Climate change and rising energy prices pose new security and geopolitical challenges that require multinational responses, U.S. experts told the Feb. 1 symposium.
One issue that has started to gain recognition is the geopolitical impacts of global warming on certain countries and regions, where greater frequency of extreme weather could displace a large proportion of the population, said Peter Ogden, a senior national security and international policy analyst at the Center for American Progress.
Such impacts are already emerging in some countries, where migration of displaced people into cities has created tensions by overburdening public social services — a possible breeding ground for Islamic radicalism, Ogden noted.
He cited South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa as regions where “the risk of already overtasked countries further strained by climate change” is seen as high.
Ogden also said China’s climate change strategy announced in 2007 was significant from political and geopolitical viewpoints.
“It was an official acknowledgment that climate change, which has exacerbated various kinds of environmental damage, was one of the chief causes of social unrest within the country,” he observed.
Ogden said the situation creates opportunities for the United States and Japan to work with China.
If China responds by cracking down on the growing number of protests over environmental concerns and trying to control information on the issue, it will have serious implications for China’s relations with the industrialized world, he said. But China trying to face up to the climate challenges through reforms “would have enormously positive implications,” and the U.S. and Japan can work with China to push for the more favorable outcome in its fight against global warming, he noted.
Paul Saunders, executive director of the Nixon Center, said U.S. debate on the transfer of wealth from oil-consuming nations to oil-producers due to the high energy prices has tended to focus on suppliers like Russia, Iran and Venezuela that “are less satisfied” with the existing international order, and try to use their new wealth to boost their international clout.
However, Saunders said the U.S. needs also to think about the “long-term risks” in dealing with oil-producing countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and many other Persian Gulf countries that are “more satisfied” with the world order, and are generally on friendly terms with Washington.
He cited the political furor that erupted in 2006 over a business deal that would have let a state-owned United Arab Emirates company take over most operations of six U.S. ports. After U.S. lawmakers cited national security concerns and threatened to block the deal, Dubai Ports World eventually sold the U.S. operations to an American firm.
The Dubai Ports issue symbolized the “growing political concern in the U.S.” over high-profile American assets changing ownership to the so-called sovereign wealth funds and other investors from oil-rich countries, he said.
Saunders said that in dealing with both groups, oil-consuming nations should pursue greater coordination among themselves to strengthen their position vis-a-vis the suppliers.
Although such coordination will not be easy as many consumers feel they compete with one another to secure energy supplies, they would be better off than working alone or being pressed into competition by the suppliers, he said.