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Environmental Policy

Much has been said about the global environmental, economic and leadership consequences of United States President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement but there is also a national security dimension. Trump’s decision ignores an important development in global security centred on climate change. The US had been in a prime position to link climate to international security which, rightly or wrongly, could be leveraged for foreign policy in pursuit of climate security. The US has been a leader in climate security, an approach rivalling climate justice reasoning in climate politics. For much of the history of international climate politics, there has been a dominant discourse of climate justice. Early environmental conferences focused on planetary justice and …

In 2020, lockdowns around the world have reduced energy use and carbon emissions on an unprecedented scale. However, the current COVID-19 outbreak may be a double-edged sword in the fight against climate change.  Individual countries are imminently due to report their carbon reductions, as outlined in the United Nations-brokered Paris Agreement. Although pre-Coronavirus crisis global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are expected have grown by 1.9%, recent CO₂ calculations in Europe are predicting a surprising scenario: countries may actually hit their stated reduction goals. For instance, the German climate target for 2020, which until February was considered unattainable, should now be met. Due to this year’s mild winter, and, above all, the Coronavirus crisis, the target of 40% CO₂ savings—unlike climate change targets …
Map showing Ethiopia and its neighbors with red pushpin over Addis Ababa

As the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) nears completion, the Nile River Basin is at a crossroads. The next few months will be consequential for relations between countries in the river basin—notably Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt—because dam management upstream could have consequences for the supply of water downstream. Although the three countries began discussions after the project was announced in 2011, they have yet to reach an agreement on how the new reservoir should be filled and managed. Despite the absence of an agreement, Ethiopia intends to begin filling the reservoir this July. This article describes the competing perspectives between countries, explains reasons for the lack of an agreement, and provides recommendations for addressing the challenges of the GERD. If …

On New Year’s Eve, Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, was hit by the worst flooding since 2013. The disaster caused damages and insecurity across the metropolitan area, pushing thousands of families to try to temporarily relocate. Unfortunately, transportation systems were paralysed. The Transportation Ministry’s air transportation Director-General, Polana B. Pramesti, closed the Halim Perdanakusuma Airport because its runways were inundated by up to 80 centimeters of water. According to the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), at least seven sub-districts in Jakarta were pounded by floods. Jakarta has long known to be vulnerable to ruinous floods. Empirical evidence shows 95 percent of North Jakarta will expectedly submerge by 2050. This is part of what motivated President Joko Widodo to announce on 26th August …

Warren Pearce’s new ‘Making Climate Social’ project seeks to investigate the ‘contributors, content, connections and contexts of social media climate change communications’ in order to determine ‘what the social media revolution might mean for the tricky relationship between science, politics, and publics.’ Warren recently invited me to take part in a workshop to discuss his project, and this post arises out of that meeting. Apart from providing an excellent opportunity for alliteration, what can research into social media tell us about the ‘contributors, content, connections, and contexts’ of climate communication? Four types of participation In considering that question, I have been thinking how to classify the different types of participation in climate change discussions. To this end, I adapted a …

In a new article for Foreign Affairs, I discuss the perils of Angola’s reliance on declining oil revenues. Here are the first few paragraphs.  In early 2014, Angola, sub-Saharan Africa’s second-largest oil producer and third-largest economy, was flush with cash and confidence. The economy had expanded tenfold over the previous decade, and the government, which in 2002 won a resounding victory in the country’s long civil war, was unchallenged at home, a towering presence in regional politics, and a major investor abroad, including in Portugal, the former colonial power. Its national reconstruction agenda funneled tens of billions of dollars into infrastructure and transformed Luanda into a would-be African Dubai that attracted thousands of expatriates. The rule of Angolan President José Eduardo …

In the past, India and China have disputed numerous issues, from trade to territory. Notably, in 1962, disputes over their Himalayan border regions sparked the brief Sino-Indian War. In the 21st century, a new issue has the potential to become a flashpoint between the world’s most populous nations: their shared rivers. China has planned, and in some cases begun construction on, major hydropower and water diversion projects in its southern regions, including Tibet, which is making the water security of its downstream neighbors more fragile. The glacial Tibetan Plateau, largely controlled by China, is the source of rivers that supply water to approximately 1.5 billion people. Many of Asia’s major rivers—including the Mekong, Brahmaputra, Yangtze, Yellow, Indus, and Salween Rivers—begin in the Tibetan Plateau, and supply water to people living in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Nepal, and mainland Southeast Asia. Thus, China exerts powerful hegemony over Asia’s water resources. China views the development of rivers originating within its borders as a matter of national sovereignty, not international cooperation. According to one telling Chinese proverb, “Upstream doesn’t suffer.” China does not have river treaties with other nations, making downstream countries vulnerable to water supply disruptions and other environmental damages. In the absence of treaties, downstream nations have no forums for formally resolving water disputes with China, and cannot use international legal institutions to ensure they receive their fair share of water.

Drought-stricken California is taking unprecedented measures to address its water challenges. In April, the governor issued the first mandatory statewide water use restrictions in California history, after snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains—which provide 60 percent of the state’s water—fell to the lowest levels ever recorded. San Diego County is building the largest seawater desalination plant in the Western hemisphere, while Orange County plans to turn more wastewater into drinking water. The solutions are significant because the drought has been exceptionally severe. It currently affects over 99 percent of the state and approximately 37 million people. In 2014, the state agriculture industry lost roughly $2.2 billion to drought, and some California communities even ran out of water. One solution California may consider is whether more efficient, user-friendly water markets would help water users adapt more quickly to drought conditions, and better cope with long-term water scarcity stemming from climate change and increased water demand. California has active water markets, but buying and selling water (and water rights) there is not as simple as in Australia, where it is said to be “almost as easy to sell water from your water bank account as it is to transfer money from a normal bank account.” The Australian model could be useful for California because Australia recently emerged from a decade-long drought, during which it pioneered water policies that attracted interest from water-scarce countries around the world. Why is water trading easier in Australia? One reason is that Australia’s water rights system has been made relatively simple and predictable. It is designed so that rights holders can generally expect to receive a certain percentage of their water every year, based on the type of water right they hold. This makes water rights’ value easier to determine; the water rights transfer process is also less onerous.