Resources & Climate
Project Note

Environmental Security June News Update

Updates on global environmental security challenges and the efforts to tackle them.

Featured News

Department of Commerce Agencies Join Forces to Measure the U.S. Ocean Economy

The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) and its National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have partnered to publish a new series of economic statistics that begins to quantify the contribution made by U.S. “blue economy” to the national gross national product (GDP). Although limited in scope, the data revealed that the goods and services derived from the U.S. oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes contributed $373 billion towards the U.S. GDP in 2018, and industries detailed supported 2.3 million jobs. The marine-related GDP grew at 5.8% from 2017 to 2018, which was faster than the overall U.S. GDP at 5.4%. 

Taking the first steps to create a long overdue national ocean account, the report analyzed ten sectors including: tourism and recreation, national defense and public administration, offshore minerals like oil and gas, transportation and warehousing, fisheries and aquaculture, shipbuilding, power generation, construction, research and education, and professional and technical services. The U.S. ocean economy account is based on market data, and so does not include ecosystem service, the non-market goods and services produced by the ocean.  Some emerging industrial sectors, such as offshore renewable energy did not have enough economic activity to be detected in the data. As these industries grow, however, their contributions to the U.S. economy will be integrated into data sets in future years. 

While economic activity from the blue economy is included in BEA’s statistics, this report represents the first time that this data was pulled out and combined in a cohesive framework to highlight goods and services stemming from the oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes. This economic data can be used by coastal communities, businesses, and policymakers as a baseline to inform, track progress, and to inform, and jumpstart America’s economic recovery. Nicole LeBoeuf, acting director of NOAA’s National Ocean Service, noted that, “the marine economy statistics clarify just how dependent America is on our waters. It is nearly impossible for most Americans to go a single day without eating, wearing or using products that come from or through our coastal communities.”

Ghanaian fishermen denounce arrival of Chinese trawlers 

Despite Ghana’s moratorium on new fishing vessels, three recently-built trawlers have arrived from China and are awaiting fishing licenses to operate in Ghana’s waters. The arrival has sparked outrage from local fishermen, as Ghana’s National Canoe Fisherman Council (GNCFC) has written an open letter to Ghana’s Fisheries Commission arguing that issuing the licenses will go against Ghana’s Fisheries Management Plan and will further decimate Ghana’s local fish stocks that are already on the brink of collapse.

Ghana has strong fisheries laws but poor enforcement. Under Ghanaian law, industrial trawlers must be owned and operated by Ghanaian nationals, but the GNCFC notes that it is “an open secret in the industry” that most vessels are operated by Chinese companies that hide their ownership through Ghanaian front companies. These three new vessels sailed under China’s flag before arriving in Ghana in October and were reflagged by Ghana. Under the current Fisheries Management Plan, only 47 industrial trawlers should be fishing in Ghana’s waters, but the GNCFC notes significant overcapacity: 76 vessels were licensed to fish at the end of 2019.

More importantly, these type of industrial trawlers in Ghanaian waters target the local fish on which coastal communities rely and imperil Ghana’s food security. Pelagic fish in Ghana’s waters such as the sardinella are consumed throughout the country and comprise 60% of Ghana’s protein intake, and support two million jobs. Industrial trawlers in Ghana’s waters continue the illegal “saiko” trade, where they target primarily juvenile pelagic fish to sell to local artisanal fishers who then sell it to local markets. Removing juvenile fish vital to replenishing the pelagic fish stocks have caused the stocks to crash by 80% over the last twenty years.

New UN report highlights the links between gender, climate, and security 

new collaborative report developed across several agencies within the United Nations underscores the close links between gender, climate, and security. It highlights how countries around the world are grappling with the continuing challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic amidst other crises such as climate change, conflict, and gender inequality.  This new report draws attention to the disproportionate threat that the climate emergency is having on women who are often responsible for the economic and food security of their family and communities and least able to adapt to the risk of climate change.  It also focuses on the potential for transforming tradition gender norms which can increase peace and development and help shape durable responses to these escalating crises. This new report was jointly written by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), UN Women, UN Development Programme (UNDP), and the UN Department of Peacekeeping and Political Affairs (UNDPPA). 

The report details numerous case studies that show that women at the forefront of climate action are playing an integral role in the prevention of conflict and in fashioning sustainable peace solutions. Women and girls around the world face inordinate economic burdens in times of crisis, and can be affected disproportionately by gender violence or migration at times of economic or social dislocation. The report stresses the urgency for gender-responsive actions to tackle the linked crises of climate and security. Gender considerations should be fully integrated in climate security policies and programming, not only to heighten understanding of often-overlooked vulnerabilities, but to highlight opportunities for leadership and participation by women in natural resource management and decision-making mechanisms.

COVID-19 fears leading to increased protections for the endangered pangolin

Despite international protections for all eight species of pangolin, each year hundreds of thousands of pangolins are trafficked to be consumed across Asia for their meat and scales, which are used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Given the pangolin’s connection to the COVID-19 pandemic and wet markets, China and other countries are taking initial measures to restrict its consumption and trafficking. 

While bats in the Wuhan wet markets were confirmed to be the source of coronavirus that caused COVID-19, pangolins can also harbor the coronavirus, and are thought to be an intermediary host which may have transmitted the virus from bats to humans.  China enacted a ban on eating wildlife in February due to the COVID outbreak, but the law contained a major loophole for wildlife consumed as part of TCM and pangolin trafficking for meat and scales continued from populations in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. China has now closed that loophole specifically for pangolins, delisting the pangolin from the approved list of ingredients for TCM. 

China’s ban could have a major impact on the demand for pangolin: since 2015, 95% of the trafficking pangolins seized have been in Asia, with a quarter of those incidents coming from China. When China banned its domestic ivory trade in 2018, the price of ivory plummeted, undercutting the primary incentive to poachers. Trafficking analysts then saw poachers turn their attention instead to pangolins in Africa; hopefully a pangolin delisting will have a similar chilling effect.

Significantly, Gabon has also just banned the eating of pangolin due to health concerns over the COVID-19 virus. The consumption of bushmeat, including pangolin, in this mountainous central African nation is widespread. Now that the Gabon ban is in place, pangolin sales have already plunged dramatically.

In Case You Missed It

Stimson Center launches CORVI, an innovative new tool for coastal resilience

As the risks from climate change continue to grow, business leaders, financial institutions, and government policy makers need tools that can help them incorporate climate risk and its uncertainties into future planning decisions. Climate change is accelerating in pace and scale and so too are the devastating consequences to the businesses and people living in coastal cities. Decision makers are forced to adapt to the uncertain future impacts of climate change, factoring in threats to a city’s food, environmental, and economic security such as increased drought, heat, sea level rise, storm intensity, and flooding that may be exacerbated by underlying social, economic, and political factors. Last week, the Stimson Center launched CORVI: The Climate and Ocean Risk Vulnerability Index, an innovative tool to help policymakers understand the diverse range of targeted risks and build climate resilience at the city level where it matters most.

Vietnam rejects China’s summer ban on fishing in disputed South China Sea waters

Since 1999, China has announced a ban on fishing in disputed South China Sea waters during the summer months to preserve stocks, but this year Vietnam has instructed its fishing vessels to ignore the ban and keep operating in Vietnam-claimed waters. The Vietnamese government and civil society organizations that represent artisanal fishers have noted that China’s unilateral decision has no basis in international law and doesn’t bear on Vietnamese sovereign waters. China has since pushed back, defending the ban as a legitimate act of Chinese sovereignty.  Furthermore, China recently launched a massive new search & rescue ship for the South China Sea as a show of power in the region.

Let’s Protect, Not Harm, America’s Marine Resources

In recognition of World Ocean Week, Stimson’s Environmental Security Director Sally Yozell has written a call to action to protect America’s fragile ocean resources. In light of the economic devastation that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the U.S. fishing communities and a recent White House Proclamation to reopen for commercial fishing the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Monument, the only national marine protected area in the Atlantic, there was a missed opportunity to support measures that could enhance U.S. fishing communities and American fish stocks. Instead of opening up protected areas and jeopardizing long-term fisheries sustainability, the Administration could work with Congress to enhance and expand the Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP), which aims to stop illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing from entering U.S. markets and undercutting legal domestic catch, or prioritize funding for the Maritime SAFE Act, which was passed as part of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act to apply a whole-of-government approach to combatting IUU fishing.

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