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President Obama and Thai Prime Minister Shingluck on Climate Change

President Obama’s historic trip to Asia, which included the first visit to Burma by a sitting U.S. president, is clearly a watershed moment for U.S. foreign policy, human rights and democracy promotion. But it also marks an important development in addressing the global climate crisis. The U.S. is reconsidering its national security priorities and “pivoting” to the Asia-Pacific for a number of reasons. One of those reasons, though it often goes unsaid, is to compete (and sometimes cooperate) with China for influence in this key strategic region. However one feels about that strategy, this momentum should be harnessed in order to address the current and future effects of climate change on the vulnerable places and nations of Asia-Pacific (see here for our piece on this subject from last February, A Marshall Plan to Combat Climate Change in the Asia-Pacific). (more…)

Bangkok: The Atlantis of the Pacific?

A new piece in The Diplomat explores the environmental and human factors contributing to what could be a Bangkok that is partially underwater by 2030. As stated by the author, Stephen Finch:

The most pessimistic forecasts suggest parts of the capital could be underwater by 2030 as the increasing population sucks up ground water, and other environmental factors take their toll. (more…)

Room for Climate Diplomacy: Secretary Clinton’s Trip to Asia and the Future of U.S. Engagement in the Region

A recent New York Times article covering Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s current diplomatic travels in Asia focused on her efforts to ramp up trade with the region. This move is seen by some analysts as the softer side of the Obama administration’s so-called “pacific pivot” or “rebound,” where the spotlight has until now shone primarily on plans to expand the U.S. military presence in the region. (more…)

Building U.S. Alliances in the Asia-Pacific: Trade, Disaster Relief and Climate Change Adaptation

For the past few years, the United States had made an unmistakeable shift in foreign policy attention to the Asia-Pacific region (President Obama has described this change as a “pivot,” though the U.S. government is not necessarily comfortable with that term of art). There are both military and civilian dimensions to this shift, and the U.S. will need to deftly combine development, diplomacy and defense in order to maintain a sustainable and beneficent influence in the region. (more…)

Watch This Space: A Recovering Thailand and the Rainy Season

The rainy season is approaching in Thailand, yet the country has not yet fully recovered from the devastating floods that inundated the nation last year (the worst in over 50 years). As we highlighted last November, the nexus of climate change, rainfall variability and political stability in Thailand is a fragile one. Though Thailand is not considered one of the nations most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, vulnerability can change over time, and recent natural catastrophes have tested its resilience. This is a critical space to watch, not just for Thais, neighboring countries or those concerned about global food prices (Thailand is responsible for 30 percent of global trade in rice), but for U.S. national security planners as well. Given the so-called U.S. strategic “pivot” to the Asia-Pacific, assisting countries like Thailand in their climate adaptation strategies may be a critical component of advancing U.S. national security interests. We talk about this further in our piece “A Marshall Plan to Combat Climate Change in the Asia-Pacific: The Missing Piece of the New U.S. Security Strategy.”

Thailand and Food Security: Climate Change, Floods and Grasshoppers

A recent article in IRIN details the multiplication of rice pests after last year’s devastating floods – pests that have the capacity to “decimate harvests.” According to the country’s Rice Department, the “brown plant hopper” has destroyed 30 percent of rice production in affected provinces, “amounting to around 1.3 million tons for the country, or more than 15 percentage of the nationwide harvest, which takes place twice a year…” This comes on top of the devastation by the floods themselves, which experts estimated could destroy as much a quarter of the country’s rice crop. Given that Thailand is the largest rice exporter in the world (though it may soon lose that designation), this is not just a local matter. (more…)