Current Developments

Security Commentaries - (Climate Change) January 15th

Climate Change is still an issue, even during COVID-19 - Jaime Ocon

Why Southeast Asia will get the short end of the stick when it comes to climate change and its post-COVID-19 recovery 


Although the focus of 2020 has no doubt been about the COVID-19 pandemic, it would be reluctant to disregard the continued failures to prevent climate change particularly in Southeast Asia. The region saw huge economic breakthroughs this year with both the signings of the RCEP and an investment deal between the EU and China. Major economic progress makes this part of the world unique, as Southeast Asia faces challenges from both promoting economic integration, while at the same time abiding by preventive climate change regulations. 


Southeast Asia specifically is an area that is most at risk by the effects of climate change, as these include rising temperatures and humidity, floods, typhoons, and drought. Even more of a cause for concern is the fact that the majority of countries here are still developing and thus will only increase the size of their economies and further leave a larger carbon footprint if prevent measures are not taken seriously.  Statistics show that even with a large reduction of emissions this year resulting from COVID-19 lockdowns, the world still remains on track to see warming of over 3 degrees by 2090. This is not only alarming but absolutely devastating as it would turn otherwise mild weather into natural disasters and violent storms would ravage the region on an almost seasonal basis. 



A Greener Recovery Policy?


Indeed as part of the world begins to shift into their respective economic recovery modes, it is nonetheless important to do so in a manner that is environmentally friendly. A report at the McKinsey Global Institute earlier in the year estimated that by 2050, between 500 million and 700 million people in Asia could live in regions that have an annual probability of a lethal heat wave of about 20 percent. This is only the beginning and why climate change experts stress the urgency and importance of implementing change as soon as possible. 


“as the world focuses on recovery, it is important to not lose sight of the role that climate plays,” 

Jonathan Woetzel, director at the McKinsey Global Institute.  


The RCEP Agreement has no mention of a climate change policy, and although those countries that had signed the agreement have their own policies towards reducing carbon emissions, a push for collective efforts are needed to make a meaningful impact. The United States undoubtedly made the mistake of pulling out of the Paris Climate Accords as to combat rising global temperatures but other leaders have since picked up the ball and begun their own initiatives. Countries like China and Japan have already begun the push for carbon taxes on emissions and the majority of FTA agreements now continue to push for a reduction in coal financing as to switch to the next generation of energy sources. Asia in particular is on the clock to provide its answer to the climate change problem and as the world seeks to recover from the pandemic, it must do correctly as there is no vaccine for a sickly earth.

While on the other side of the world, with the incoming Biden administration in Washington seeking to rejoin the Paris Climate Accords, there is deep optimism that a multilateral approach to combat climate change will be back on the agenda. Perhaps even finding common ground to cooperate with regional adversaries in the Asia-Pacific.


A Blue Arctic - Richard Chen

The northernmost part of the earth is witnessing its most transformative shift in terms of its landscape in eons. New findings show that plastics aren’t the only ones moving in to roost.


Earlier this week, scientists and researchers from the Ocean Wise Conservation Association in Vancouver, published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Communications, that they have identified polyester fibers floating around the ocean in the Arctic region. Four expeditions, including one made by the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Louis S. St. Laurent transiting from Norway to Canada late last year, further confirmed the pervasive evidence of microfibers all throughout their route across the Arctic. Despite the region being long dubbed as one of the most remote places of the world, Prof. Peter S. Ross, the lead researcher for the project assessed: “[the amount of microfibers] is approaching levels found in the open Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.”



Perhaps what came out of the blue most from their report, is that the fibers found in the Arctic Ocean mirrored closely the laundry effluent samples that they had collected subsequently. From the team’s study, it is estimated that “the average Canadian or U.S. household releases over 500 million fibres per year from laundry. This adds up to 3.5 quadrillion fibres weighing 878 tonnes from these two countries alone.” Meaning that we not only are seeing the plastics frenzy that dominated the spotlight of conservation efforts more recently, but also waste pollution from materials and sources other than microplastics oozing out into the oceans. Home laundry in the Arctic of all places.


As the world in 2021 rages on with reports of coronavirus cases still spiralling, struggling democracies, and the limits of Big Tech; the northernmost pillar of our world is quietly turning blue, literally.


Now as we enter mid-January, it is supposed to be the dead of winter in the Arctic, which means the oceans in the region should be frozen solid, a process which should have begun since last October. However, only last month did the Arctic Ocean begin to freeze, surprisingly at a much quicker rate than previous years. Despite this, the sea ice extent in the Arctic has been the lowest in satellite record, reported the National Snow and Ice Data Center earlier this month. Phytoplankton—a marine algae and food source for a score of oceanic wildlife—has increased by 600%, which is fueled by the long periods of sunlight in the Arctic, according to marine biologist Mike Behrenfeld at Oregon State. As we have heard by now, the situation in the Arctic can be seen as a barometer of the health of our planet, which is why the following recent findings continue to paint an even more concerning picture of what is going on in one of the world’s most remote regions.


Fortunately, these discoveries may have just come at a time when various sectors of the global economy are embracing the concept of sustainable growth and production in their business models. Partnerships from an increasing number of companies and businesses with governments as well as NGOs collaborate to provide a clear goal and roadmap for sustainable development, and we should all take notice. 


Furthermore, the new Arctic landscape poses a dilemma for Arctic nations as well as stakeholders globally. TCSS will continue to monitor how these actors formulate their Arctic agendas and strategic blueprints in the days ahead.