16 September 2018

Taking Action on Climate Security: An unprecedented high level event in Brussels

Taking Action on Climate Security: An unprecedented high level event in Brussels

On 22 June, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini hosted an unprecedented high level event - Climate, Peace and Security: The Time for Action. The meeting highlighted the urgency and the need to tackle the risk that climate change poses to security and peace. The focus of the debate was on the need to introduce policy change to integrate the climate-security nexus into risks analysis, policies and missions. Ahead of the meeting PSI published two publications, one focusing on how the EU can implement a responsibility to prepare and one on what the EU can do to address the climate-security nexus in Iraq and Mali

Speakers included the Prime Minister of Fiji, Swedish Minister Margot Wallström, the Indian Minister of External Affairs, Chinese Special Climate Envoy, NATO dept SG Rose Gottemoeler, UNEP ED Erik Sollheim, and many others.

During the event, it was emphasised that climate-security is not a far-off challenge, but an immediate threat of which the consequences are already tangible for many. The Arctic is melting with potentially grave consequences Of  sea level rise and heightened geopolitical tensions between coastal states in the region. For the second year, climate change effects displaced more people than conflicts. Many critical military infrastructures become affected around the coastal areas. Resource scarcity, desertification and aridification threaten to worsen the situation of already fragile states. Evidence is mounting that the world is witnessing relentless increases in extreme weather events and the steady depletion of resources upon which millions of livelihoods depend. All of these trends multiply the risk of instability and conflict if left unchecked.

However, no tangible effect was more prominent at this meeting than the shrinking realities the small island states face. They were represented proudly by David Paul, Environment Minister of the Republic of the Marshall Islands who spoke about climate already being “the greatest threat to our island nation” and the world “barrelling towards a massive new global security crisis of our own making.”

When asked about the contingency options available, his answer was chilling: “There is none because there can't be one, we will not have a home.”

This case underlines the need to take reduction of greenhouse gas emissions ever more seriously. In addition, other ways to ways to address the climate-security nexus head-on were suggested. Below we outline key issues. An official report can be found on the EEAS website.

The responsibility to prepare

To diminish the effects as well as the cost that climate change will inevitably make, a "responsibility to prepare" for climate impacts on security is crucial. Some of those impacts are already known, even felt, others less predictable; some are gradual and others sudden. What is certain is that the world faces increasing climate risks, but if resources are pooled effectively, we could benefit from unprecedented
capacity for foresight and early warning. PSI experts Shiloh Fetzek and Louise van Schaik in a CCS, Clingendael, PSI publication that was launched ahead of the event considered how this could look like in the EU context.

A call for multilateralism

Multilateralism as the  key for security was advocated strongly by Swedish Foreign Minister Wallström. No national interest can efficiently serve on its own when it comes to climate change. To face those threats, international cooperation is the only solution added the HRVP Mogherini. This was echoed by many experts who emphasised that even if every country does not have the same capability to answer, all should work toward risk management since the symptoms of climate change operate on a large-scale and the effects will be felt transnationally. This is where international organisations can further their expertise and capabilities to level the field in terms of resilience and response such as the Euro-Atlantic relief disaster orchestrated by NATO for example. In sum, to engage every partner, we need to elevate climate-security nexus to the highest political level in national, regional and multilateral fora.

The need to include the nexus of climate-security into development and security policies.

To merge the bridge between the different nexus of action on climate, security and development, would allow a more efficient approach than the traditional silos of development, security and climate policies. It is about combining the policies and responses to ensure the best possible impact, tailored to different geographical situations, and delivered on multiple levels. Those same considerations should be clearly integrated through mandate and actions all along the chain of command to truly make a difference on the ground.

For example, terrorism is a hard security issue that threatens human security, but without acknowledging the effects of the lack of development on opportunities and the reality that the symptoms of climate change, such as food insecurity, can further recruitment, policies and mandates run the risk of losing in impact and efficiency. In opposition, merging the silos of practice would allow to make action on the ground a source of sustainability, strength and peace.

The need to bolster expertise

More expertise is needed in the field of risk assessment and foresight, and this needs to seconded by local reporting on climate-related security risks. Early action can save lives and protect the ecosystem and food production so people don’t have to be deprived of their livelihood and diminish the rate of displacement. Further, building stronger links among the community of knowledge and practice as we try at the Planetary Security Conference is crucial to learn about the most innovative way to build resilience and adapt to the new climate realities.

In sum, we need to mobilise and improve reporting and early warning systems focusing on most exposed countries and regions.

An institutional home for climate-security

In line with the Hague Declaration on Planetary Security, the Marshall Islands, Fiji and Sweden proposed the establishment of an institutional home for climate-security at the United Nations headquarters, possibly accompanied with a UN High Representative for Climate Security. This would allow to maximise the synergy of the momentum for climate security, to bolster the coordination of efforts across UN agencies as well as being an inclusive platform to share knowledge and practices for the members of the international community. On a broader scale, such institutional change would allow to give a face and voice to the security consequences of climate change.

To jointly pursue such objectives,  would allow a more multilateral and early answer to crisis we saw too often either in Darfur, Somalia, Mali and even in Syria. All previous recommendations point to the need of an institutional home for climate-security.