Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand

The changing climate of international security

Climate change presents a serious threat to international peace and security.

At first glance, it may seem like a step too far to link climate change and conflict. After all, what do a couple of degrees Celsius here or there have to do with rising tensions in the Middle East, the spread of terrorism or changing geopolitics?

More than you might think…

This week in class we discussed the importance of analyzing conflicts in the context of broader trends and trajectories, and I believe climate change is a key trend that is already affecting conflict and will increasingly shape conflicts in the future.

While the extent to which the climate changes this century depends largely on the success of global mitigation efforts, some global warming is already locked in. The world is 0.9º Celsius warmer than it was 100 years ago and temperatures continue to rise.

This means that we are already living (and waging conflict and building peace) in a climate that is increasingly warmer, with different patterns of rainfall, higher sea levels and more frequent and extreme weather events. These impacts are expected to increase in the future.

Our climate is delivering regular reminders that these risks are no longer a distant threat. Last year was once again the hottest on record. This year, ongoing droughts in the Horn of Africa, Sudan and Syria, recent heatwaves in Pakistan and the United Kingdom, as well as severe floods and landslides in Colombia and Sri Lanka show the magnitude of the climate risks we face. While it is difficult to attribute any one of these events to climate change, scientists indicate that such disasters are becoming more frequent and intense in a warmer climate.

Where climate change impacts intersect with local vulnerabilities – such as resource scarcity, environmental stresses, weak governance, social tensions and conflict – their effect will be magnified. Even if not catastrophic in themselves, climate change impacts could multiply and compound these existing risks, threatening to overburden states and regions that are already fragile and prone to conflict.

In this sense, climate change can act as a threat multiplier and a destabilizing force. However, unlike traditional security threats that involve a particular actor operating in a certain space and point in time, climate change has the potential to contribute to multiple security hazards, occurring globally, simultaneously.

Defense forces around the world are starting to recognize these security implications of climate change:

  • British Ministry of Defence concluded in its 2010 Global Strategic Trends publication that “climate change will amplify existing social, political and resource stresses, shifting the tipping point at which conflict ignites, rather than directly causing it”
  • 2014 United States Quadrennial Defense Review recognised climate change as a “significant challenge” that is likely to “aggravate stressors abroad… and conditions that can enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence”
  • United Nations Secretary General, António Guterres, earlier this year called climate change “an unprecedented and growing threat to peace and prosperity”

Climate change clearly poses a serious threat to international security, but I have seen from working on climate policy that it also presents an opportunity for greater cooperation and integration. Exchanging experience and expertise in carbon pricing, adaptation, clean energy and energy efficiency could help states better combat climate change, while strengthening cross-community partnerships and drawing states closer together.

As peace practitioners, I believe our response to the climate crisis should be threefold:

  1. Adopt a ‘climate lens’: Integrate the security implications of climate change into your approaches to conflict analysis, conflict prevention, peacebuilding and development. By mainstreaming climate considerations, our work will be more holistic and sustainable.
  2. Call for stronger climate action: Push for stronger national and international action on climate change, not only as an environmental issue, but also as an issue critical to global peace and security.
  3. Support climate resilience: In your own work, develop and share best practices to help build the capacity and resilience of communities so they can better manage climate impacts and prevent conflict arising from environmental pressures.

The security climate is always changing, and climate change is adding another level of complexity and pressure that we need to address as peace practitioners.

Dane Moores – Australia

Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 23

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This entry was posted on June 29, 2017 by and tagged , , , , , , .
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