Last month the UN Security Council requested that the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon incorporates climate change projections in his reports on global trouble-spots. The endorsement of climate change as a security threat came despite the resistance of some council members, such as Russia, to adopt a strong language.
Now, as this agenda unfolds over the next decade, the key question is: will it lead to the greater militarisation over dwindling resources, food shortages, droughts and floods — or to greater cooperation among people and nations in climate adaptation and the management of resources?
Three clues: Military, Risk, and Governance
In order to unpack this agenda, I offer a view of three distinct themes that are shaping the security narrative. All three must be gradually incorporated into a comprehensive agenda of climate security.
1. A role for the military
It is sensible to advocate for greater military attention to climate security. But a new military agenda must support peace and cooperation. The temptation of analysts to suggest deterrence roles for the military will be high, especially in cases of imminent transboundary conflicts, as is the case of tensions along the India-Bangladesh border due to the climate-induced migrations that could result from rising sea levels in Bangladesh. A recent review of Indonesia’s military and climate change by The Diplomat, the international affairs publication in the Asia-Pacific region, argues that:
“With more than 17,000 islands and 80,000 kilometers of coastline, Indonesia is extremely vulnerable to climate change. [...] Rising temperatures will almost certainly have a negative impact on human security in Indonesia, which in turn will increase the probability of domestic instability and introduce new regional security concerns. With this in mind, it’s important that Indonesia’s armed forces take a range of measures to prioritize environmental security, including procuring new equipment, strengthening bilateral and multilateral relations, and undertaking training for new roles and missions.”
2. Risk management
Climate change is now a mainstream concern in the insurance and re-insurance sectors. The work of the IPCC’s Working Group II helped to establish the analysis of vulnerabilities. Now the logic of climate risk is naturally landing onto the security agenda. E3G’s latest report, Degrees of Risk: Defining a Risk Management Framework for Climate Security, proposes taking lessons from the security community and adopting a risk management approach through National Climate Risk Assessments.
3. Governance and institutions
For Aaron Wolf, professor in the Department of Geoscience at Oregon State University, whether climate threats will lead to conflict or not will largely depend on what kind of institutions are in place to help negotiate and mediate the adaptation. His work on Basins at Risk is an important contribution to the governance discussion. The Wilson Center’s Environmental Change and Security Programme recently hosted Mr. Wolf in discussing his work.
Watch Aaron Wolf illustrate his point with the Himalayas. “There are a billion and half people who rely on the waters that originate in the Himalayas,” he said at a Wilson Center event. Because of climate change, the Himalayas may experience tremendous flooding, and conversely, extreme drought. Unfortunately, he added, “the Himalayan basins do not have any treaty coverage to deal with that variability.” Without treaties, it is difficult for countries to cooperate and setup a framework for mitigating the variability that might arise.
Climate security is now fully on the international agenda and is only likely to grow in importance. Over the last five years, the military perspective on climate change has not only gone unchallenged, it has also been embraced by environmentalists and climate campaigners for giving power credentials to their message. But this agenda could lead to further militarisation of societies.
Because of its infancy, there is an opportunity to shape a climate security agenda that leads to positive, peaceful outcomes. The agenda would include the approaches to economic risk that are emerging from the corporate, scientific and policy sectors – and could usefully include the participation of the insurance and re-insurance sectors as a first step to move the focus from conflict to one of economic and investment risks and opportunities.
There is also a well-established body of research developed of 30 years by environmental governance scholars. This has emphasised the institutional mechanisms that can help build trust. cooperation and peace in dealing with environmental instability. Broadening the climate security agenda to encompass economic risk and environmental governance is crucial to ensure that it remains a positive force for human security.