22 January 2019

New analysis on how climate change reinforces nuclear threats

PSI consortium partner CCS just released a new report and briefers that address the various ways that climate change effects, nuclear trends, and security challenges are combining around the world. Many countries such as Nigeria, Jordan, Bangladesh, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia are dealing with numerous internal climatic, economic, security, demographic, and environmental pressures as they pursue nuclear energy. Concerns are also growing that Russia may become a dominant nuclear supplier to these countries. Where nuclear and climate issues are combining in specific countries with other issues such as terrorism, nation-state competition, weak institutions, and mass movement of people, the international community must understand how this nexus of challenges could affect stability and security. Moreover, these issues together stand to affect geopolitics and the strength of global governance institutions in profound ways.

Building on the success of their first groundbreaking report from 2017, today the Working Group on Climate Nuclear, and Security Affairs, a cross-sectoral group of distinguished nuclear affairs, climate and security experts chaired by the Center for Climate and Security, released a second report and series of briefers based on its 2018 deliberations. These papers outline the challenges the world is facing as well as practical recommendations for how addressing them as nexus threats could provide efficient and effective ways of reducing security risks.

The report:                

This report provides summaries of the insights produced via breakout sessions the Working Group held during its January 2018 meeting to focus on three questions:  “First, can we devise a flexible policy toolkit to allow public and private actors to address the nexus of climate, nuclear and security challenges? Second, for high-priority regions in which these trends are present, how might we reduce the odds they will combine in destabilizing ways? Finally, how can we begin to improve how we communicate with the public and policymakers regarding these types of complex yet existential risks?” It then briefly describes select themes that emerged from the Working Group’s deliberations and highlights specific recommendations.

A critical task of the Working Group was to explore policy tools that could be used to mitigate the grave concerns stemming from nuclear, climate, and security risks interacting. As John Conger and Shiloh Fetzek describe in their report of this discussion, “Multilateral regimes have been created, on the one hand, to address nuclear safety and proliferation, and climate risks on another, but they don’t interact. Building this bridge would go a long way toward continuing to identify and mitigate risks at the climate-nuclear-security nexus.” Analytical tools could be used to “combine climate, nuclear, and security data into risk assessments that would help define priorities and push for early responses to prevent grave threats in areas where nuclear materials and facilities reside.”

The Sendai Framework on Disaster Risk Reduction allows for a strong platform for increasing resilience as the world faces mounting costs of natural disasters. However, it could go further to “explicitly explore what these disasters could mean around nuclear facilities.”, according to the report. 

Currently, effective communication on the risks of the nuclear-security-climate nexus is lacking. Indeed, improving communication regarding this nexus will require continuing processes to identify shared values, especially when power politics and climate-sensitive regions are concerned. We can think of “Russia’s dominance in securing deals to build and operate nuclear reactors in regions such as the Middle East” for example.

The briefers:

The briefers show the importance of collaboration between security experts in the nuclear affairs and climate security spheres (as well as in other security disciplines) to support common interests like strengthening international security institutions and norms. The reports also conclude that communities must also collaborate in pushing for the sustainment of critical scientific and technical work that can provide the data, information, and solutions needed to navigate complex risks, including robust monitoring and modelling systems and the wide-ranging capabilities of U.S. National Laboratories.

These short papers mark the first-ever step in exploring how to reduce emerging threats as nuclear trends, the effects of climate change, and underlying security dynamics collide in regions such as South Asia and the Middle East. Amidst growing nuclear and climate threats, this pioneering collaborative group has identified potential new and unexplored risks where these issues collide and anticipatory solutions to those risks.

First, “the complexity of the climate change-nuclear-security nexus requires new tools for monitoring hotspots and testing government responses. Building that baseline knowledge would inform policy-makers on the nature of these intersecting threats. Stress tests and climate and nuclear crisis scenario exercises will be important inputs into understanding the nature of climate-nuclear-security risks.”

Unfortunately, inadequate funding limits the development of new tools, intensifying competition for a finite pool of funds. With greater financing, the public and private sectors could bolster the development and implementation of risk management measures and transnational mechanisms such as the UNFCCC Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage, which was designed to track and compensate losses from climate change. It should include nuclear facilities since they fall under the energy security category and are sensitive to climate-related threats.

The report and two briefers are available online at: