Last week, an unusually good workshop on “Climate, Defense, and Security” occurred in downtown Ottawa sponsored by the Canadian Defense Association. The purpose of the workshop was to assess the security risks or threats of climate change impacts. The speakers and the audience deftly covered a wide range of relevant, forward-looking themes in the half-day allotted to the workshop.
I was one of several invitees to attend. The audience was composed of former Canadian diplomats and military officials, academics, members of the media and a few representatives from European embassies, notably UK, Germany and France. The format featured a panel of three speakers, followed by audience Q&A with the panel, and a luncheon at the French Embassy. (The morning session was introduced as “on-the-record.”)
I jotted down key points I heard in a new “stone paper” journal I’d picked up out of curiosity at the gift shop in the National Gallery of Canada. (Stone paper, as the name suggests, involves no trees and is made of “crushed stone.” It has a different texture and is heavier, of course, than a paper journal. Is it, therefore, more environmentally friendly? I don’t know enough about it to say for sure, but it is fun to try out.)
These key points were:
- Crisis is the “new normal.” We don’t know what will hit us; “that’s the essence of crisis.”
- Climate change is a “ubiquitous complication” which is “not directed at you” and, therefore, “very difficult to understand with the tools that we have.”
- Considering climate change impacts as a “national security issue” does not make sense in a German context where security issues are seen as
- We are facing “governance issues.” There is “virtually no leadership” on these issues.
- “The pace of climate change is much more rapid than anyone was predicting 10 years ago.”
- Defense agencies can be very much part of the solution, if they can be engaged in reducing fuel consumption.
- Since the Industrial Revolution, we have now pierced through what has been the highest level of CO2 emissions [ever]: We are going into a place where we haven’t been in 400,000 years.
- The processes of climate science consistently underestimate the rate and scale of these changes.
- “It’s not just what has to be done but who has to do it.” There must be “mini-lateralism” in addition to multilateralism.
- We are failing at assessing risks. (An audience member recommended a new report out from the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office: “Climate Change: A Risk Assessment.”)
Ottawa itself looked its best in the bright September sunlight, a wonderful gift for those with some time to walk around. I wondered if the workshop signaled some sort of shift in the climate around the issue of climate change.
The last time I was in Ottawa in September was on 9-11-2001 when the geostrategic climate suddenly changed dramatically, in ways we are still living with today. On the visit this week, the weather was seemingly similar to the day I recall with such heaviness 14 years ago: brilliant blue skies and buildings gleaming in the sunshine.
It was a real pleasure to be able at last to stroll around the city and take in the many gorgeous sights, from the locks along the canal (of both varieties: canal locks and locks locked to the railings of a pedestrian bridge over the Rideau Canal) to sculptures, fountains, the Byward Market, and an independent bookstore (they still exist!) on Eglin Street.
Some of the sculptures brought me to a standstill, including the one of Canadian jazz legend Oscar Peterson on a corner next to the National Arts Center, where the sound of his piano playing (coming from speakers around the sculpture) soothes your nerves while you’re waiting to cross the street.
Despite all the sights competing for my attention, I managed to get a few sketches started while exploring, adding color later.
It remains to do be seen what will be done about the climate challenges identified at the workshop, and by whom. Given the shortcomings of traditional approaches highlighted in the workshop, some innovations in governance, science, and diplomacy seem necessary to cope with the novelties involved in understanding the risks and threats related to climate change impacts.