The Geopolitics of Climate Change

The New Security Beat continues to distinguish itself as a forum for razor sharp ideas and perspectives on the environment/security nexus. Last week, I meant to flag this perceptive analysis on the crosscurrents roiling Yemen, by Schuyler Null. (If you’ve been following the international news on Yemen and neighboring Somalia this past year, you’ll know why it’s important to pay closer attention to east Africa.)

Earlier this week, the blog (which is run out of the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Environmental Change & Security program), carried a short but very interesting interview with Cleo Paskal, a scholar at Chatham House, a UK think tank. Because the focus of the climate debate is soon to shift to the international stage, I think it’s worth highlighting something Paskal said in the interview:

“I think [Copenhagen] was a bit of a litmus test for how geopolitics stand currently, and what’s clear is that unless India is treated more as an equal strategic, long-term partner of the West, it will find other alliances that are more conducive to what it perceives as state security and its national interests,” said Paskal. She argued that India’s future steps will also heavily influence Brazil and South Africa, and may impact the ability of the West to act unilaterally.

Paskal is the author of Global Warring, which I reviewed for Nature earlier this year. In that book, she draws attention to the strategic alliances China has struck with an eye towards a warming world. This all makes for some very complex geopolitical climate politics when you consider the equally influential role India plays, which is what I interpret Pakal saying of late.

And climate change advocates in the U.S. thought that it was tricky enough navigating the swampy corridors of Capitol Hill.

Heh. There’s a whole other chess board that this game is played on as well. (Here’s the latest move, by the U.S.) Except on this board, climate change takes a backseat to fossil fuels.

4 Responses to “The Geopolitics of Climate Change”

  1. Keith,
    I think Paskal’s geopolitical analysis of the Indian and Chinese approaches to climate change and fossil fuel supply illustrates why those who would prefer narrow constructions of the problems, politics, and solutions are engaging in merely wishful thinking. The key parties needed for addressing the problem are playing on multiple chessboards as you suggest.  Paskal wrote specifically about the Indian approach back in January and the wake of COP15 at

  2. Keith Kloor says:

    Geoff, the multiple chessboards aspect is one reason I had hoped that the national security angle to the climate change debate had gained some traction. There’s a lot of rich, overlapping issues that deserve greater debate. I’m glad to see it’s happening at your shop.

  3. Tom Fuller says:

    3D chess can be fun, but the Great Game needs to be approached carefully.
    Look at the definitions of solid biomass as a fuel. We all like it when it is a feedstock for waste-to-energy plants or CHP / cogeneration installations. We count it, measure it by the bushel if not the kernel, and praise it to the skies. But in India and China, solid biomass as fuel is mostly precious wood or animal dung burnt on an open stove for inefficient fuel.
    So here in the West we want more of it, while in the Far East they want to eliminate it.  And when the West assigns rewards for the use of more solid biomass, what then will they do in the East?
    Those concerned with energy and climate together have not yet managed to swallow a few impossible ideas before breakfast regarding China. China leads the world in the production and consumption of energy It is the world leader in renewable energy right now. 70% of their energy comes from burning coal.
    And India…

  4. Pascvaks says:

    The Chinese, Indians, Brazilaians, et all in the ‘Up-&-Coming’ World, are very pragmatic about the future.  They’re going to go with the flow: the greatest profit at the cheapest cost.  Indeed, they really can’t afford to do or be otherwise; and, really, (sarc on) they’re just following in our glorious historic footsteps (sarc off).  The reality is that until someone comes up with a “cheaper” form of energy to replace coal and oil and dung, it’s going to be coal and oil and dung.  We really do need another TeslaEinsteinEdisonBell, don’t we?

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