07 May 2020
  • climate security
  • geopolitics
  • Climate Risk

Geoengineering technologies to mitigate climate change may threaten international peace

From political and tribal conflicts in Africa to internal migration in the Middle East, the impact of climate change on stability is accelerating and causing more unrest to vulnerable states and communities. We have witnessed massive environmental challenges where the environment is manipulated or exploited by conflicting parties to instigate more damage to civilians or opponents. The exploitation of the environment in conflicts tactics, such as scorched earth by militaries and weaponisation of environmental infrastructure are some examples of to what extent harming the environment could contribute to long-term impact on human security.

The Conflict and Environment Observatory (CEOBS) explores the historical introduction of environmental modification techniques where environment and natural resources are manipulated during warfare to win armed conflicts. Later these techniques were prohibited by the Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques (ENMOD) due to the unforeseen impact. The author argues that despite the prohibition, such techniques gave raise to even more promising geoengineering technologies that may have the potential to control or mitigate the effects of climate change. 

Geoengineering technologies are defined as ''a broad set of methods and technologies that aim to deliberately alter the climate system in order to alleviate the impacts of climate change.''

These technologies appear a smart fix capable of alleviating the concentration of greenhouse gases that lead to global warming. However, geoengineering could also impose different security threats; we are yet to discover. Among the risks is the lack of adequate knowledge on their potential regional and global impact, and their long-term effects. They could be weaponised in armed conflicts just like environmental modification techniques or held hostage for their value, according to CEOBS. Furthermore, developing countries might face more environmental security risks because of the high cost of geoengineering technologies and the unknown transboundary impact if used by developed countries.  

Planetary Security Initiative has also highlighted the security risks of geoengineering technologies and considered them 'uncharted territory' that require more research. In their report 'Ready for take-off', the authors see the core problem of these technologies is the limited information we have about their long-term impact. However, Switzerland and 12 other countries took the first step to propose more in-depth analyses of the risks of climate-manipulating technology. This analysis will potentially provide oversight of the large-scale intervention in the earth's atmosphere and stratosphere that have implications for food supply, biodiversity, and global security, to name a few.

To know more about how geoengineering could be a security threat, read (CEOBS) full article here.


Photo credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/Flickr