Environmental Security News, December


Environmental Security News, December


Security Implications of the Climate Emergency at COP25 Madrid

After two weeks world leaders left the 25th Climate Conference of the Parties, or COP25 held in Madrid, empty handed. The security implications of climate change were evident. The conference opened with a speech by President Hilda Heine of the Marshall Islands describing the threat of climate change to her country as “a fight to the death for anyone not prepared to flee” as rising ocean waves washed across her nation’s capital.  Despite pleas and science backing them up attendees could not agree on a strong pathway forward at a time it is needed most.

Although considered a smaller summit, COP25 had international significance as it was the last Climate Summit before countries committed to submitting their new and updated national climate action plans in 2020. These climate action plans are critical to addressing what is being deemed as the “Emission Gap”. Currently the global community had committed to preventing the global temperature from increasing an average of 1.5ºC. However, there is a significant gap between the amount of emission reductions that countries promised to achieve, and the total emission reductions needed to meet this goal. Failure to close the emission gap will likely result in the global climate warming by more than 2⁰C. This level of warming could lead to a significant increase in global droughts, floods, and extreme weather events, which directly threaten food and water security of communities across the globe.

Yet COP 25 ended with little agreement nor momentum towards next year’s important COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland. While parties did formally recognize the need to heed recent scientific advice that suggests that much deeper cuts are needed, few countries offered new or updated targets or action. Despite global protests and urgent calls by young activists, civil society and the countries most affected, to spur action and heighten political pressure around the world, major carbon-emitting countries like Brazil, India, China, Australia, and the United States were singled out by ministers from the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS ) as holding up progress and even blocking a non-binding measure that would have encouraged more realistic emissions targets for next year. Without agreement on key issues such as mitigation, adaptation, and climate finance, less developed countries at the front line of the climate emergency will continue to witness their food, economic, and environmental security eroded.

Mangroves as a Source of Coastal Protection

As the impact of climate change grows, natural infrastructure will play an increasingly vital role in protecting coastal areas. Not only does natural infrastructure mitigate storm damage, but they provide ecosystem services such as mediating urban city pollution, providing habitats, and supporting local fisheries. Among these coastal ecosystems, mangroves are one of the most important. Recent tropical cyclonic storm Bulbul caused significant damage in early November, in southern West Bengal, a state in eastern India. However, as Bulbul passed through the Sundarbans Delta on the border of India and Bangladesh, extensive riverine mangrove forests helped to reduce the wind speed, decreasing the storm damage. Protection provided by mangroves was recently quantified in a new World Bank study, which found that mangroves were responsible for providing $32.6 million worth of protection to Jamaica alone.

As important as mangroves are to coastal protection, they are threatened by climate change globally. In low-lying countries like Vietnam, mangroves are essential to stem salt water from contaminating aquifers, and spoiling farm land. The Mekong Delta, home to 90 percent of the country’s rice imports, is particularly vulnerable to salt intrusion. Mangrove forests have historically been cleared to make room for rice fields, and this land use conversion has made the remaining mangrove forests more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. As the Mekong mangrove forests collapse, the river delta that it maintains will also collapse, endangering rice fields and local fisheries while threatening the food security of millions.

The effectiveness of mangroves to provide ecosystem services has led to a growing interest in using these ecosystems as nature-based solutions for mitigating climate risk and improving disaster management. There have been some efforts to protect mangroves, including major replanting of the Indus delta in Pakistan. Continued efforts are necessary to protect these essential coastal ecosystems.

Mislabeling Continues to Plague the Seafood Industry  

Transparency remains a key challenge in the seafood industry. Recently, Maryland-based Casey’s Seafood was embroiled in a crab meat scandal. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration barred the owner of Casey’s Seafood from importing seafood after fraudulently mislabeling the iconic Maryland blue crab with a mixture of foreign and domestic supplies to be sold as U.S. crab. This is not the first time that mislabeling has been highlighted as a problem among seafood products. Earlier this year, the NGO Oceana published a study which found that of the 1,200 seafood samples tested, roughly one third were mislabeled which is a health and safety worry as well as a cost concern to consumers. Snapper and tuna were among the most commonly mislabeled fish. Anchor Frozen Foods and Advanced Frozen Foods pleaded guilty in early December to mislabeling thousands of pounds of squid. The two New York companies were accused of repackaging squid as its more valuable counterpart, octopus. The companies’ owners who will be sentenced next Spring may receive jail time as part of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ)’s attempt to increase scrutiny within the seafood industry. Mislabeling not only harms the consumer, but its pervasive presence within the seafood supply chain makes it difficult for fisheries managers to have access to accurate data. This in turn endangers sustainable fisheries management and puts pressure upon the oceans’ fished to capacity resources.

These recent incidents of mislabeling highlight a larger industrywide problem, which is an opaque seafood supply chain whether due to mislabeling or underreporting catch. Efforts to improve transparency are necessary to reduce incidents of mislabeling. Some within the seafood industry are pioneering the use of blockchain technology to improve seafood traceability. Although in its nascent stage for the seafood industry, blockchain holds promise if the information and data initially put in the system is accurate.


India Smog

Every year the month of November marks the beginning of New Delhi’s smog season, an event that can last almost three months. Caused by slash and burn farming outside the capital, this year’s smog was the worst smog on record. Because of the thick layer of smog, the city declared a public health emergency, shutting down schools and businesses for several days. In an effort to keep the air pollution from getting worse, local authorities restricted automobile usage, alternating access for different days between plates ending with an odd or an even number, and halted construction activities that could have added more particulate into the air. These policies have proved ineffective, as the smog lasted until it was dissipated by strong winds. The tepid governmental response has further reinforced the threat that smog poses to the economy and stirred up sentiments that authorities are acting too little, too late. Civil society groups have called for the government to take more decisive action before next winter’s smog event.  


The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO) convened the International Symposium on Fisheries Sustainability in Rome November 18-21, to discuss the long-term health of capture fisheries in the context of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development goals. The discussion included the implications of illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing on seafood sustainability and on international labor. Healthy fisheries are essential for coastal food security, especially for developing nations with growing populations. Stimson’s Environmental Security Director Sally Yozell addressed the conference to present policy recommendations associated with the activities of distant water fishing (DWF) fleets. Her recommendations highlighted the need for transparency as a precondition to accessing the global market place.

Alaskan Pacific Cod Fishery Closes Due to Low Fish Stock

In an unparalleled event, the Gulf of Alaska’s Pacific cod fishery will close for the 2020 season in response to historically low number of fish. Although heavily fished, the historic low is being attributed to climate change. Although cod had been making a comeback in recent years, ocean warming caused by a marine heatwave in 2014 nicknamed “the blob” devasted the fish stocks, decimating the young cod population. As cod take a few years to mature, the fishery is only now feeling the effects of the marine heatwave, which has the potential to have long-lasting impacts on cod fishing.

Conference on the Use of Technology to Address Wildlife Trafficking

Wildlife is the fourth most trafficked item on the black market after drugs, guns, and humans, and wildlife trafficking is expanding dramatically. Over the past three years, for example, over a half a million pangolins, most species of which are critically endangered, have been smuggled from Africa to Asia driven by demand from their meat and scales. To address this global problem, the Zoological Society of London hosted an event: “Can surveillance technology and social science address rule-breaking and wildlife?” on December 10th. The conference focused on how technologies like machine learning and survey and question techniques can be leveraged to increase understanding of patterns and motivations of crime. Additionally, the conference addressed concerns of feasibility and how technology can be integrated with ongoing conservation efforts, such as using satellites to track global fisheries and vessels from space.