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Message to Davos: Climate Change Risk Assessments Need to Go Big

World_Economic_Forum_-_World_Economic_Forum_Annual_Meeting_Davos_2005A version of this article also appeared on the Reuters Foundation news service, AlertNet

Climate change is on the agenda at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos this year. This is good news for those concerned about the unprecedented risks climate change poses to society. (more…)

Egypt’s Political Transition and the Rising Sea: An Opportunity for Reform

Last January, on the heels of a successful popular revolution in Tunisia, Egyptians decided that they wanted to govern themselves as well. This led to the eventual overthrow of the 30-year Mubarak regime. Since then, the Egyptian path to democracy has been challenged, with the country’s military elite largely filling the empty spaces of power.

But while this political transition stumbles forward uncertainly, with the forces of reaction threatening to nip progress towards democracy in the bud, another less political threat looms. The health of the Nile Delta. (more…)

The Global Resiliency Market

There’s a new gold rush on, but it’s not about gold. It’s about land. More specifically, it’s about buying and selling land, food, water, and ultimately, resilience. A number of countries, short on arable land and water, are investing in a sort of global insurance policy. Countries like China, Saudi Arabia and South Korea, with significant portions of their countries operating beyond their own water budgets, are busy making up the difference by buying up lands in water and soil-rich areas of Africa, South America and South Asia, growing crops on the acquired land and then shipping the crops (and the embedded or “virtual” water that went into growing them) back to their respective countries. The sellers, on the other hand, are giving up land, water and future resilience for, in some instances, pocket change (see Lester Brown). One might call this the “global resiliency market,” and as with any market, there are serious risks for all who participate.
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An Unprecedented Risk Needs an Unprecedented Response

We know with a very high degree of certainty the likelihood of climate change and its expected impacts.

We know, for example, that the seas will rise, that 50% of the Earth’s population lives in coastal zones, and that by 2025 that number will rise to seventy-five percent.

We know that global agriculture production faces increased floods and droughts, which will disrupt growing patterns that have been cultivated over thousands of years, severely diminishing our ability to feed a global population expected to reach 9 billion by 2050.

We know that climate change will impact resource availability, such as freshwater, compelling people to move to new locations, within and across national boundaries. We know that such dynamics can result in conflict and violence.

Despite the certainty of these risks, the global response has been feeble at best.  In short, we were unprepared. Climate change at this rate and scale is unprecedented in human history.  Our governance structures, from the familial to the international, which are responsible for responding to risk and maintaining our security, have evolved during a period of relative climate certainty. Cities, trade agreements, economies, national boundaries, political systems, security strategies, have all been built upon a stable climate.

In a world with an unstable climate, all of these structures will have to prepare.  An unprecedented risk needs an unprecedented response.