by Claire Polfus, University of Vermont
The keynote speakers of the UVM IEDS Conference on Environmental Diplomacy and Security on Saturday night, Retired Colonel Tom O’Donovan and former Director of UN Division for Sustainable Development, Dr. Tariq Banuri, found mutuality despite coming from seemingly disparate backgrounds. Colonel O’Donovan, former commander of the Army Corps of Engineers in Afghanistan, spoke first on the potential for and obstacles to water availability and power in Afghanistan. According to the retired colonel, all Afghanistan needs to create a water power system are dams, turbines, powerlines and transportation infrastructure. As another obstacle, Afghans have unreliable relations with their neighbors, some of whom share water resources. It may seem like a tall order, but there is a positive side to the issue – Afganistan has the water. A stable water supply may not be easy to achieve, but with a high prevalence of famine and unstable infrastructure, water issues are and will continue to be hugely important.
Dr. Banuri began his talk with a smooth transition into the interplay between passion, circumstance and logic in terms of statecraft. Statecraft, he said, is about logic, but circumstances can change and sway any outcome away from logic. Climate change is one of those circumstances, or a “threat multiplier.” Dr. Banuri contended that what we are experiencing now with financial, environmental and social upheaval is similar to the upheavals of the 1970s. The problem is cheap energy and it is running out. The world is now, for social and environmental reasons, at peak-coal, peak-nuclear and peak-oil. On the road of climate diplomacy, however a carbon budget is the main framework. This leads to unacceptable terms for negotiations – a zero-sum game. Furthermore, it is not plausible to ask people to return to the “expensive energy” structure of the pre-industrial revolution world. However, if we change from a carbon budget to an energy budget that includes true renewables we can change the diplomatic negotiation to a positive-sum game. This would alter the negotiations and improve livilihoods and promote peace despite our changing world.
Both Colonel O’Donovan and Dr. Banuri work in seemingly impossible situations – a war-torn country and the world of climate negotiations – yet neither was overly pessimistic. The circumstances do not present easy solutions nor are the current common solutions necessarily the right ones. However one of the main themes from the presentations is that it is unacceptable to not try to find better solutions. Also understanding relationships – between neighbors, between the present and past and between cultures – is key to solving complex problems. Finally, flexibility is important so that we can successfully meld our ideas with those of other cultures and so that we can adapt to changing circumstances.