National Security Network

As Summit on Climate Change Begins, Conservatives Deny Security Threat

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Report 7 December 2009

Energy Energy climate change Copenhagen Summit Obama Administration US environmental policy


Today is the start of the two week United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.  From now until December 18, negotiators from 190 countries will be working out some of the most complicated and vexing issues surrounding a climate change deal, including cutting greenhouse gas emissions and financial commitments to help developing countries who are ill equipped to deal with the problem.  Expectations now center on Copenhagen producing a framework political agreement, with binding targets to come next year.    

In an unprecedented demonstration of the need for global action, today, 56 papers across 45 countries published the same editorial saying that climate change will hurt our security and prosperity, and that there is a need for action from world leaders.  Here at home, bipartisan military, intelligence and national security experts all agree that the threat we face from climate change and energy insecurity is grave.  Yet despite this unprecedented action and recognition from bipartisan and nonpartisan security experts, conservatives in Congress and the media focus on distractions such as the hyped up “Climategate” controversy.  

As Copenhagen summit on climate change begins, conservatives continue to deny.  “A much-anticipated global meeting of nearly 200 nations — all seeking what has so far been elusive common ground on the issue of climate change — got under way here on Monday with an impassioned airing of what leaders here called the political and moral imperatives at hand,” reported the New York Times.  The summit kickoff took place against a new chorus of conservative denials – but even skeptical scientists dismissed their charges as hype.    

This weekend, conservatives tried to use an embarrassing leak of internal emails (“Climategate”) to bolster their case. George Will snidely commented in his column: “Disclosure of e-mails and documents from the Climate Research Unit (CRU) in Britain -- a collaborator with the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change -- reveals some scientists' willingness to suppress or massage data and rig the peer-review process and the publication of scholarly work.” Senator James Inhofe (R – OK) went even further, blasting the science of climate change and saying, “I do believe an investigation would show that they clearly have manipulated the data.” But according to a separate New York Times piece, “[e]ven some who remain skeptical about the extent or pace of global warming say that the premise underlying the Copenhagen talks is solid: that warming is to some extent driven by greenhouse gases spewing into the atmosphere from human activities like the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation.”  Roger A. Pielke Sr., “a climate scientist at the University of Colorado who has been highly critical of the United Nations climate panel and who once branded many of the scientists now embroiled in the e-mail controversy part of a climate “oligarchy,” said that so many independent measures existed to show unusual warming taking place that there was no real dispute about it. Moreover, he said, ‘The role of added carbon dioxide as a major contributor in climate change has been firmly established.’” [NY Times, 12/07/09. Sen. James Inhofe, (R – OK) via CBS News, 12/5/09. George Will, 12/6/09. NY Times, 12/07/09]

No discord among bipartisan security experts -- climate change and energy security pose a clear national security challenge to the U.S.

Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a member of the Armed Services and Homeland Security Committees, recently wrote together in a New York Times op-ed that, “Even climate change skeptics should recognize that reducing our dependence on foreign oil and increasing our energy efficiency strengthens our national security. Both of us served in the military. We know that sending nearly $800 million a day to sometimes-hostile oil-producing countries threatens our security. In the same way, many scientists warn that failing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will lead to global instability and poverty that could put our nation at risk.” [John Kerry and Lindsey Graham, NY Times, 10/10/09]

NSN Florida’s Mark Schlakman, senior program director for Florida State University’s Center for the Advancement of Human Rights, described an NSN speech by former Under Secretary of State Frank Loy in the Tallahassee Democrat:  Loy “defined national security issues in broad terms, touching upon food security and related agricultural concerns, water supply and a range of other climate-induced  consequences that could destabilize regions and disproportionately impact developing nations, which conceivably could further stretch an already overcommitted U.S. military…To drive the point home, he advised that the Pentagon and the intelligence community have taken steps to develop contingency plans to respond to climate change." [Mark Schlakman, 12/06/09]

Retired Vice Admiral Lee Gunn wrote in the New York Times this summer that, "climate change will lead to increased conflicts around the world because of water and agricultural shortages, changes in patterns of human migration, and further destabilization in areas like South Asia, potentially fostering an increase in global terrorism.  Climate change has already contributed to conflicts in regions like Darfur; it has already affected United States military operations; and it will increasingly affect American military planning for contingencies around the world. And if we don't lead the way on curbing these changes, others will." [NY Times, 8/20/09]

Richard Armitage, former Deputy Secretary of State from the first George W. Bush administration even said that, “If I had to say what might be the biggest long term threat I'd say it might be climate change.” [Richard Armitage, 6/16/09]

Copenhagen is the beginning, not the end, of a process.  The New York Times writes in an editorial today that “Nobody should expect a planet-saving agreement from the negotiations that begin this week in Copenhagen aimed at reducing global emissions of greenhouse gases.” Referring to it as a “two stage process,” the Times says, “It would start with a nonbinding political agreement to reduce emissions and give aid to developing countries. This would be followed by a legal agreement next year with firm targets, enforcement mechanisms and specific dollar amounts for poorer countries. In other words, the tough slog lies ahead. Copenhagen is all about attitudes and aspirations. Next year will be about results.”  This is echoes the plan laid out by Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen, and supported by the Obama administration, which says, “The Copenhagen Agreement would thus serve two purposes: 1) to direct further negotiations towards concluding outstanding details in a new legal climate regime; 2) to capture and encourage political commitment in order to provide for immediate action to combat global warming. Political commitment to immediate action will also serve to focus and strengthen the negotiations on the legal agreement.” As CFR Senior Fellow Michael Levi writes in Foreign Affairs, “Washington's goal in Copenhagen should be an agreement that strengthens the foundation for emissions-cutting actions elsewhere -- unilaterally and through international cooperation -- just as the foundational deals of the nonproliferation and trade regimes continue to support a host of institutions and efforts.”

The Times lays out the challenges ahead: “The president’s proposed reductions are in line with a bill approved by the House last summer. A Senate committee has approved a slightly stronger measure calling for a 20 percent reduction in the next decade and an 83 percent reduction by midcentury. But its approval on the Senate floor is far from certain. Most Republicans are opposed. There are deep doubts among Democrats from Rust Belt states with energy-intensive industries. Getting to a filibuster-proof 60 votes will require every bit of Mr. Obama’s persuasive powers — and a real push by the Senate’s often-passive Democratic leaders.  The challenges on the foreign front are no less formidable. The consensus among mainstream climate scientists is that the world must cut emissions in half by midcentury. The rich countries cannot do it alone. Even if they cut their emissions by 80 percent by midcentury — a goal endorsed by the Group of 8 highly industrialized nations — the world would fall short of its target unless the developing countries pitched in.” [NY Times, 12/7/09. Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen via, 11/13/09. Michael Levi, via Foreign Affairs, September\October 2009]

What We’re Reading

Following much debate within the Obama administration and Congress, General McChrystal’s plan for Afghanistan appears to be largely intact.

New regulations for contractors operating in Afghanistan will focus on employing more Afghans.

Iraqi lawmakers have finally reached a deal for an election law to hold parliamentary elections in February. Meanwhile, U.S. troops in Iraq are donating millions of dollars in equipment to the Iraq government, possibly diverting resources from Afghanistan.

Iranian authorities arrested more than twenty mothers who were mourning children killed in the opposition unrest prior to an opposition rally.

Homeland Security officials are more closely focusing on managing the threat from homegrown Muslim extremism.

Incumbent Bolivian President Evo Morales is poised to secure easy reelection.

The Obama administration will send Special Envoy Stephen Bosworth to begin bilateral discussions with North Korea this week.

Following the political massacre of 57 citizens, the Filipino government imposed martial law, arrested dozens of people and seized large caches of weapons in a southern province.

A new report by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee argues that the United States ought to re-evaluate its policy towards Sri Lanka, following the country’s conclusion of its civil war against Tamil separatists.

Scott Shane explains how the ethnic Pashtuns, both in Afghanistan and Pakistan, could affect President Obama’s new Afghanistan policy.

Commentary of the Day

Fareed Zakaria paints President Obama as the anti-Churchill, a Commander-in-Chief who avoids moral dramas and maintains a cool and calculating façade while carefully calibrating America’s national interests.  

Soner Cagaptay fears that Turkey’s leader overly influences ordinary Muslims from Darfur to Chechnya to Iran.

James Carroll marks the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor by comparing American’s mobilization against Japan with its campaign against Al Qaeda.