The global water wars are almost upon us!
At least that’s how it seems to many. The signs are troubling: Egypt and Ethiopia have recently increased their aggressive posture and rhetoric over the construction of the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam in the headwaters of the Blue Nile, Egypt’s major artery since antiquity. India continues to build new dams that are seen by its rival Pakistan as a threat to its “water interests” and thus its national security. Turkey, from its dominant position upstream, has been diverting the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and increasing water stress in the already-volatile states of Iraq and Syria.
Environmental desks at newspapers around the world may be on the defensive, but the stories are only getting bigger. On January 25, six environmental journalists from Bloomberg, EnergyWire, Public Radio International, the Associated Press, and the Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media gathered at the Wilson Center for a panel cosponsored by the Environmental Change and Security Program and the Society of Environmental Journalists to discuss what to watch for in the coming year, from President’s Obama’s mention of climate change in his inaugural address to the prospects of shale gas and the Keystone XL pipeline. [Video Below]
Bloomberg BNA‘s Director of Environmental News John Sullivan gives an overview of the key legislative, regulatory, and legal developments expected in 2013, including the Keystone XL pipeline, the future for coal-fired power plants, and the potential actions that may be taken by Congress, the White House, and the Environmental Protection Agency.
›November 2, 2012 // By ECSP Staff
Harvard’s David Keith calls it the “goofy Goldfinger scenario” – a rogue nation, or even an individual, would conduct an unsupervised geoengineering experiment – and he confidently predicted in a story I wrote last month that it would never happen.
›Reneging on Kyoto, Keystone pipeline drama, pain at the pump, re-aligned Arctic sovereignty, melting outdoor hockey rinks – all these aspects of climate change are being discussed in Canada.
However, Canadians, as potential citizens of the next energy superpower, need a more comprehensive and enriching debate. Climate change adaptation measures, at home and abroad, are inevitable, but the issue has largely been ignored by the federal government thus far.
To many Americans, it may seem that Canada has equated energy production with national prosperity, but Canadians are increasingly concerned about the human security and eco-justice implications of ongoing climate change as well. Lack of leadership at the federal level on Kyoto-related energy efficiency and emissions mitigation has been partially offset by actions at the provincial and municipal levels, but climate change is occurring now and it demands a coordinated response from the federal government, the only political apparatus capable of channeling the resources necessary for making a solid contribution to global climate change adaptation.
A moderate predictive scenario suggests that the regional impacts of climate change will be very expensive: the UN projects the global Green Climate Fund will require up to $100 billion a year by 2020. Water stress – too little, too much, or the perception of either – may be the most common theme. Coastal flooding, shoreline erosion, glacier retreat, chronic water shortages, loss of biodiversity and habitat, increased spread of invasive species, extreme weather events; taking preventive action against these (beyond the obvious call for reduced emissions) will be prohibitively expensive for most communities around the globe, including the coastal and northern regions of Canada.
The UN Convention to Combat Desertification has become a conduit for the argument that drought and land degradation related to climate change justifies southern demands for northern investment in initiatives in Africa and elsewhere. As a high emissions per capita nation, Canada has an obligation to contribute to such international efforts.
But I also don’t see why the indigenous peoples of the circumpolar north should be denied claims as permafrost thaws and ice-cover vital for subsistence hunting disappears. Citizens of small island states, to whom adaptation may well mean the abandonment of their homeland, have charged willful ignorance or purposeful negligence of their plight; so too might riparian communities along Canada’s many ocean shorelines, lakes, and rivers. Farmers, fishers, First Nations communities: all will need to adapt. We need to start seriously planning ahead to meet climate change scenarios, instead of burying the issue under the tar sands.
Of course, people will adapt to shifting conditions; such is the imperative of survival. And there are many ingenious ways this will materialize. Indeed many mitigation and adaptation strategies blend together as hybrids today. Building more effective alternative energy systems can be seen as much as responses to climate change as preventive measures and involve both public and private sector funding, for example.
However, paying for adaptation is another matter, and here it is vital in my view to stress the potential role of infrastructure spending by the federal government. Much of Canada’s current fiscal restraint is indeed a welcome development if the government cuts back on waste and redundancy, but not if it serves as a veil for sacrificing principles of eco-justice – the idea that those who made the least contributions to and benefit the least from environmental problems should not bear disproportionately higher risks.
Of course there will be nasty disputes ahead about the accounting, accountability, legitimacy, and purpose of climate change adaptation funding for Canada, in or out of the UNFCCC process, but let me draw just a few general conclusions at this stage:
- There is an ethical imperative to contribute to international adaptation funding, perhaps just as great an imperative as traditional efforts to help former colonized countries. It’s not just about money, at least not directly: Canadian technical, policy, and financial expertise should be harnessed for this purpose as well.
- Unlike in other policy areas, there is no way to unload or pass the buck on climate change adaptation efforts: they demand the utilization of centralized resources redistributed throughout the country and through multilateral funding mechanisms.
- Adaptation funding should not, however, supplant more traditional emergency, humanitarian, or environmental funding. It should be seen as a supplement, albeit one with increasing importance, but not as a new form of dependency or gold-rush of aid-with-obligations opportunities. The current government is right to worry about accountability issues.
- But accountability goes both ways: we need at least to get the accounting and communications right on this, thus the need for open dialogue and ongoing consultation. Killing the well-respected National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy, which consulted various Canadian stakeholders on key environmental questions, was not a good start.
Peter Stoett is the Fulbright Research Chair in Canada-U.S. Relations at the Wilson Center’s Canada Institute and professor in the Department of Political Science at Concordia University, Montreal.
Sources: CBC, The Catholic Register, The Huffington Post, International Institute for Sustainable Development, UNFCCC.
Photo Credit: “City, Suburb, Ocean, Mountain,” courtesy of flickr user ecstaticist (Evan Leeson).
›“Traditionally, natural resources have been thought of as a source of conflict…but what we’ve been trying to do is look at the other side of the story, which is that natural resources, in terms of their quality, can create that impulse for conservation and cooperation,” said Saleem Ali, professor of environmental studies and director of the Institute for Environmental Diplomacy and Security at the University of Vermont, while speaking at the Wilson Center.
This narrative around peace parks or transboundary conservation areas that are used for peacebuilding is a relatively recent field of research, said Ali. “It’s one thing to have a protected area on a border and have cooperation between friendly parties – like the U.S. and Canada,” he said, “and it’s a totally different thing to explore this in areas where there’s a history of protracted violent conflict.”
Yet, Ali said, we have “a good institutional framework for understanding what kind of parks could potentially be developed.” Cooperation between Ecuador and Peru in the Cordillera del Condor protected area, for example, is an incidence where transboundary conservation was actually written into the peace process between two warring states. Recent tragedies on the Siachen glaciers highlight another case where calls have been made to use peace parks as a way to demilitarize a contentious border over which India and Pakistan have long argued.
Questions remain though about the capacity of conservation processes to sustain peace, and “whether micro-conflicts that might arise through any conservation being practiced can be managed effectively.” Peace parks established in South Africa after apartheid, for example, produced “micro-conflicts between the haves and the have-nots – the classic conflict between conservation as an exclusionary arena versus a more inclusionary vision.”
“A lot of those organizations have learned from those past mistakes and we’re moving in the right direction,” Ali said, “but that’s still an area that requires far more research, and also more applied work, to find the right mix of conservation and economic development.”
›April 3, 2012 // By Steve LonerganThe Journal of Peace Research recently devoted a special issue to the work of researchers studying the linkages between climate change and conflict. Special guest editor Nils Petter Gleditsch introduces the issue here.
The relationship between climate change and conflict has been discussed for over two decades but most of the evidence of the link between the two has been anecdotal, drawing on extreme climate scenarios. The authors featured in the January special issue of the Journal of Peace Research devoted to climate change and conflict are therefore to be commended for their detailed investigations into a possible causal relationship between the two.
While many of the articles in the special issue focus on sub-Saharan Africa and the link between drought and climate, there is also much interest here in Canada about the potential impacts of melting sea ice in the North and its implications for security. My first analysis of the link between climate change and conflict was stimulated by a call from the Canadian Department of National Defense, way back in 1989. The issue has been on the minds of both researchers and governments in many countries for a long time.
My concern with both the anecdotal prognostications and many of the articles in the special issue is that the complexity of climate change is not taken into account. Most authors note the concern with climate variability and conflict (e.g., Hendrix and Salehyan) or assume that climate change will have a negative impact on economic development, which will, in turn, promote conflict (e.g., Devitt and Tol). These seem like reasonable concerns/assumptions, but they still ignore the limited knowledge we have of how climate change will manifest itself at national and sub-national levels as well as the context in which climate change and variability will occur. As much as I support investigations into the quantitative links between climate change and conflict, they are not able to adequately depict the drivers or intermediate variables and their results, and therefore must be questioned.
An Impossible Model?
Climate change is an incredibly complex phenomenon, and this is one reason, I feel, why the general public has failed to grasp the importance of the issue. The general circulation models of global climate – of which there are only half a dozen – provide relatively consistent projections of the increase in average global temperatures that will occur under a doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere (or other levels of CO2, but a doubling is generally the level that is used). At the very least they are consistent in projecting an increase; the amount of increase varies by model.
The models’ projections of global precipitation changes, however, are quite inconsistent, with some showing an increase and others showing a decrease. As one moves to smaller spatial scales – even in large regions, such as sub-Saharan Africa – the variability in the projections becomes greater. These are models of the global atmosphere, and while work is ongoing to look at the regional scale, reasonable (in terms of consistency) projections are still a few years away.
A second and equally important issue is that while the models can project average global temperature and precipitations changes (and other variables, such as soil moisture), most analysts realize that the greatest impacts on society and the natural environment are likely to occur from the increasing magnitude and frequency of extreme events. In other words, the variability in climate that is likely to accompany global warming. The models are not good at projecting climate variability, and yet if there is an impact on conflict, it is likely to be the result of this variability. How can we estimate the link between climate change and variability when we have such a poor understanding of what this variability will be?
Third, much of the early work on climate change impacts was limited to assuming a linear relationship between climate and a variable – agricultural output, for example – without considering the structural context of these potential impacts. This was a major flaw in the early studies that resulted in an oversimplification of how climate change might impact society.
Two examples might suffice: McLeman and Smit (2004) investigated the role of climate (in particular, drought) in the migration of workers from the “Dust Bowl” of the southern United States to California during the 1930s. They concluded that overcapitalization in agriculture, land-tenure relationships, and changing technology were the main causes of the migration. Climate was a trigger, but the migration would have occurred anyway. A second example is the havoc caused by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. This was much less a climate issue than it was one of failing infrastructure and poor land-use/development policies. Yes, climate was a trigger, but how do we then model the role of climate in the changes that ensued?
It is little wonder that Nils Petter Gleditsch, editor of this special issue of the journal, concludes that, “It is fair to say that there is not yet much evidence for climate change as an important driver of conflict.”
Like conflict, climate change is a complex phenomenon that, while understood at the global level, is difficult to assess at lower spatial scales, let alone within the context of a myriad of other factors that affect human security and armed conflict.
Further responses from the environment and security community on the special issue can be found here. If you’re interested in weighing in please feel free in the comments below.
Steve Lonergan is a professor emeritus in geography at the University of Victoria and a former director of the Division of Early Warning and Assessment at UNEP. He specializes in water resource management issues in the Middle East and the impacts of climate change.
›In Wednesday’s speech on U.S. energy security, President Obama stated clearly that the United States would continue to rely on oil imports from Canada and other stable nations. But serious environmental concerns continue to dog the Canadian oil sands industry. Could an agreement reached by Canada’s Forest Products Association provide a model for a way forward?
In May 2010, the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement (CBFA) was signed by 21 members of the Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC) and nine major environmental groups, including Greenpeace, the Nature Conservancy, and the Pew Charitable Trusts, without government involvement. The three-year agreement represents the largest forest conservation plan in history and protects more than 72 million hectares of Canada’s Boreal Forest. It also ended a long “do not buy” campaign of FPAC products, previously spearheaded by environmental organizations.
The CBFA essentially commits FPAC to the highest environmental standards of forest management and conservation, as well as the suspension of logging in environmentally sensitive areas, in part to protect endangered caribou populations. In return, environmental organizations agreed to support FPAC members.
The oil sands industry faces a similar challenge. In both cases, industry and environmental NGOs have clashed in a long and bitter battle over industry practices and their impact on the environment. The difference is that FPAC realized that directly engaging environmental groups in reasoned discussion might be a more intelligent approach to resolving environmental challenges than shouting back and forth at one another. FPAC also believes that buyers will be attracted to their newfound reputation for sustainable practices and higher ethical standards.
Oil sands producers have much to gain by engaging the environmental community in new and innovative ways Should the CBFA model be followed, the oil sands industry may be able to negotiate an agreement with environmental organizations and voluntarily agree to higher environmental standards in return for recognition and support of their efforts from key environmental organizations.
Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), a program that rewards fisheries employing environmentally sustainable practices by recognizing their efforts through MSC certification and eco-labeling. Member fisheries maintain that MSC labeling has helped them retain existing markets, expand into others, and in some cases obtain a price premium for their product.
Such an initiative would go a long way to allow oil sands producers to shed their damaging reputation for producing “dirty oil.” Even if an agreement could not be reached, the oil sands industry would be viewed at the very least as willing to listen to the concerns of environmental organizations and take such issues seriously.
Not Perfect, But It’s a Start
The CBFA model may not be a perfect fit for the oil sands but it demonstrates that environmental groups and industry can find common ground on extremely contentious issues.
Finding this common ground must begin with accepting that the oil sands will never be “green.” According to a study by the Royal Society of Canada, in 2008, oil sands mining and development operations covered an area roughly the size of the state of Illinois and was responsible for emitting nearly 37 million tons of CO2. The study also found that there are legitimate concerns regarding the impact of oil sands development on the quality and quantity of regional freshwater supplies.
Nevertheless, the oil sands also represent a critical source of stable energy supplies for Canada and the United States, and calls by some environmental NGOs to halt oil sands production are unrealistic. More than 20 percent of U.S. oil is sourced from Canada, making it the United States’ leading supplier, and roughly half of that comes from the oil sands.
A CBFA-style agreement could help oil sands producers secure the U.S. market, which currently takes 99 percent of Canada’s oil exports, by quelling campaigns in the United States to stop imports from the oil sands. And under an agreement similar to the CBFA, the environmental community could have a larger say in how it is developed and extracted
As it stands, both industry and the environmental community remain engaged in a heated war of words, with neither side really listening to the other. Until they are willing to sit down and engage each other in new ways, both groups are likely to continue to talk over one another and make little progress on striking an environmental and economic balance that could ultimately benefit both sides.
Ken Crist is a program associate with the Canada Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
Sources: Sources: The Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement, National Resources Defense Council, The New York Times, Royal Society of Canada, Vancouver Sun.
Photo Credit: “Athabasca oil sands digger,” courtesy of flickr user . Shell, and “Boreal forest 2009,” courtesy of flickr user Gord McKenna.
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