01 July 2021

How does climate change undermine Europe's internal and neighbourhood security?

On June 10, the European Parliament published an in-depth analysis titled, ‘Preparing the CSDP for the new security environment created by climate change’.  Commissioned by the European Parliament's Subcommittee on Security & Defence, this study explores the increasingly worrying impact of climate change on European internal and neighbourhood security. It discusses how the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) can integrate climate change to a larger extent.  

With a particular focus on EU’s neighbourhood, namely, the Sahel and the Horn of Africa, the report highlights how climate change is heightening regional tensions and exacerbating conflict amongst human populations. Problems are most acute in the Middle East and Northern Africa (MENA) as increasing desertification, growing threat of heatwaves and limited availability of water are having devastating effects on rural livelihoods, which contributes to worsening conflict situations.  

The report also explores how climate change impacts are responsible for greater friction between sovereign states. Using the Northern Sea Route as an example, the melting of ice sheets in the Arctic Region is opening up newfound maritime trade routes connecting the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean, thereby leading to contestation between great powers over newly accessible waterways and access to natural resources as the High Arctic is now increasingly becoming militarized and a hotspot for rising geopolitical tension. With hydrocarbon-dependent nations now operating in a limited window of time before other nations transition swiftly towards carbon neutrality, they may be tempted to adopt more aggressive and risk-taking approaches in the shorter term to lock in on strategic gains. 

Despite the fact the progress and leadership Brussels has shown around climate action, the EU’s policy implementation needs to be evaluated. The first suggestion calls for measured and evidence-based military aims and planning, which is a preventive approach rather than a reactive approach. This encompasses small-scaled preventive localized actions that deliver tangible results, instead of pursuing long-term and large-scaled actions. These can include reducing the immediate carbon footprint of the military. Second, the study recommends broadening CSDP climate engagements. CSDP’s civilian dimension must focus on climate factors and expand their engagements with relevant stakeholder groups through on-the-ground cooperation initiatives. Third, the political leadership of the European Union need to further commit to undertaking specific external climate security practices channelled through CSDP and underpinned by financial investments.  

The report acknowledges and charters the development of EU commitments to the climate-security nexus and highlights its inclusion in various defence-related policy documents over the years, but notably points out that there are clear limitations with regard to how far the EU has advanced its position based on rhetoric and how far the EU has failed to implement it into practice. The answer to bridging this gap lies in consolidating CSDP more tightly into Brussel’s overarching climate security planning. Integrating CSDP into action plans and instruments such as the Climate Change and Defence Roadmap, “Fit for 55" package under the European Green Deal and the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI), will allow the EU to effectively finance robust climate action. These recommendations echo the extensive list of suggestions laid out by the Planetary Security Initiative in the World Climate and Security Report 2021. At the same time, the EU and CSDP ought to remain mindful of the fears for militarization of climate change, since growing military presence and securitization of climate change can be misused to justify intervention or suppression/or serve political and military agendas.

Read the report here.

Photo credit: Melvin Heng/ Flickr