ECC Platform Library

 

Will Anyone Mention the C Word?

12 February, 2016
Benjamin Pohl, adelphi

‘No challenge poses a greater threat to our future and future generations than a change in climate’. Thus spoke President Obama, and most Western leaders have done likewise. Most have also underlined the national security risks emanating from climate change, with John Kerry calling it ‘another weapon of mass destruction, perhaps even the world's most fearsome weapon of mass destruction’. Yet as the security policy community descends on Munich for its annual conference, climate change is likely to be a sideshow, again, despite the global attention that climate change received in the context of December’s conference in Paris.

What explains this disconnect? It is not as if the security community as a whole had not noticed. These days, some 70% of the world’s militaries acknowledge climate change as a national security threat. The US military has been among those most outspoken about the need to prepare for a future with higher temperatures and an ever less reliable hydrological cycle. Last November, the Dutch government convened a high-ranking Planetary Security Conference, moderated for two days by its foreign ministry’s political director. And, as readers of the blog are likely well aware, the foreign ministers of the G7 last year welcomed a report that detailed seven mechanisms linking anthropogenic climate change to increasing state fragility.

And yet, climate change has not left much of a mark on the security policy community. There are several reasons, but one stands out: confronted with a surplus of crises, why invest political capital into a tangentially related issue, climate security, whose full force will only be felt in a few decades’ time?

Why should climate change concern security policy-makers?

The short answer is: climate change is already playing a role in several of the most worrying conflicts today. And we know that a significant amount of additional climate change is already built into the system, regardless of the mitigation actions that are being taken (and their cumulative level of ambition is rather limited as of now).

As a result, we risk facing a future world in such disequilibrium that it becomes unmanageable. If nothing changes (safe the climate, for the worse), it is easy to predict that our crisis management capabilities will simply be overwhelmed. It would make the ominous title of this year’s Munich Security Report – ‘Boundless Chaos, Reckless Spoilers, Helpless Guardians’ – a programmatic statement. If we cannot mobilize political capital today, when we are still faced with limited climate change impacts, where do we suppose we will generate it from once we hit crisis mode full-on?

For the long answer, it might be instructive to look at the International Crisis Group’s (ICG) 2016 list of ‘conflicts to watch’. A majority of these conflicts is taking place in regions where large parts of the population rely on livelihoods that are very sensitive to climate change, and some where climate change is already playing a role in fuelling conflict. That is not to say, of course, that climate change is the single or primary driver of these conflicts; it is not, because changes in the physical environment need to be related to socio-economic conflicts to develop their potential for conflict (or cooperation). Yet we need to acknowledge the partial overlap between climatic vulnerability and existing conflicts and try to break the negative feedback links between the two.

Security impacts today…

In January, ICG’s president Jean-Marie Guéhenno warned about 9 (sets of) conflicts in Foreign Policy: Iraq/Syria, Turkey, Yemen, Libya, the Lake Chad basin, South Sudan, Burundi, Afghanistan, and the South China Sea (adding Colombia as a hopeful example of a civil war that may soon be overcome). As the subsequent paragraphs will detail, many of these conflicts feature an important dimension related to environmental change.

In Syria, the links between climate change, a long drought preceding the current civil war, and the outbreak of the latter have been discussed in some detail, both academically and in the media. There is no consensus yet regarding the precise mechanisms linking environmental change and the outbreak of violence, but a very plausible argument can be made that the lack of apparent willingness or ability of the Syrian government to support the hundreds of thousands that were displaced due to the drought contributed to existing grievances and chipped away at what remained of governmental legitimacy. Although it is crucial to better understand the exact links in order to be able to counteract them elsewhere, any residual uncertainty should not distract from the relevance of environmental change. As Caitlin Werrell and Francesco Femia of the Center of Climate and Security aptly put it, there are risks of both oversimplifying and underestimating the connection.

In Yemen, the ongoing civil war conceals considerable local violence over land and water. Dwindling availability is the consequence of a confluence of overexploitation (with most of the country’s aquifers depleted or polluted), mismanagement (widespread unlicensed drilling), and climate change (including higher temperatures and reduced precipitation). Given the widespread availability of arms and breakdown in trust into traditional conflict resolution mechanisms, the Yemeni ministry of the interior has estimated that some 4,000 people die each year in violence over land and water.          

The Lake Chad basin is among the regions with the highest number of fatalities from terrorism, as Boko Haram has killed some 10,000 people over the last years. Simultaneously, the Lake has shrunk enormously over the last decades, severely impacting livelihoods. To what extent and how exactly these two trends are related – e.g., to what extent the loss of livelihoods decreases the opportunity cost of joining Boko Haram, or to what extent it fuels the grievances that give it legitimacy – continues to be contested, much as the general links between poverty and violence. But the foreseeable environmental degradation that climate change is expected to bring about across the entire region, in combination with strong demographic growth make it urgent to build sustainable livelihoods so as to stem the violence.

Climate change is also playing a significant role in the conflicts in South Sudan. Pastoral communities in particular are confronted with deteriorating conditions including higher temperatures, less rainfall and more extreme-weather events. Some of the worst violence has taken place in regions that are particularly drought-prone as pastoralists compete for resources or shift their routes in ways that bring them in conflict with farmers. As in the other cases, there is no determinism linking environmental change and conflict, but patterns of political exploitation of vulnerability and competition. Addressing these will however often require adaptation to climate change, in ways that are sensitive to the region’s conflict potential.

Finally, the conflict in the South China Sea has gained greater notoriety in the past few years, due to an increasingly explicit stand-off between China on the one, and various other riparians as well as the U.S. Navy on the other hand. There are various strategic assets at stake – free navigation, nationalist credibility, fossil fuels – but one potentially crucial issue is fisheries. In part, that is due to their tactical value – fishing fleets also stake territorial claims, and protecting them offers governments a lower-risk opportunity for visibly upholding their claims. But given its global importance (providing some 10% of global catch) and its falling stocks, it is easy to see how overfishing along with the acidifying impacts of climate change may intensify competition and feed into inter-governmental tensions.

…and the looming challenges of tomorrow

The five examples above capture only a small part of the fragility-inducing impacts of anthropogenic climate change. The impact mechanisms differ, but the implication is that, unless counteracted, more pronounced environmental change will induce more and more intense fragility of states and regions around the world. This in turn will increase the number of violent conflicts.

Because war is the result of numerous intersecting pressures and because human agency always looms large in the decisions that eventually add up to war, we do not know which country will be the next Syria. However, given the many things we do know about the future impacts of climate change, we know that the pressures that have contributed to so many of the world’s worst conflicts will rise significantly. In other words, the likelihood of another state implosion like the one in Syria – and the number of simultaneous implosions – will rise, all else remaining equal.

Therefore, we need to ensure that all else does not remain equal, that the world invests into systematic and conflict-sensitive climate adaptation efforts, that peacebuilding efforts are cognizant of impending environmental change, and that dispute resolution mechanisms on the natural resources through which climate change affects social outcomes are systematically strengthened. We need to build resilience to both environmental changes and societal fragility. Doing so goes beyond the purview of the security policy-makers assembled in Munich. But their acknowledgement and analysis of these risks is a necessary if insufficient ingredient for the integrated response that is needed.

 

Benjamin Pohl is a senior project manager at adelphi working on the intersection of global environmental change with foreign, security, and development policy. He has co-developed the ECC Factbook and is a co-author of A New Climate for Peace.

ArticleClimate Diplomacy
Topic
Climate Change
Climate Diplomacy
Early Warning & Risk Analysis
Security

Region
Sub-Saharan Africa
Global Issues
Asia

Topics

Adaptation & Resilience

All countries will need to adapt to some of the environmental, social and economic impacts of climate change that are already unavoidable. Food security, livelihoods, water resource availability and public health are some affected areas. People living in poverty are more vulnerable, having a lower capacity to adapt. Thus, it is essential to promote resilience building. The adaptation and resilience aspects need to be mainstreamed into planning by policy makers and the private sector as well as integrated into development strategies.

Biodiversity & Livelihoods

Nature protection is most sustainable if it essentially contributes to the long-term stability of human needs. Today many regions around the world are confronted with increasing destruction of the natural foundations of life. The consequences of wide-ranging resource destruction are no longer regionally limited, but rather represent a global threat. Those affected are mainly rural populations, who find the sources of their income and the foundations of their way of life swept away. The depletion and destruction of natural resources goes hand in hand with decreasing agricultural yields and increasing poverty, which in turn forces the affected populations to deplete the remaining resources.

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Capacity Building

On the one hand, conflicts are caused by structural factors, such as economic and social inequality or environmental destruction. On the other hand, conflicts are fuelled by a lack of democratic structures, deficient mechanisms of non-violent conflict settlement, inadequate rule of law, the destruction of social and cultural identity and the disregard of human rights. Against this backdrop, development policies have been dedicated to a broad concept of security, which comprises political, economic, ecological and social stability. As a consequence, development cooperation agencies and actors have developed a broad spectrum of approaches for conflict prevention and transformation as well as for sustainable use of natural resources.

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Cities

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Civil Society

Civil society is the first victim of environmental pollution, under-development and conflicts. Economically disadvantaged and politically marginalized population groups are particularly affected by violent conflicts as well as increasing resource degradation. Simultaneously, civil society is a fundamental pillar for implementing sustainable development. It contributes in many ways to strengthening conflict prevention and plays a significant role in the peaceful and democratic development of states. It must be supported to strengthen civil rights, adherence to human rights in general and democratic participation.

Climate Change

Climate change resulting from the emission of greenhouse gases represents one of the vital challenges for international environmental policy. Flooding, droughts, shifting of climate zones and increasingly frequent and intense extreme weather events will have serious economic and social consequences for entire regions. The climate problem is also directly linked to the question of future energy generation.

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Climate Diplomacy

To address the challenges posed by climate change, a new profile of climate diplomacy is evolving. This utilises a full range of policies, including development cooperation, conflict prevention efforts, and humanitarian assistance, in addition to more traditional measures of climate change adaptation and mitigation. Moving from a risk analysis of climate-related threats to well-timed preventive action requires a greater commitment to integrating climate change concerns into development, foreign, and security policies. Examples include strengthening diplomatic networks, building new alliances with partners, and raising awareness – not only of potentially negative climate change impacts, but also of opportunities to embark on a sustainable transformation of our societies.

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Co-Benefits

Climate action entails an array of economic, social, political and environmental co-benefits. It provides an opportunity for economic growth and new jobs. Many investments can take into account climate considerations without becoming more costly. Further important co-benefits include: improved energy security, less local air and water pollution, health benefits as well as ecosystem and biodiversity protection.

Conflict Transformation

In order to overcome the structural causes of violent conflicts and thus bring about an improvement in the framework conditions for peaceful and fair development, it is essential to have long term and broadly planned peace development and peace advancement. Various governmental and non-governmental, national and international actors and groups are involved in these processes.

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Development

Climate change and development are inextricably linked. Climate change endangers the development agenda and has the potential to reverse development goals. Furthermore, successful mitigation of climate change heavily depends on development choices around the world. Therefore, development strategies need to be climate-compatible to provide long-term success, and there are viable policy options that support this compatibility. Many mitigation and adaptation activities can present development opportunities to developing countries and avoid the lock-in to environmentally damaging technologies.

Early Warning & Risk Analysis

The reasons for the development and escalation of conflicts and the incidence of risks are multifaceted and complex. Simultaneously, the assessment of the specific causes in the form of risk and conflict analyses can contribute to a better understanding of these processes and make it possible to provide warning of negative developments, or ideally help prevent them. In the context of natural resource use, risks and conflicts have gained increasing attention in the past years. The debate on possible future water wars is merely one example.

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Energy

The well-being of individuals, communities and nations depends on the availability of energy resources. The gap between energy supply and demand appears to be growing, making the world vulnerable to serious economic shocks. At the same time, the burning of fossil fuels causing climate change is one of the vital challenges of international environmental policy. So far, only rudimentary approaches exist for shaping climate and energy security in a sustainable way. The components of a strategy that can contribute to reducing vulnerabilities related to climate change and energy policy include a greater role for renewable energies, the improvement of energy efficiency and a stronger decentralisation of energy supply.

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Environment & Migration

The economic, social and environmental consequences of climate change aggravate the breakdown of eco-system-dependent livelihoods and are likely to become dominant drivers of long-term migration. Natural disasters already cause massive shorter-term displacement and the number of temporarily displaced people is likely to further increase with climate change. For vulnerable populations in vulnerable regions, such as the Sahel zone or the Ganges delta, migration often becomes the sole survival strategy. In order to address climate-related displacement and migration successfully, knowledge of effective adaptation and an improved understanding of how environmental change affects human mobility is essential. 

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Finance

Climate finance, from all sources, plays a key role in supporting and enabling adaptation and mitigation action as well as climate and energy innovation. The Paris Agreement ensured that the Green Climate Fund and the Global Environment Facility are at the core of climate finance architecture as entities entrusted with the operation of the Financial Mechanism of the UNFCCC. Increasing climate finance from all relevant public and private sources is crucial. Furthermore, much needs to be done to redirect finance flows to sustainable paths, e.g. reducing fossil fuel subsidies, introducing maritime and air transportation taxes. The conditions for green investment in developing countries should also be improved.

Forests

Forests are disappearing at an alarming rate. Competition for forest resources triggers, exacerbates, or finances numerous crises and conflicts in tropical developing countries. Illegal logging and timber trade foster instability and sometimes violent conflict by strengthening illegal and armed groups, increasing corruption and exacerbating use and claim conflicts among local communities, the state and the business sector. Forests are a vital resource to poor people but they can also become areas of conflict. Sustainable management of forest resources is therefore key to preventing violent conflict over and within forests.

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Gender

Gender plays an important role as a category of conflict for many reasons. The interlinkages between gender, environment and conflicts are complex and much research is still needed. Existing insights suggest that conflicts may worsen gender inequalities that existed before the outbreak of violence. The unequal distribution of land property rights in many parts of the world serves as an example. Moreover, women (and children) are among those most affected by both violent conflict and natural disasters. At the same time, women carry much of the burden of trying to implement rehabilitation measures after crisis events.

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Land & Food

Increasing water scarcity, desertification and crop failures due to extreme weather events are becoming more and more of a threat to global food production. While the world’s population continues to grow rapidly, food production is unable to keep pace. Due to the global food crisis in 2008, the number of hungry people reached the symbolic one billion threshold for the first time – corresponding to about 16 percent of world population. Food insecurity may be a consequence or cause of conflicts. Violent conflicts often lead to the destruction of agricultural infrastructure and means of production, as well as to the displacement of local communities.

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Minerals & Mining

In the past, the discovery and tapping of valuable or strategic resources like valuable minerals, oil and natural gas, particularly in developing and emerging countries, has often led to large scale environmental contamination and negative development. The "resource curse" of some countries shows that the wealth from resource yields is frequently unfairly distributed; instead of serving development it advanced the formation of corrupt elites and in some cases even led to conflicts and civil wars. Measures in various sectors and at all levels are important in order to use the potential of these natural resources in a manner that is sustainable and prevents conflicts.

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Private Sector

The spread of violent conflict not only affects people but also companies located in such regions. Destruction of investments and infrastructure, collapse of markets and trade partnerships, flight and expulsion of employees are phenomena of conflicts and environment-induced crises that directly affect companies in unstable regions. Almost all branches of the economy thus have a clear interest in a stable and peaceful environment for their activities. Conversely, the business sector plays an important role in the interaction of economic growth, social development and a healthy environment, all of which can advance peace and sustainable development. 

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Security

Environmental issues have a significant security dimension. Access to, and overuse of, natural resources often play a key role in civil wars or other forms of internal domestic conflict. This is compounded by climate change and environmental degradation. Climate change is now widely recognised as a non-traditional, risk-multiplying threat that will have increasing security impacts. Key risks with possible implications for human and national security include water scarcity, food crises, natural disasters, and displacement. More preventive diplomacy and advocacy is needed to address the strategic implications of climate and environmental change.

Sustainable Transformation

Sustainable Transformation allows societies to profit from a growing, environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive economy – especially in emerging and developing countries. This requires a higher up-front investment, but the benefits of a sustainable transformation in the medium and long term are significant. For instance, energy cost savings and reducing the impact of price volatility offer major incentives for deploying renewable energies and promoting energy efficiency. Such benefits exist in all key sectors of the economy.

Technology & Innovation

Innovations and technologies are already readily available and affordable but their global diffusion and uptake remains a challenge. Innovation and technology are crucial to achieving ambitious climate change mitigation and adaptation targets. However, research and development often do not receive appropriate public support. Developing countries can leapfrog high-carbon industrialisation phases by adopting, deploying and improving existing innovations and technologies. For this, it is essential to minimise financial, administrative and political barriers.

Water

The availability of freshwater resources in sufficient quantity and quality is essential for the preservation of human health and sound ecosystems. The use of water resources is also vital, however, for economic development: whether for agriculture, industrial production or for electricity generation. The world's freshwater resources are distributed very unevenly in terms of geography and seasons. In addition, water shortage is becoming more prevalent in several regions due to population growth, economic development, urbanisation and increasing environmental pollution. Thus, water resources can hold potential for conflicts between parties who have different interests and needs.

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Regions

Asia

The environment in Asia is already under tremendous pressure as a result of the unsustainable use of land, forests, water and even air in many regions. Climate change will only exacerbate these challenges. Rising sea levels will likely endanger densely populated areas, changes in the monsoon patterns can strongly impact agriculture, melting glaciers will increase long-term water scarcity, and extreme weather events such as heavy rainfall and cyclones can pose further hazards.

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Central America & Caribbean

Natural disasters and water scarcity are key challenges for most of Central America and the Caribbean. These challenges will become even more pronounced as the climate changes. Weak resource and disaster risk management and land disputes pose additional security challenges for large parts of the region. Several countries of Central America and the Caribbean have limited adaptive capacities as they face political instability caused by high social inequality, crime, corruption, and intra-state conflicts.

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Europe

As one of the most developed and most densely populated regions in the world, Europe makes heavy use of its resources, resulting in difficult trade-offs and negative consequences for the environment and ecosystems. Land is used for settlements, agriculture and dense infrastructure, creating problems of soil degradation. Water resources are stressed due to unsustainable agricultural practices. Despite nature protection policies, Europe continues to lose biodiversity at an alarming pace. Some of these trends are exacerbated by climate change, which is expected, for instance, to lead to shifts in water availability.

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Global Issues

Resource scarcities, environmental pollution and climate change are not limited by national borders, but often have a transboundary or even global impact. These issues interact with political stability, governance structures and economic performance, and can trigger or worsen disputes and violent conflicts. Exacerbating some of these trends, climate change is likely to lead to the degradation of freshwater resources, declines in food production, increases in storm and flood disasters and environmentally induced migration. All these developments pose potential for conflict.

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Middle East & North Africa

The geopolitical position of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), its fossil fuel resources, high population growth and the political changes spurred by the Arab Spring all make the region one of the most dynamic in the world. Nevertheless, it is also one of the most arid and environmentally stressed. Dwindling water resources, limited arable and grazing land, high pollution from household and industrial waste, remnants of conflicts and increasing desertification are key environmental challenges.

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North America

Climate change has various impacts on the three North American countries of Canada, Mexico and the US. Canada and the US have well-developed adaptive capacities and foster the strengthening of capacities in other regions as well. With high per capita emissions, these two countries also bear a greater responsibility for a changing climate. Mexico has a sound national strategy for climate change adaptation, yet fewer capacities than Canada and the US. The poorer and rural populations of Mexico are especially vulnerable to climate change, due to an increased sensitivity and a lower adaptive capacity.

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Oceania & Pacific

In Oceania, population growth and economic development trends put a strain on oceanic and island ecosystems. Freshwater scarcity, overexploitation of fisheries, loss of land biodiversity, forests and trees, invasive species, soil degradation, increasing levels of settlement, poor management of solid and hazardous waste and disproportionate use of coastal areas are some of the problems. Climate change exacerbates most of these trends, while also raising questions about the future sovereignty of some island states.

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South America

South America has diverse and unique ecosystems and is very rich in biodiversity. Weak natural resource management, land disputes and extreme weather events bring about significant challenges for the region. While South America accounts for relatively few CO2 emissions, the changing climate will alter its ecosystems and greater climate variability will lead to more hurricanes, landslides, and droughts.

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Sub-Saharan Africa

In many African states, environmental security issues rank high on the political agenda. Throughout the continent, countries suffer from water scarcity, food insecurity and energy poverty. These chronic and worsening resource scarcities have severe livelihood implications and are exacerbated by political conflicts over access to and control over these resources. Climate change may seriously threaten political and economic stability in Africa. It may also put a severe strain on the capacities of states and societies to co-ordinate activities, to communicate and to organize.

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