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Climate Security Prominent in the Shangri-La Dialogue

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates addresses the audience during the 6th International Institute for Strategic Studies conference, the Shangri-La dialogue, in Singapore, June 2, 2007, Defense Dept. photo by Cherie A. Thurlby

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates addresses the audience during the 6th International Institute for Strategic Studies conference, the Shangri-La dialogue, 2007, Defense Dept. photo by Cherie A. Thurlby

The IISS Shangri-La Dialogue (14th Asia Security Summit), an annual gathering of Asia-Pacific defense ministers, military and civilian staff, just concluded on May 31. Most of the media attention was focused on exchanges between the United States and China over the South China Sea, but climate security found its way into a number of discussions, including the prepared remarks of U.S. Secretary of Defense Dr. Ash Carter; Cirilo Cristóvão, Minister of Defence, Timor-Leste; Dr Fabian Pok, Minister for Defence, Papua New Guinea, and Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (and Vice-President of the European Commission). Several other officials also addressed the issue during the Q&A sessions.

Below are excerpts from the speeches. Perhaps equally as significant as where climate change was mentioned is where it was not. It is perhaps these parts of the discussion, including the plenary sessions on New Forms of Security Collaboration in Asia and Preventing Conflict Escalation, that provide an interesting look into how these discussions can continue to evolve to better incorporate climate security dynamics. In the Special Session on Energy Security Challenges in the Indo-Pacific Region, for example, climate change was not mentioned until the Q&A portion of the discussion.

On the other hand, attention to humanitarian assistance and disaster response was, appropriately, ubiquitous. Given that climate change is projected to increase the frequency and intensity of natural disasters in the region, future discussions on how to address these increased risks could potentially lead to additional opportunities for broader and deeper cooperation between Asia-Pacific nations.


The following are quotes from each plenary session that included climate change either in the prepared remarks or the question and answer session. The remarks are listed in order of the sessions. (Emphasis added throughout).

The United States and Challenges of Asia-Pacific Security (full session here)

Dr. Ash Carter, Secretary of Defense, United States (full remarks here)

Indeed, as countries across the Asia-Pacific rise, as nations develop, as military spending increases and as economies thrive, we expect to see changes in how countries define and pursue their interests and ambitions.

In addition to those changes, we have seen the region’s complex security environment become more fraught. North Korea continues to provoke. Decades-long disputes over rocks and shoals are compounded by quarrels over fishing rights, energy resources and freedom of access to international waters and airspace. As the challenge of climate change looms larger, natural disasters not only threaten lives, but also upset trade and economic growth. And at the same time, terrorism, foreign fighters, cyber attacks and trafficking in both people and narcotics plague this region like any other.

These challenges risk upsetting the positive trajectory we have all been on and the rise of so many in the Asia-Pacific. That can make it hard to remember our common interests, but the progress we have made, and must continue, demands that we do so.

Special Sessions: Energy Security Challenges in the Indo-Pacific Region (full session here)

Q&A: Dr Sanjaya Baru, Director for Geo-economics and Strategy, IISS-Middle East

It just occurred to me that none of the four panelists* mentioned the words ‘climate change.’ Do they not see this as a key element in understanding the nature of the energy security challenge? There are different aspects to energy security, and I appreciate all the presentations made, but for countries that are dependent on coal and will continue to be dependent on coal, climate change poses an important energy security challenge. [* The four panelists were: (Chair Lord Powell of Bayswater, Member, House of Lords; former Private Secretary and Adviser on Foreign Affairs and Defence to Prime Ministers Thatcher and Major; Trustee, IISS), Peter Varghese, Secretary, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australia, Admiral Katsutoshi Kawano, Chief of Staff, Joint Staff, Japan Self-Defense Forces, Dr Pierre Noël, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah Senior Fellow for Economic and Energy Security, IISS-Asia]

Q&A: Lord Powell of Bayswater, Member, House of Lords; Trustee of the IISS

What I am going to do without warning is ask first of all Pierre Noël and perhaps Peter Varghese if they have any comments on the climate change point.

Q&A: Dr Pierre Noël, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah Senior Fellow for Economic and Energy Security, IISS-Asia

Thank you. The people who should really worry are not the people who consume coal; they are the people who are selling coal. These are the people who will actually see their businesses disappear because of the move away from fossil fuels. From the conception perspective, the demand perspective, the research I have done in Asia brought home very clearly the point that governments in this region, especially Southeast Asia and China, really worry primarily about quantitative problems; they have to fuel economic growth. In a country like Vietnam, electricity consumption is rising 12%/13% a year. In Europe, it is declining 1.1% a year; in the US, it is flat. These are countries with extremely rapidly growing needs for energy, both primary energy and electricity.

So that is the key. The qualitative problems – including the environment, which is not the only qualitative problem, but it is the main one – come second, or even third, because just after the quantitative challenge comes the cost issue. So really, the climate change problem in Asian developing countries is really all about the cost difference between carbon-free energy, or, let us say, clean energy, more generally speaking, and carbon-intensive energy. For a number of years, until fairly recently, this cost difference was actually increasing, and increasing fairly fast. Personally, I have always been pretty pessimistic. Now, clearly the trend has bended and the cost of renewable energy sources has been falling off much more quickly than anybody anticipated. In some countries where the conditions are right, photovoltaic solar is actually cost competitive against gas-fired generation, or even sometimes coal-fired generation. So this is changing.

On the other hand, within fossil fuels, the cost difference between gas and coal – and coal is twice as much polluting as gas per unit of electricity generated – has narrowed, right? So this all goes in the right direction, if you want, and countries that primarily care about the cost of their energy procurement will find it less difficult to green their energy systems than was the case recently. But in the long term, it is really people who are selling coal who should worry, not the people who are reliant on coal.

Q&A: Peter Varghese, Secretary, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australia

I think the connecting thread between energy security and climate change really goes through energy efficiency and also technology, and let me just build on that. There is enormous scope for improving energy efficiency in all of our economies, and the better we do with energy efficiency, the better the outcome will be in terms of climate change objectives, and I think it is important that all of us essentially pursue an energy-efficiency agenda. I think it is also the case that, ultimately, technology will be the determinant in terms of the sort of cost variables that Pierre was speaking about. It may well be that there will become a time when coal is not required and so the demand side may fall off, but I suspect that is going to be some quite considerable way into the future and, in the meantime, for a number of countries, the affordable option that is most readily available to them will be coal. And again, here there is an opportunity for technology to play a role in terms of whether there are ways through clean coal technology or carbon capture and storage where the use of coal and the impact on climate can be minimised. So I think in a longer period of time, both energy efficiency and technology will shift some of the cost curbs that Pierre was speaking about.

Q&A: Admiral Katsutoshi Kawano, Chief of Staff, Joint Staff, Japan Self-Defense Forces


Special Sessions: Emerging Challenges to Small State Security in the Asia-Pacific (full session here):

Cirilo Cristóvão, Minister of Defence, Timor-Leste

Other issues that have been emerging as considerable challenges are those of climate change vulnerability, access to fresh water, and water resource management, waste management and environmental quality. Environmental security, disaster preparedness and emergency response are all areas of vital importance to small states in the Asia-Pacific, considering their particular vulnerability to natural disaster and the tendency for these events to increase in number and in intensity.

 Dr Fabian Pok, Minister for Defence, Papua New Guinea

As small islands, we are victims of climate change. Our contiguous islands in the autonomous region of Bougainville in Papua New Guinea is going down in history as one of the world’s first climate change ravages. The island is sinking and we have to move people out from that island.

Q&A: Bryce Campbell, Managing Director, IISS-US

Quick question for everyone involved. Looking ahead to the Paris climate talks, since climate change came up and a lot of small island states are being affected. How important is this for your countries and your agendas looking ahead in comparing climate change? I would be interested to hear from all four panels, how their countries are viewing this particular challenge and this looming opportunity and challenge at the end of the calendar year?

Q&A: Cirilo Cristóvão, Minister of Defence, Timor-Leste

Thank you. In terms of environment or climate change, in our country, it is a small country but we face this problem also, about climate change, but I think we have a very good relation with our neighbour country like Australia, Indonesia. It is a relation that is, when Indonesia have, as you know, a tsunami, we come. We are a small country, but we come as a friend and we have us. Also, when we have a problem about climate change like this in our country. Our neighbour country, we have a good cooperation in this area, here to help us to attend this problem. Thank you.

Q&A: Dr Fabian Pok, Minister for Defence, Papua New Guinea

Thanks for the question. Climate change is a big issue for small island states and Papua New Guinea is one of them because apart from the big island, we have well over 700 islands. As I have just mentioned, one of the islands, Bougainville, which is a big island with a couple of thousands of people. Because of the climate change, the salt waters is drifting in and destroying all of the food, so we really have to move those people out from that island to the mainland, which is continuously going on. The unfortunate thing about Papua New Guinea is that, all the 85% of the land is on traditional, is on the people themselves. How do we resettle the people into somebody else’s land? Another big issue we are facing at the moment. However, we are really seeing and feeling the effect of climate change and this is the issue that, we take it very seriously. As a small country with minimal resources, it is burden on our budget and our resources, but we are already seeing it. Because it is happening to one of our islands where so many people cannot even grow crops because the island is going down and salt water is coming up and destroying all of the food gardens. We have to move them out. Some have already been moved. The government is trying to give them rice, bags of rice and other things, but it cannot continue forever. This is some of the effects that we, as a small island nation, and something that is happening to, possibly, other island countries. It is becoming a reality. The resettlement and so forth is something that, as we talk about security, we really have to take this into consideration.

The other thing that we have seen in Papua New Guinea and some other island nations and Papua New Guinea and to some extent, Palau, we are now being asked to take in refugees at processing centres. At the same time, we are having, in many parts of Papua New Guinea and many other Pacific island countries, now other regions are coming and setting themselves up, like the mosque that are being built and things of that nature. So in the long run, because we do not have the capacity and the ability to monitor these people, it is going to be a big problem that we really need help, because it can also affect other countries in the Asia-Pacific region if we are not careful with what is happening. We asked to resettle some of these people in our country. We already experienced, as I said earlier. The people who arrive by boat, we put them in the police cell for one night and we do not know what to do with them. They blend in with the community.

We do not know where they are. These things are happening in the Pacific island countries. So we do not know what background and things like this, so it is bearing a problem. In the short-run, even today, it may not be a problem but in the long run we feel that it might be a problem that small island Pacific countries cannot manage on their own. Thank you so much.

Q&A: Air Vice-Marshal Mike Yardley, Chief of Air Force, New Zealand

Climate change is of course, as a nation in the South Pacific, very important for us. I have been to these islands, like Tuvalu or Taioha’e, or even down to Antarctica. We were talking. It is critical that we ensure that we maintain the ability for those islands still to exist and there are people to remain on the islands. Where are they going to look as soon as there is a problem? Of course, to their neighbours. To have on our doorstep the potential for a number of refugees to be needing to be supported is something that, first of all, we would prefer that we preserve their homelands rather than them looking to be refugees. Of course, the climate change affects not only those small islands within the South Pacific, but also Antarctica, an area that New Zealand has held a long interest and with their scientific research down there. So, a very important area we would like to play a strong role.

In the area with I guess, extremism or the terrorism and where we are going. I think that for any nation it is just that cooperation, that passing of information, being comfortable to share any information you have. We need to get over those concerns that we might have when we are talking about security issues. In this case, the information needs to be passed to anyone if we have that and we are obviously, very interested in making sure we are talking to our neighbours, ensuring that we receive their information if they have it. I think that is the most important part.

Q&A: Senior Colonel Zhao Xiaozhuo, Deputy Director-General, China-US Defense Relations Research Center, Academy of Military Science, People’s Liberation Army, China

I do not have so much because of the time. Anyway, I just have a conclusion about my argument. That is, big country or small country should respect each other.

Global Security Challenges and the Asia-Pacific: Building Cooperation Between Regions (full session here) Q&A session (here)

Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy; Vice-President, European Commission (full remarks here)

Still, it is, and very much so. We share economic relations, investments and trade interests, and that is evident to everybody, especially here in Singapore. But we share much more than that. We share political partnerships, security cooperation, global challenges to which we need to give responses that will be effective only if they will be joint ones. From terrorism to climate change, from natural disasters to cyber attacks, the threats we face today have no borders. They are global by nature, by definition, and we need strong global partnerships to face them. That is why it is natural to be here, to invest in our friendship. That is why you find a lot of Europe here, if you look around the people in this room …..

A big part of my job as Vice-President of the European Commission – thank you for mentioning it – is coordinating all commissioners whose portfolio can impact on our common foreign policy, and we are finding out that that means potentially all commissioners, as there is no field of work that nowadays is purely internal. It is a team that is capable of dealing with trade, development, humanitarian aid, but also energy, counter-terrorism, climate and migration. The same goes for the coordination of our 28 member states, a work we do not just with all European foreign ministers, but also with those of defence, development ministers and more and more often the interior ones.

Q&A: Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy

My point is that we do not have any contradictions between having strong member states’ policies and having a strong European Union policy. We can complement each other and in reality that is what is happening on Ukraine, in Asia, on terrorism, on the Middle East, in Latin America, towards Africa, on climate change, on many things. We are much stronger if we put our things together and this is not contradicting but serving the national interests.

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