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How the Chinese Military is Preparing for Climate Change - The Green Line

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Beijing now plays a crucial part in the global supply chain, and with it, the global CO2 output. However, even though China only recently reached this level of industrialisation, climate change is hitting them at the same time as everywhere else. These changes in the environment are pushing China to fish in potentially war-starting waters, dam potentially drought-causing rivers, and force the state to attempt to achieve 60 years of energy development in the space of five. Can they do it, or will China collapse under its own weight?


This is Part Two of our special five part series focusing on The Geopolitics of Climate Change

 

Episode Overview:


Part 1: Finding the Fault Lines (2:01)

  • Lou Munden kicks us off with some context about the work of the Mission Climate Project and its work projecting the impact of climate change on China.

  • Munden points to the challenges facing China, including from governmental and economic perspectives where actions are being taken but on a timeline that will be too slow in reacting to escalating conditions, as well as the People's Liberation Army (PLA) being significantly behind its Western counterparts in responding to climate disasters.

  • China is now a net food importer and facing historically low domestic crop yields, with massive competing demands for food and water resources. We discuss how China may address resource scarcity in the near future and a more competitive international environment, while noting that climate change cannot be overcome collectively without the participation of China.

Part 2: Green Tides Forming Red Divides (16:59)

  • Kevin Rudd notes China's experience with climate events already and debunks the idea that China is not taking the threat of climate change seriously, noting the Chinese Government's concerns about national security and food security.

  • We discuss China's contesting of waters in East and South East Asia in its attempt to secure protein sources, among other strategic interests, with incidents between ASEAN nations that have already seen vessels fired upon.

  • Rudd asserts that it would "strategically illiterate" to assume that China would cease acting on climate change due to geopolitical tensions with the United States, given China has been acting on climate change for its own strategic interests before the wider international community's insistence.

  • We discuss China's geopolitical interest in a stable Pakistan and its heavy investment in infrastructure and emergency assistance, noting the vital role of the Indus River for Pakistan's water security. We also discuss the geostrategic considerations around North Korea and the potential for China to be impacted by mass migration caused by famine.

  • We conclude by focusing on China's near future policy positions on climate change, including its investment in its solar power technology industry as well as its energy transition influenced by the need to maintain energy security in a strategic conflict.

Part 3: The Frail Factory (37:00)

  • Erin Sikorsky highlights that large proportion of the Chinese population living around river basins, as well as noting that while China has roughly 20 per cent of the world's population, it controls only 6 per cent of the global fresh water.

  • We discuss how important these rivers are to China's economy and its water security, and its dam building investments as an ongoing and escalating source of tension with its South and South East Asian neighbours.

  • This last year saw China experience its worst ever harvest. We discuss how these conditions are translating into more aggressive behaviours to secure food, including their fishing activities further and further from Chinese shores.

  • We discuss China's priorities in responding to climate change, including securing infrastructure, bolstering food, water, and energy security to help build and maintain national resilience, and navigating international tensions.

Part 4: Ceding Sovereignty (55:56)

  • Erik Solheim points out the struggles militaries across the world, including China, are struggling to adapt to the rise of climate impacts, including through peacekeeping operations and international development.

  • We discuss the priorities of the Green Belt and Road Initiative, including investing in renewable energy and green infrastructure.

  • We hypothesise how China will navigate food insecurity, noting its need to import food to feed its population, and whether the Government would pass on rising food prices or attempt to subsidise these costs. We then turn to how China will approach food and water shortages of its surrounding neighbours.

  • We conclude with a discussion on China's heavy investment in green and renewable energy technologies from a security and an economic perspective.

 

Episode Guests:


Lou Munden

  • Co-founder of the Mission Climate Project

  • He is a sustainable development expert, and the inventor of TMP Climate’s data systems

  • He also hosts the ‘I’m Not a Scientist’ podcast

Kevin Rudd

  • 26th Prime Minister of Australia

  • President and CEO of Asian Society and President of the Asia Society Policy Institute

  • Senior Fellow of the John F Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University

  • Chair of the Independent Commission on Multilateralism at the International Peace Institute

  • Chair of Sanitation and Water For All

Erin Sikorsky

  • Director of The Center for Climate and Security

  • Director of The International Military Council on Climate and Security

  • Previously served as Deputy Director of the Strategic Futures Group on the National Intelligence Council (NIC) in the US, where she co-authored the quadrennial Global Trends report and led the US intelligence community’s environmental and climate security analysis.

Erik Solheim

  • President of the Chinese Green Belt and Road Initiative

  • Former Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations

  • Former Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme between May 2016 and November 2018

  • Solheim held the combined portfolio of Norway’s Minister of the Environment and International Development from 2007 to 2012

 

The Red Line's Chinese Climate Security Reading List:

We’ve compiled a list of further reading to better understand the geopolitics of climate change and China.

Books:

Politics in China: An Introduction

William A Joseph


China's Next Act: How Sustainability and Technology are Reshaping China's Rise and the World's Future

Scott M Moore

Nomad Century: How Climate Change Will Reshape Our World

Gaia Vince

 

For episode transcripts, monthly geopolitics Q&A’s, member-only videos and to support the show, check out our Patreon here: https://www.patreon.com/theredlinepodcast


This production was brought to you by The Red Line and Mission Climate Project.