Resources & Climate
Project Note

Environmental Security March News Update

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

Featured News

The Texas Power Grid and Energy Geopolitics

On February 14, a power outage caused by a polar vortex left millions of Texans without power for days. The isolation of the Texas energy grid, one of the factors leading to the outages, points to the importance of interconnected ‘super grids.’ Super grids are transmission networks at a vast, continental scale, which can better and more efficiently respond to changes in energy demand and supply across a broad region. Super grids will play an important role in a future increasingly dominated by renewable energy sources, by ensuring gaps in electricity supply are met and efficiently allocating energy surpluses.

Super grids can provide transmission interconnectedness on a large scale, allowing for the transfer of energy not just within countries, but between them. Despite the opportunity, it still remains unclear how soon cross-border renewable electricity trade will be implemented. The pace is likely to be slow due to the complicated transborder energy rules, regulations, and finances.

In some regions, developing super grids has raised tensions across borders. For example, efforts by the European Union to build a European energy union have been curtailed by member state disagreements over the financing of necessary infrastructure and differences in renewable energy uptake. On the other hand, if they are able to put aside their differences and develop a robust energy infrastructure and decentralized super grid, it will increase the variety of energy sources as supply from remote renewables can be transmitted to cities. This in turn could reduce regional tensions by increasing cooperative energy interdependency and improve the ability of the region to withstand external energy shocks.

Pollinators Play an Often Overlooked Role in Global Food Security

Pollinators play an indispensable role in global food security, contributing up to 35 percent of the world’s crop production. Despite their importance, pollinators are under threat, especially in the global south where pesticide use, habitat loss, and climate change are putting a strain on pollinators, notably wild bees. The global population of honeybees has been in sharp decline since the 1990s.

In response, there has been a rise in the introduction of domesticated honeybees, which unfortunately can bring new risks to the wild bee populations. Wild bees are much more efficient pollinators than domesticated honeybees. Conservationists have also raised concerns that honeybees may outcompete native bees and potentially introduce diseases to wild bee populations. Additionally, climate change threatens to push temperatures across the global south above the thermal tolerance of bees, rendering the introduction of a new bee species moot.

Avoiding a worst-case climate scenario is crucial to preventing large-scale pollinator loss, but this long-term goal must be augmented by policy actions at the national and subnational level. For example, policies to reduce or eliminate pesticide use, especially neonicotinoids, would be an important first step. Preserving the habitats of pollinators is an important step that could be integrated into wider efforts to protect biodiversity. Finally, a major campaign to educate domestic honey beekeepers on proper beekeeping practices would improve the longevity of wild bee populations. The benefits of these three actions would safeguard the future of pollinators which are so essential to agricultural crops and food security around the globe.

Seafood Fraud a Widespread Serious Global Problem

A recent analysis by The Guardian reaffirmed that seafood fraud is a significant global problem. The analysis reviewed 44 studies across 30 countries including the United States, the UK, Singapore, Australia, and China, and demonstrated what advocates for seafood transparency have argued for years: that the problem of seafood fraud is widespread and pernicious.

The analysis found that on average, 36 percent of seafood examined in restaurants, grocery stores, and fish markets was mislabeled. While instances of mislabeling may not always be malicious, many studies found that high-value and expensive fish species were frequently swapped for cheaper alternatives. And in one egregious example, pork was detected in cuttlefish and prawn balls.

Seafood fraud has been closely associated with illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, and the lack of transparency across the global seafood supply chain makes it difficult to detect how these products enter the global market. In the U.S., the Seafood Import and Monitoring Program (SIMP) aims to eliminate seafood fraud and keep IUU catch out of American markets by requiring importers to maintain chain of custody records from harvest or production to point of entry in the U.S. for 13 species that are at risk of being IUU species or fraudulently labelled. To better monitor and prosecute all seafood fraud in the U.S., SIMP should be strengthened and expanded to more species. It is also essential for the U.S., EU, and now Japan to align their seafood import regulations, which would mean that over 50% of the global seafood import market would have the same traceability standards and deter IUU fish and fraudulent seafood from entering global markets.

In Case You Missed It

China’s 14th Five Year Plan and Environmental Security

China’s 14th Five Year Plan was released in March to high expectations, and anticipation about details on China’s pledge to achieve total carbon neutrality by 2060 and other environmental issues. While the plan would decrease carbon intensity by 18 percent and energy intensity by 13.5 percent from 2020 levels, it would still increase carbon emissions by more than one percent per year for the next several years. In light of these increases, the plan has been criticized by international observers as unambitious. While the plan did mention the need for international ocean governance, there was also a lack of specificity on China’s enforcement of its large distant water fishing fleet which is increasingly documented engaging in illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing.

For now, international observers must wait for more clarification that will come in the forthcoming Five Year Plans from specific ministries, such as the Ministry of Ecology and Environment and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs.

Algal Bloom Causes Large Losses for Chilean Salmon Farmers

Earlier this month, three algal blooms in the Chilean region of Los Lagos caused significant damage across Chile’s aquaculture industry. The events have caused the deaths of an estimated 162,000 fish, costing major salmon farmers Salmones Camanchaca $3.5 million in losses and Multiexport Foods around 120 tons of fish. Harmful algal blooms are often linked to high concentrations of nutrients found in the waters around fish farms or from run-off, and the nutrients can prolong the time that the algal bloom lingers and increase the damage. The fact that such mortality occurred despite both companies deploying advanced mitigation technologies, such as deep-water upwelling systems, illustrates the difficulty in managing such algal blooms, and the threat they pose to food security.

Palm Oil Expanding in the Amazon

Reports indicate that the rising global demand for palm oil and the expansion of the palm oil industry is threatening the Brazilian Amazon. This expansion has been met by a corresponding increase in pollution, land disputes by indigenous groups, and rainforest deforestation. Producers claim that the oil palms are being planted on previously deforested land, but that is contradicted by satellite imagery documenting new deforestation. While Brazil accounts for only 1 percent of global palm oil production, its palm oil plantations are expanding quickly and present yet another risk to the future sustainability and biodiversity of the Amazon.

Climate Change Diplomacy: A Bright Spot in U.S.-China Relations

Despite continued geopolitical tension between the United States and China over a number of difficult issues, climate change diplomacy represents an area of potential collaboration. At the annual “Ministerial on Climate Action,” where high-level officials discussed the implementation of the 2015 Paris Agreement, China and the United States announced the creation of a “joint working group” on climate change. The tone of this meeting stands in stark contrast to the first high-level talks between the Biden Administration and China in Alaska, where officials exchanged rebukes on trade policy and human rights.

In the run-up to COP26, meeting global climate goals will require cooperation between both countries to incentivize the global expansion of renewable energy and take responsibility at home and abroad to mitigate carbon. To learn more, listen to director Sally Yozell’s recent presentation at the Institute China American Studies.

Indonesia Continues its Campaign Against IUU Fishing, Adding Two New Patrol Vessels

As tensions ramp up across the South China Sea, Indonesia’s Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry has expanded its ongoing fight against IUU fishing in Indonesian waters with the launch of new two new vessels. The two patrol ships, now the fastest in the Indonesian fleet, will conduct regular patrols in the Malacca Straits and North Natuna Sea, areas with significant IUU fishing activity from neighboring countries. The expansion of Indonesia’s patrol fleet follows other recent measures against IUU fishing, including the development of a new maritime intelligence hub, the Indonesian Maritime Information Center, last year.

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