent years, there is a high probability that global warming is having an influence…”

My point is this: the impacts of climate change are being felt now–and, on our present course, they are certain to intensify. At some levels, this reality is beginning to sink in.  As the Arctic sea ice begins to melt away, Canada, the United States, Russia and other Arctic states are very actively considering the implications for shipping, for resource development, and for security. Some are strengthening their military capabilities in the region. But in too many places–including here and in Washington–the growing risks of climate change are not yet real enough with the public, or with our political leaders, to drive the changes needed to avert the worst of them.  

Twenty years after the first Rio summit–which launched the international climate effort–we are barely making a dent in the problem. Global leaders agreed in Copenhagen on a goal of limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius. To meet that goal, according to most scenarios, global greenhouse gas emissions must peak by 2015. That’s three years away. Instead, global emissions are projected to grow 17 percent by 2020, and 37 percent by 2035. Under that scenario, we could see average global temperatures rise 3 to 4 degrees by 2100.

So let me come back to Washington, and a second recent event: the latest step by the Obama administration to regulate greenhouse gases. The recession has significantly moderated U.S. emissions. They dropped 9 percent from 2007 to 2009. They’re now rising again, but fairly slowly. In fact, current projections don’t show emissions returning to 2005 levels until after 2035. But they would still likely be significantly higher in 2020 than the target pledged by the U.S. in Copenhagen.

Three years ago, you may recall, the goal was comprehensive legislation, including an economy-wide cap-and-trade program. A bill did pass the House, which was at the time controlled by the Democrats, but the effort fizzled in the Senate. The Republicans took control of the House in the next election–and a number of moderate Democrats who’d supported the bill were tossed out. Prospects for any major climate legislation in the near future are now generally put at nil.

So the only option open to the Administration is to regulate greenhouse gases under the federal Clean Air Act–and at the moment, it is proceeding cautiously. When it came to reducing emissions from cars and light trucks, the Administration was able to capitalize on a particular set of circumstances to deliver a genuine breakthrough. The automakers were already being pushed by California to lower emissions, and having just been rescued from bankruptcy by Washington, were more obliging than usual. The resulting rules – one already in place, the other pending–will increase the fuel economy of the average new vehicle from 30 miles a gallon today to 50 miles a gallon by 2025, avoiding some 3 billion metric tons of greenhouse emissions. 

Now the Administration is turning its attention to stationary sources–starting with power plants. Last month, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed a rule to limit greenhouse gases from new power plants. Under the proposed rule, they could not exceed the level emitted by a natural gas combined cycle plant – the most efficient now available. Any new coal-fired plants would have to use carbon capture-and-storage, which could be phased in over time. The reality, though, is that with the natural gas boom there is virtually no talk of building new coal plants.  So the rule would more or less lock in the direction things are projected to be heading anyway. The bigger question is what happens at existing power plants, which account for 40 percent of U.S. emissions. On that–or any other steps to control stationary sources – we’re unlikely to hear anything at all out of EPA until after the November election.

This is, of course, a presidential election year, which helps explain the context for a third recent event in Washington–one that no doubt more of you will have heard about. I’m talking about the President’s denial of a permit for the Keystone pipeline.  

Those of you very familiar with the manmade geography of North America know that Keystone would be but one more addition to a vast network of pipelines linking our two countries. Insofar as it would continue our dependence on high-carbon fuels–something that’s true of countless other investment decisions being made around the globe–Keystone is indeed worrisome. But given the global nature of the oil market, building or blocking Keystone is unlikely to have any significant impact on the price of gas, the U.S. job market, or greenhouse gas emissions. With or without Keystone, as long as oil prices remain high, the Canadian oil sands will continue to be developed, and that oil will reach market. If the real problem is, as I believe, our dependence on oil, then the real answers are reducing consumption and developing alternatives. Blocking Keystone does neither.

Yet with this being an election year; with the economy still struggling; with gasoline prices at record highs; with Keystone advocates promising jobs, cheaper gas and energy security; and with climate advocates rallying outside the White House, it’s easy to see how Keystone has emerged as a symbolic flashpoint. The upshot for now is that a southern section of the pipeline, fully within the U.S., is proceeding, and the President has left the door open for a revised proposal for the upper, transboundary portion.  

The political theatrics of the Keystone episode–with the president trying to punt the issue past the election, and Republicans in Congress forcing him to make a decision now, and the President managing to punt it anyway–underscore a troubling aspect of the climate and energy debate in the U.S.: like so many others, it has become increasingly partisan.

Which leads me to a fourth telling event recently in Washington: A group called Republicans for Environmental Protection took “Republican” out of its name. The group is now called ConservAmerica, a switch that its leaders say is aimed at better highlighting the conservative roots of conservation. Indeed, as far back as Teddy Roosevelt, some of America’s greatest environmental achievements have come with Republicans in power. But Republican moderates are today a disappearing breed. Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine, one of the last remaining, announced her retirement recently. Looking back over her 33 years in Congress, she lamented that “an atmosphere of polarization and ‘my may or the highway’ ideologies has become pervasive in campaigns and in our governing institutions.”

Even outside the hyper-partisan atmosphere of Washington, there is a clear partisan divide. Sixty-five percent of Democrats believe global warming is mainly caused by human activities, while among Republicans, it’s only 36 percent. Most Americans generally support an all-of-the-above approach to energy. But here, too, there are clear partisan differences: while roughly 85 percent of Democrats favor more government money for wind and solar, as well as mandatory CO2 controls, 85 percent of Republicans favor opening more federal land to oil drilling.

So that is how things look right now. I imagine many of you are wondering how they might look after the election. And I’ll get there. But for now, I’d like to put Washington aside for a moment and turn, as promised, to the international picture.

I think years from now, it is quite possible that we will look back at the UN climate conference last December in Durban as a critical turning point. The deal that was finally eked out there at 3 in the morning, 30 hours after the conference was supposed to end, delivers little in the way of concrete action. But it does open up some possibilities. I’d say it is a deal delicately poised between two eras in the evolving international climate regime–between the fading age of Kyoto, and a new phase beyond Kyoto, with developed and developing countries presumably on a more equal footing. What that phase might look like is at this stage very difficult to say.

Since the very start of the climate negotiations, there has been a tension between two different approaches: a top-down model with binding targets and timetables; and a bottom up approach called pledge-and-review, with countries undertaking voluntary efforts, and subject to some form of international review. Twenty years later, we’ve yet to choose between them. Right now, we are in fact pursuing both.

We’ve tried the top-down model, of course, in the form of the Kyoto Protocol. The theory there was that binding international commitments would drive domestic action. One might point to Canada as a clear exception in this case–or, perhaps, as proof that the whole theory is wrong. I, for one, think the truth likely lies somewhere in between. We’re all familiar with the Kyoto critique: that it covers a small and shrinking share of global emissions, while leaving emerging economies like China and India free to emit all they want. Canada is the only country to have actually withdrawn from the protocol, but others like Russia and Japan have made abundantly clear for some time that they want nothing to do with it after 2012.  

Now interestingly, even as Kyoto has been sputtering along, other things have been happening in the international regime. The 2009 Copenhagen summit, declared by many a failure because it didn’t produce a binding agreement, did in fact produce an important political agreement, one calling for both developed and developing countries to pledge climate targets or actions for 2020. The Copenhagen Accord also called for a new climate fund for developing countries, and stronger transparency measures so parties could better keep tabs on one another. In another wee-hour episode, this one perhaps best forgotten, formal adoption of the accord was blocked in the final moments by a handful of parties. But a year later in Cancun, parties adopted all of its major elements and began implementing them. They were, in essence, creating a parallel framework that looks very much like pledge and review.

The upside is that so far, more than 80 countries have made explicit pledges for 2020. This includes, for the first time, all of the major economies, both developed and developing. The downside is that taken together these pledges fall far short of what’s needed to put us on track for the 2-degree target adopted in Copenhagen, and again in Cancun.    

For all its failings, the Kyoto Protocol retains enormous symbolism around the globe as the first and only binding commitments to fight climate change.  And going into Durban, many developing countries were adamant that if there was to be any deal there, Kyoto’s survival had to be part of it.  While Canada and others were saying count us out, Europe said it might well be willing to take a new Kyoto target, but on one condition: that parties launch a new round of negotiations toward a binding comprehensive agreement.  

That became the crux of the Durban deal: Europe and a handful of others agreed to take new Kyoto targets, keeping the protocol alive, if only barely.  Parties took a number of steps to further flesh out the framework emerging from Copenhagen and Cancun.  And they adopted the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, launching new talks aimed at a new agreement in 2015.

What kind of agreement?  If you look to the Durban Platform for guidance, you won’t find much.  Here is the critical passage: parties “launch a process to develop a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all parties.”  There are two central issues embedded here, and on both, these words leave considerable ambiguity.

The first issue is the agreement’s legal character–will it be legally binding? A protocol would meet that test. So, presumably would “another legal instrument.” But the third option contained in the text–“an agreed outcome with legal force”–is a completely novel formulation. An artful one, to be sure, but one easily open to interpretation. And the interpretations already being suggested by some parties sound less than binding, at least as it’s been conventionally understood.

The second issue is the balance of responsibility between developed and developing countries, a perennial concern. Back at the start, in the Rio convention, the parties spoke to this issue by laying down the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities.” A country’s responsibility varies according to its contribution to the problem, and its capacity to address it. Kyoto applied this principle in an especially stark and especially rigid manner: binding targets for developed countries, no new commitments for developing countries, and no clear path for ever moving beyond that.  One thing that can be said of the Durban Platform is that it sweeps away this strict notion of differentiation, and with good reason. China has overtaken the United States at the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, and collectively, developing countries now account for nearly 60 percent of annual emissions.

But beyond discarding the strict binary differentiation of Kyoto, Durban offers scant guidance. While it doesn’t directly invoke the phrase “common but differentiated responsibilities,” it does so implicitly by placing the new agreement “under the Convention.” It would be a mistake to think for a minute that developing countries have in any way abandoned this core principle. And while Durban says the new agreement will be “applicable to all parties,” the same actually could be said of Kyoto, so it’s hard to read that as ensuring full symmetry.

On another issue–the form of commitments to be taken–Durban is utterly silent. The Copenhagen and Cancun agreements were clear that developed country pledges were to be economy-wide emission targets, while developing countries were free to pledge in any form they chose. Is that the presumption for next time? Can’t say.

So on the one hand, by knocking down the so-called firewall between developed and developing countries erected by the Kyoto Protocol, and by establishing a strong preference at least for a binding outcome, the Durban Platform opens up, for the first time, the possibility of a balanced, binding agreement. On the other hand, it tells us virtually nothing about what that agreement should look like.

Let’s look again at the two models we’ve already created. One option might be to keep the Kyoto approach of binding emission targets, but this time set targets for the major developing countries too. Realistically, I see very little chance of getting there by 2015. Another option is to keep building up the framework coming out of Copenhagen and Cancun. It’s proven to be a very inclusive framework, while allowing differentiation between developed and developing countries in the form of their commitments.   

But how would we move it beyond pure pledge and review? Can we make it a system that actually encourages countries to elevate their efforts by giving them confidence that others are doing their fair share? Can we agree on what a fair share of effort is?  Will countries be ready to legally bind themselves? And with Canada providing proof that binding is not always binding, we really do have to ask ourselves, what is it we even mean by binding?

As we start looking for answers, I think this is a good moment to reconsider what it is we are actually looking to the international climate regime to accomplish. Experience has shown us that in the case of many countries, including many of the largest emitters, we cannot realistically expect the international regime to drive the domestic effort. But I believe it can serve to facilitate and to encourage; and as the place where emerging national efforts are stitched together, hopefully in ways that that build confidence and a sense of reciprocity that, over time, delivers a stronger collective effort.

If that is one’s vision of the international effort, then what follows is that the real work to be done right now is not in the international negotiations, but rather, at home. So let me return to Washington, and our election, and the outlook beyond.

One could very reasonably suggest that a re-elected President Obama would be more favorably inclined to strong climate action than would a President Romney. But the reality is that how quickly we are able to ramp up the U.S. effort depends a lot more on factors other than who occupies the White House. First and foremost is the state of the economy, and while there are hopeful signs, we’re not out of the woods yet. The next most important factor is probably the level of public awareness and concern, and that may be very closely linked to the weather.  In a recent survey, a large majority of Americans said they believe global warming is making the weather more extreme. As the impacts become more pronounced, so may public support for action.

And regardless of who’s in the White House, it matters a lot who is in Congress. Right now the situation is so fluid that you couldn’t rule out the possibility of either the Democrats or the Republicans taking both houses. I think it is fair to say that whatever the outcome of the election, stronger action, whether in Congress or through EPA, will remain an uphill fight.

Given that outlook, we see two priorities. The first is to continue laying the ground for a comprehensive policy solution by working with all parties to explore the options, and by helping to strengthen public awareness and concern. The second is to find ways to make concrete progress now, piece by piece, by looking for opportunities where different interests converge, and are prepared to compromise around practical solutions. To cite just one example, we recently pulled together a group from industry, government, labor and the environmental community that worked out joint recommendations to expand enhanced oil recovery using CO2 captured from power plants and industrial facilities. It’s a plan that would reduce CO2 emissions while boosting domestic oil production. We need to find more opportunities like this, get people together, and prove that progress is possible.

I’d like to end where I began, by noting that climate change is no longer remote–it is here and now. I understand that just as Washington’s festival goers missed out on the cherry blossoms, the world’s largest ice skating rink barely made an appearance this winter. Up north, the permafrost is melting, the sea ice is shrinking, and the ancient ways of the Inuit are in danger. We can see the signs, and we have begun to take some steps. But the truth is that neither the U.S. nor Canada is yet coming to grips with the climate realities and climate risks that we face.  We are not out of time, but it is running short. There are serious choices upon us.  Let us hope we choose well.

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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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.

IPCC Releases Full Report on Extreme Weather Risk Management

Back in November the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the executive summary for a “special report” called Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (SREX for shorthand). Today, the IPCC released the full technical report that underlies the executive summary. In addition to documenting the scientific evidence that extreme weather events are on the rise, the report provides a risk-based analysis of how society can best respond to the climate threat. In the words of Chris Field, co-chair of one of the two working groups that produced the report:

“The main message from the report is that we know enough to make good decisions about managing the risks of climate-related disasters. Sometimes we take advantage of this knowledge, but many times we do not.  The challenge for the future has one dimension focused on improving the knowledge base and one on empowering good decisions, even for those situations where there is lots of uncertainty.”

Summer in March?

If you live in the central or eastern United States and have been outside lately, you can attest to the downright summery weather we’ve been experiencing. In fact, this March weather is not just unusual; it is unprecedented. In Detroit, there has not been a comparable spring heat wave since 1886, and that warm spell occurred a full month later (April 16-24). In Chicago, last week’s high temperatures in the low 80’s are similar to Chicago’s average high in August (82°).

Daily record highs have been falling in droves across the region, with some remarkable occurrences. One weather station in Michigan hit 85°F, breaking the previous daily record high by an unheard of 32°, which is also 48° above average. Two stations recorded low temperatures that beat the previous record high, something that experienced weatherman Jeff Masters had never seen before. This record warmth is not confined to the United States. Several Canadian cities surpassed both their all-time March and April records this week, an amazing feat considering the vast differences between March and April during a normal spring.

Cold Snaps and Snowstorms: Evidence of Global Weirding?

NOAA recently declared this winter to be the 4th warmest on record for the contiguous United States. That sort of announcement might be expected in a warming world. But what about the relatively cold winters of 2009-2010 and 2010-2011, which featured historic blizzards in the Midwest and the East Coast? Florida had snow seven times in 2010! And while we Americans enjoyed a very mild winter this year, Europe endured its most frigid cold snap in decades. That sort of winter weather may seem counter-intuitive in a warming world; it’s the sort of weather columnist Thomas Freidman has in mind when he writes about “Global Weirding.” 

2012: 4th Warmest Winter for U.S.

NOAA reported today that this winter turned out to be the 4th warmest on record in the contiguous United States. That’s not surprising given how much the world has warmed over the past few decades. In fact, all of the seven warmest years in over 100 years of climate data have occurred since 1992, and over the past three decades, a warmer-than-average winter has been twice as likely as a cool one. These data are consistent with how scientists say global warming affects the weather. The risk of warm winters is increasing over time, but that doesn’t mean that cold winters disappear, similar to the way that loaded dice change the probability of a particular roll but don’t eliminate other possibilities.

Federal Agencies Respond to Risks of Climate Change

C2ES is pleased to release our updated report, Climate Change Adaptation: What Federal Agencies are Doing, which lays out the rapidly expanding efforts across the federal government to respond to the increasing economic risks of extreme weather and climate change.  

Federal agencies are under growing pressure to reduce costs, eliminate unnecessary regulations, and make certain the public is getting a good return on the tax dollars they invest in government. In the context of climate change, federal agencies are reviewing the programs they operate and the facilities and resources they manage to identify cost-effective steps to minimize their vulnerability and enhance their resilience to increased risks of extreme weather and a changing climate. With our nation having experienced a record number of extreme weather events last year, each causing economic damages exceeding $1 billion, it’s both common sense and smart fiscal policy to analyze and minimize the vulnerability of federal assets to extreme weather and climate impacts. 

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.

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