India’s Maritime Challenges Security Dimensions of Climat (Part-II)

Issues Details: 
Vol 11 Issue 4 Sep- Oct 2017
Page No.: 
Sub Title: 
How rapidly altering clinatic parameters could trigger ominously destructive weather events
Vice Admiral Pradeep Chauhan, AVSM & Bar, VSM, IN (Retd)
Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The first Part of this Article on the effects of Climate Change (Published in SADSR Vol 11 Issue 3 (July-Aug 2017) demonstrated some of the more relevant manifestations of higher surface, tropospheric, and ocean temperatures that impact societal insecurity and instability at the local, national, and transnational levels. Prominent amongst them is large scale crop-failure, resulting first in severe and protracted drought, then to a substantial drop in food security across wide swaths of human habitation, and thence to heat-induced human migration, exacerbating existing geopolitical fault lines and promoting and accelerating the rise of malevolent non-State actors and terrorist organisations such as the Daesh/Islamic State (IS), al Shabaab and Boko Haram. 

Within the maritime domain, rising surface temperatures have resulted in a sharp increase in the frequency,severity, and path-unpredictability of cyclones, with attendant flooding. This is forcing, inter-alia, increased human-migration and adding to the operational strain that the Navy and the Coast Guard must bear. The following facts are pertinent:

• Over the past 10,000 years or so in which human civilisation emerged, the Earth’s climate has been unusually stable. Global temperatures and sea levels have hardly varied.  We have taken advantage of this stability to grow crops, build cities and develop a global economy. This period is now ending.

• Human activities are trapping heat, adding energy to the Earth’s system equal to the energy of four nuclear bombs of the size dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, every second!

• Small changes in global temperature produce large changes in the global climate. If the global temperature were 5°C cooler, we would be in an ice age last experienced some 10,000 years ago. 5° C warmer and we would be in a climate of heat last experienced by the planet over 10 million years ago, long before the beginning of human existence.

This (Part-II) addresses further security-impacts relating to the melting of mountain glaciers, Arctic sea ice and ice sheets, as also rising sea levels resulting from the thermal expansion of the oceans. Extreme rainfall events, more frequent high-intensity storms, extensive flooding, changes in sea-salinity, maritime-capacity-&-capability stress to cater for enhanced Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR), prolonged regional droughts and water-scarcity driven migration are amongst the more prominent impacts that we should expect.

Water Surfeit

An increase in rainfall can be a blessing for a country that has the ability to capture, store, and distribute the additional water, but is a curse for a country that does not have adequate land management practices or infrastructure.  Even where it is a blessing, it is likely to be a mixed one, because regions that benefit from additional rainfall will also need to cope with an influx of migrants from water-scarce areas, thereby aggravating existing national and/or inter-State tensions.  Within India itself, extensive flooding caused by heavy rainfall has become endemic in large portions of the country.  In 2017, the states of Gujarat, Bihar, J&K, Maharashtra (including Mumbai) and even parts of Rajasthan were quite unable to handle increased rainfall, requiring the intervention of all three defence services for in-country HADR operations in aid of civil power.  Where the rainfall is both heavy and unseasonal, the call for HADR from the defence services is even more strident, as was the recent case in Uttarakhand (2013), J&K (2014) and Tamil Nadu (2015). This inability to deal with increased rainfall extends across much of India’s neighbourhood, with Sri Lanka, Nepal and, farther afield, the Philippines, all offering recurring examples. 

While in the civilian world, ‘humanitarian logistics’, which forms the core of HADR operations, is less well-established a discipline than ‘commercial logistics’, the three defence services of India are extremely good at transferring their established competence in military logistics into practices, procedures and processes needed for humanitarian logistics. Thus, on the one hand, there is much to be commended in the comprehensiveness and alacrity with which the Army, Navy and Air Force, under the coordinating-umbrella of HQIDS, have responded to each such crisis. On the other, each of them is, nevertheless, experiencing a sharp increase in ‘operational stretch’ precisely because of the increased demand across the region for HADR. As these adverse effects of climate-changes inexorably increase, the operational load that HADR places upon this already-stretched instrument of the Indian State will increasingly impact other facets of national security that it is expected to provide.

This story of HADR-generated operational-stretch is repeated in the extensive flooding attendant upon cyclones and storm-surge activity, whose increased frequency and intensity are, once again, manifestations of climate change.  India’s humanitarian response to the trail of death and destruction caused in the Philippines by Cyclone Haiyan in December 2013 was given tangible manifestation almost entirely by the efforts of the army, navy and air force.  Closer home, the havoc wreaked by Cyclone Hud-Hud in August 2014 saw the Indian Armed Forces successfully launch HADR operations on a massive scale.  With the anticipated increase in the frequency and the intensity of cyclones and storm-surges, the Indian Navy in particular, will  need to draw up detailed contingency plans to deal with the inundation of its coastal infrastructure, including, in several cases, its current base-ports and their associated waterfront facilities.  

Mitigating the deleterious effects of the ‘operational stretch’ while dealing proactively with that this facet of climate change is, perhaps, best done through regional cooperative mechanisms, in which several countries contribute. There are, additionally, important beneficial geopolitical spin-offs to regional cooperation. Where maritime HADR is concerned, the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) offers an extant and mature structure for the dissemination of political direction. Likewise, functional instruments through which such regional approaches can optimally be made within the Indo-Pacific are already available - in the form of the Western Pacific Naval Symposium (WPNS) and the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS). Some members of the IONS construct are also members or observers of the WPNS and this inclusiveness can and should be leveraged to advantage. The Indian Ocean has long lacked a suitable security structure and IONS answers this need, at least within the maritime domain, since it brings together the principal maritime organisations (mostly navies, but sometime coast guard structures and, on occasion, even police forces) of 27 littoral states of the Indian Ocean Region. Sub-regional maritime issues, including HADR are handled by grouping the countries into four littoral sub-regions.

HADR (Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief) exercises and operations are the most readily acceptable and, regionally, the most useful, of all cooperative maritime activities. For instance, the Hawaii-based headquarters of the US Pacific Command (PACOM), has built upon the effectiveness of the humanitarian relief provided by the hospital ship, the USNS Mercy in the aftermath of the tsunami-earthquakes of 2004 (Indo-Pacific) and 2005 (Java, Indonesia). HADR missions, termed “Pacific Partnership” were successfully launched to provide succour and relief across the PACOM ‘Area of Operations’ (AOR). The USNS Mercy is deployed on these missions every alternate year, while the US Navy deploys an LPD in the ‘gap’ years.  PACOM invites the militaries of all nations within its AOR to partner with it in these annual humanitarian missions.  India had initially responded admirably, sending multi-disciplinary medical and associated support-personnel, drawn from all three Armed Forces, aboard the USNS Mercy and the USS Peleliu, for three years - 2006, 2007, and, 2008. Over these three years, the significant and meaningful contribution of the Indian contingent, in providing medical succour and humanitarian relief to stricken people of the region, was genuinely beneficial and was extremely well-appreciated. 

Clearly, there are also several specifically-maritime manifestations of security infirmities caused by climate change - and India’s is a particularly critical case. The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s most recent report on the risks involved in climate change unequivocally states that with 1 metre of rise in the global sea level, “the probability of what is now a ‘100-year flood event’ becomes about 40 times more likely in Shanghai, 200 times more likely in New York, and 1000 times more likely in Kolkata. Defences can be upgraded to maintain the probability of a flood at a constant level, but this will be expensive, and the losses from flooding will still increase, as the floods that do occur will have greater depth.”

Turning to the impact upon maritime security of the melting of the polar ice sheets, the situation is gradually approaching criticality. The percentage contribution of the melting of land ice to sea level rise is some 52%, while another 38% is contributed by the thermal expansion of the oceans as a result of surface and tropospheric warming. Rising sea levels are a far more immediate problem than most Indian analysts realise. Figure 1 shows the likely ranges of this rise, between now and the end of this century. 

Indeed, if one were to rank countries according to the total number of people who would be at severe risk from a rise in sea level, India stood at ‘Number One’ in 2008 and is projected to retain this dubious honour in 2050, too - as the following table by the greatly respected climatologist, David Wheeler, of the ‘Center for Global Development’, clearly shows:

Likewise, the linkages between ‘external’ and ‘internal’ threats arising from the impact of climate change are clearly discernible in the maritime space as well. For instance, the Republic of the Maldives is located a mere 250 nm south-west of India. Its constituent islands and atolls have an average elevation above the current Mean Sea Level of just five feet (the highest elevation is a mere eight feet!). Thus, it is extremely susceptible to a rise in sea levels because of global warming.  The 5th Report of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), predicts that in a ‘high emissions’ scenario, there will be a global rise by 52-98 cm (20.47 to 36.22 inches) by the year 2100. This would be disastrous for Maldives — its population is about 336,000 people, many or all of whom could suddenly become ‘boat people’! Clearly, we need to have multi-dimensional contingency plans in place to deal with the obvious security implications of the unfolding of such a scenario. 

There has been much recent speculation upon the impact upon maritime security of the melting of the Arctic ice-sheet as a function of the potential opening of new routes for maritime trade — what is often called the Northern Sea Route (NSR). The Arctic is warming at twice the rate of anywhere else on earth and paleoclimate data uniformly indicates that the Arctic ice-sheet cannot survive in a world where carbon concentrations exceed their current level (400 ppm). Obviously, much will depend upon technological and political solutions that humans will — or will not — find to reduce emissions. If nothing is done — either politically or technologically — to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, the resulting ice-melt could well result in an ice-free Arctic Region in the latter half of the present century. The opening of the NSR will certainly affect seaborne trade and International Sea Lanes in the northern ‘east-west’ reaches of Eurasia, although the effect upon the southern ‘east-west’ stretch of the Eurasian littoral will be far less. 

As a consequence, the geopolitical importance of ports such as those in the Koreas and in Japan will significantly increase. Since China has both components of this geography in large measure, it is frantically developing port-infrastructure in its relatively under-developed coast north of the Yangtse River.  Such export-oriented northern Chinese ports, catering to shipping along the NSR would save about 25% in transit time - provided they were trading with northern Europe. 

Asia’s big exporters — Japan, South Korea and China — are all planning-for or already investing in ice-capable vessels. Quite clearly, changes in shipping patterns may be expected over the medium to long term. This has obvious security and war-fighting implications for India and its navy. At the strategic level, every such new ‘International Sea Lane’ would need to have intermediate ports and shore-based multi-modal transportation infrastructure to provide access to hinterland areas. Only then could the routes become competitive with their more well-established counterparts. Consequently, vigorous Chinese activity to capture and exploit this ‘virgin’ market may be expected. The Belt-and-Road Initiative offers important pointers in this regard and lends great urgency to Indian alternative-formulations for pan-regional consolidation structures such as Project MAUSAM and SAGAR, and, especially, inter-regional connectivity mechanisms such as the International North-South Transit Corridor and the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor.

A range of naval mission-impacts, too, result from the aforementioned adverse impacts. Some of these relate distinctly to naval war-fighting capabilities.  For instance, the salinity of seawater near the ocean’s surface has changed measurably from 1950 to 2000. This is shown in Figure 2, where the areas in grey are the Earth’s landmasses.  Areas in red indicate regions of the sea that have become saltier, while those in blue are sea-regions where water is now less salty.  The consequences of this upon submarine and anti-submarine operations are both, obvious and significant.

Apart from warfighting, climate change will significantly strain military transportation resources and supporting force structures in respect of coastal security, antipiracy and counter terrorism off Somalia, and, as has already been touched upon, HADR missions. In order to mitigate the security impacts of climate change, four of the most critical tasks that need to be urgently undertaken by the Indian Navy are:

•    Prepare for increased strain on capabilities due to more frequent and more complex HADR missions

•    Address vulnerabilities of naval coastal installations to anticipated sea-level rise and increased storm surges

•    Address assessed impacts upon ASW operations and naval force capabilities

•    Address heightened regional maritime demands for capacity-building and capability-enhancement in Small Island Developing States of the IOR and the South Pacific, as a function of the IPCC’s climate change scenarios

Water Stress

A more vigorous hydrological cycle that results from climate change will manifest itself not only in terms of excess water, but equally in terms of water scarcity, often denoted as water stress. Although thresholds for water stress are largely arbitrary, thresholds of ‘moderate’, ‘chronic’ and ‘extreme’ water-shortage are widely used, based on the per-capita availability of water. The number of people exposed to extreme water shortage is projected to double, globally, by the middle of the current century due to population growth alone. Figure 3 depicts the distribution of water stress (as a function of water withdrawals to water-supply) in 2040.

Figure 4 zooms in on contemporary India, and shows that the situation obtaining is far from comforting.              

While India’s ‘frugal innovativeness’ (jugaad) could provide some degree of mitigation internally, the pressures upon it  from more severely affected immediate neighbourhood would be intense. 

Professor Shi Yinhong of China’s Renmin University explains that “ could become the single most sought-after resource globally..... Large fluctuations in price, or constraints on availability, could contribute to state failure.... Pressure for secure, affordable supply, together with a loss of confidence in the markets, would result in a high priority being placed on the security of imports. The risk of conflict would be significant in situations where the developing countries themselves faced shortfalls. At the same time, the importance of overseas assets to food security would lead great powers to invest more in defending strategic trade routes, which could themselves become subject to military confrontation.”

Increasing water scarcity will contribute to instability throughout the world, as populations migrate within and across borders, creating the conditions for social or political upheaval along the way. Water scarcity also shapes the geopolitical order when States engage in direct competition with neighbours over shrinking water supplies. 

Turkey, for example, is the only country in the Middle East that does not depend on water supplies that originate outside of its borders. However, climate change has left all other countries that are dependent on water from the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers more vulnerable to deliberate supply disruption. Turkey is seeking to maximize this leverage since its 22 dams &19 power plants along the Euphrates give it the capacity to cut Syria’s water supply by up to 40% and Iraq’s water supply by up to 80%.  Syria is, therefore, constrained in its ability to ignore or alienate Turkey — unless, of course, it chooses a course of direct military confrontation.  Likewise, much of Israel’s geopolitical game moves are a function of Israel’s desire to be free from the yoke of water-dependence upon Turkey.  With the major aquafers, access to which could enable Israel’s water security, being located in the West Bank and the Golan Heights, control over these areas becomes essential. Control over water has thus been amongst the more prominent drivers of Israel’s military confrontation with Syria and Jordan.  

Closer home, the security impact upon India of the receding of Himalayan glaciers as a result of climate change is evident in Nepal, which frequently suffers sudden and devastating floods as a result of the bursting of glacial lakes. Among the most critical and dangerous of Nepal’s glacial lakes is the TshoRolpa Lake, which is the largest moraine-dammed proglacial lake of the Nepal Himalayas. It is fed by the Tradkarding Glacier, which is retreating at an average rate of over 20 metres per year, and in some years within the last decade, at an astonishing 100 metres a year.

Climate change will have a range of decisively negative effects on global health during the next three decades, particularly in the developing world. Water-borne and vector-borne diseases, such as malaria and dengue fever, will be most prevalent in countries that experience significant additional rainfall due to climate change.  Conversely, many airborne diseases will thrive in those areas that become more arid due to drought and higher temperatures, such as in parts of Brazil. Shortages of food or fresh drinking water will also render human populations more susceptible to illness and less capable of rapidly recovering.  Moreover, the risk of a pandemic is heightened when deteriorating conditions prompt human migration.

The attendant security impact on the geopolitical landscape is not hard to imagine.

It must never be forgotten that in the developing world, even a relatively small climatic-shift can trigger or exacerbate food shortages, water scarcity, destructive weather events, the spread of disease, human migration, and natural resource competition, and, perhaps most ominous of all, can lead to State failure. This possibility of partial or total ‘State-failure,’ as a consequence of the adverse effects of climate change, is what the concluding article of this series will address.