Forward? Barack Obama’s second term

By Chris Raggett, Assistant editor

Although foreign policy played a small role in the US presidential campaign late last year, the way Barack Obama handles Iran before 2016 could determine how the president goes down in history. So argues Mark Fitzpatrick, the director of the IISS’s non-proliferation programme, speaking at a discussion meeting last week about Obama’s upcoming second term.

Over the weekend, Iran signalled it might return in late February to talks with the international community over its disputed nuclear programme. However, the country has also recently notified the UN nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, that it will be installing new, more efficient centrifuges at its uranium-enrichment facility at Natanz. This would dramatically shorten the time it would take Tehran to ‘break-out’ and make a nuclear bomb after expelling IAEA inspectors. Fitzpatrick, who believes there is the chance that some sort of military action ‘may come into play’ in the next four years to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, has said the installation of new centrifuges would be a ‘game changer‘.

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Sandy blows climate change back onto agenda

Hurricane Sandy makes landfall in the US. Photo copyright EUMETEOSAT 2012

Hurricane Sandy makes landfall in the US. Photo copyright EUMETEOSAT 2012

By Dr Jeffrey Mazo, Managing Editor, Survival; Research Fellow for Environmental Security  and Science Policy

Stuck in my hotel in Washington DC channel-zapping for hours during Hurricane Sandy last week, I was surprised not to hear one mention of global warming in connection with the storm, despite the almost non-stop coverage that pushed even the close-fought presidential election out of the headlines.

Admittedly, this was a limited and idiosyncratic sample of the coverage, and people began blogging and writing about Sandy and global warming quickly enough. And I was in DC for a series of meetings and lectures at IISS-US and SAIS on the consequences of catastrophic climate change. At my (rescheduled) events the question of whether Sandy was a manifestation of climate change came up again and again.

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As ice disappears, commercial opportunities come into view

Arctic Sea ice

Arctic Sea Ice. Photo Credit: NASA/GSFC

By Jens Wardenaer, Research Analyst and Editorial Assistant

The annual summer minimum for Arctic sea ice has been declining faster than expected, with this year marking a record low.

On 16 September, Arctic sea ice reached its lowest extent since satellite records began in 1979, according to preliminary figures from the National Snow and Ice Data Centre. At 3.41 million square metres, this year’s melt beat the previous 2007 record by 760,000 square kilometres. But while the decline of sea-ice extent is the most visible metric of climate change in the Arctic, another trend is even more worrying. For the third straight summer the total volume of ice set a new record low, and is now only 20% of the 2000 level.

It is too early to say whether this will be an annual phenomenon, but the speed of the melt has already exceeded prognoses. The record for minimum ice extent was already reached on 26 August, nearly one month earlier than the 2007 record. According to scientists, the rate of decline is faster than any models have been able to capture. Most experts previously thought it possible that the Arctic would be ice-free in the summer by 2050; now more and more scientists believe that may occur as soon as 2030, or even before 2020. Read the rest of this entry »

Greenland: rare earth in the Arctic

Kangaamiut, Greenland. Photo from ilovegreenland/Greenland Tourism

By Sarah Johnstone, Assistant editor, online

A weak Greenland could offer major powers like China and the United States a back door into the Arctic region, Dr Damien Degeorges said during a recent talk at the IISS. Rich in resources, covering a vast area but sparsely populated, the autonomous Danish territory would need to ensure its long-term economic viability as it moved towards full independence. It also needed to raise educational levels and make arrangements for its future defence.

Half the size of Europe, Greenland had enough of the rare-earth elements vital to many high-tech devices to supply an estimated 25% of global requirements for 50 years, Degeorges said. The island was becoming ‘a hypermarket of natural resources’ as a warming climate melted the ice sheet and made mining easier.

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