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Climate change is new global security threat, says US report

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Misamis Oriental—There is a more insidious and destructive global security threat that is more dangerous and sinister than international terrorism, since this threat “will act as an accelerant of instability” in already problematic regions of the world.

“Climate change will exacerbate regional and local tensions in ‘hot zones’ around the world. In these regions, the impacts of a changing climate will act as an accelerant of instability by multiplying problems like water scarcity, food shortages and overpopulation,” said the three-part Climate Security Report released on November 1 by the American Security Project (ASP).

Meanwhile, the International Institute for Sustainable Development, in its Climate Change and Security report, said, “Climate change has come to be viewed as a core development challenge that carries potentially serious implications for international peace and security. Climate change will redraw our coastlines, alter where we can grow food, change where we can find water, expose us to fiercer storms or more severe droughts, and likely force large numbers of people to move from their homelands. Climate change will undermine the economic and agricultural base of many countries, particularly the most vulnerable developing countries.”

According to the institute, “warming temperatures are changing the strategic balance in the Arctic by opening up new shipping routes and uncovering the oil and gas supplies previously under the ice. Globally, climate change will stress existing mechanisms for sharing resources, like trans-boundary rivers and migratory fish stocks. It is clear that climate change holds the potential to exacerbate existing tensions and even trigger new ones.”

How local changes in weather and climate affect security in each region will depend on local socioeconomic and political factors,” Climate Security Report authors Catherine Foley and Andrew Holland said.

According to the report, “climate change is real” as evidenced by its impacts every day around the world, such as the melting Arctic, unprecedented droughts across the world, extreme examples of flooding and uncontrollable wildfires, which “present a greater challenge than just new and different weather patterns.”

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, during Security Council debate on impact of climate change on international peace and security on July 20, 2012, said climate change is a real threat to international peace and security.

“Extreme weather events continue to grow more frequent and intense in rich and poor countries alike, not only devastating lives, but also infrastructure, institutions and budgets—an unholy brew which can create dangerous security vacuums,” he added.

Ban urged developed countries to lead the global effort to find ways to mitigate and adapt to climate change’s detrimental effects. Emerging or developing economies should also do their fair share in this effort.

“We cannot ignore history. But we must clearly recognize that there can be no spectators when it comes to securing the future of our planet,” he said.

 

Clear, present danger

ALTHOUGH the Climate Security Report is not the first of its kind, since there were already numerous reports in the past that pointed to climate change as the new global security threat, this is the first to focus on the effects of climate change all over the world in relation to the role of the United States as a global superpower.

“Security is a fundamental responsibility of the US military now more than ever, as the threats to American interests change rapidly,” Brig. Gen. Stephen A. Cheney (retired), chief executive officer of the ASP, said in the introduction to the report.

While the report focused on the role of the United States—because as a world superpower it can help “ensure global stability in a warming world”—it devoted the whole of Part 2 (32 pages) to global security.

“As a global superpower with military forces deployed around the world, the interests of the US and its allies will be impacted by a changing climate,” the authors explained in the introduction to Part 2 of the report.

“Global climate-change impacts are vital to US security interests because they affect defense, diplomacy and economics. Because the US is a global power with strategic interests around the world, these impacts require the attention of security planners in Washington. The immediate instabilities linked with climate change will occur in the most vulnerable regions of the world where the US has strategic interests. These include interests in fighting terrorism, such as in the Horn of Africa; securing energy or mineral imports, like in West and Central Africa; or ensuring peace along heavily militarized borders, like in South Asia. All the regions will be affected by climate change. Global climate change is strategically important to the US through its impacts on the regional stability of our allies,” the report said.

Cheney lumped climate change with terrorism and the spread of diseases as the non-traditional threats to world security in the 21st century because they pose a “clear and present danger” not only to the stability of the US but to the world.

“Security threats of the 21st century include ‘non-traditional’ threats like terrorism, climate change and the spread of disease,” he said.

“One of the most significant challenges to the global security system in the 21st century,” Cheney added, will be a changing climate; the effects of these changes are already being felt all over the world. Climate change poses a clear and present danger to the United States through its effects on our global allies, as well as its direct effects on our agriculture, infrastructure, economy and public health.”

 

Plan for the unexpected

BECAUSE climate change is a non-traditional security threat, addressing it also requires non-traditional responses, especially since it is a global security risk because it increases vulnerability in infrastructure, agriculture, energy and other economic factors.

“[Climate change] will challenge the world’s security architecture to prepare for and adapt to new security challenges, like disaster response, food security and water availability,” the report said.

Although all nations in the world are affected by the effects of climate change, developed nations have the resources to bounce back more quickly from large-scale disruptions, while developing countries will struggle much more deeply to adapt because they have less capacity to prepare for and adapt to these changes and large-scale disruption, which is more likely to cause government instability and unrest, it added.

To prevent government instability due to the effects of climate change, security planners should “plan for the unexpected.”

“Resilience and an ability to adapt will be the key methods for preventing climate change from causing a collapse in security,” the report said.

And in order to increase a nation’s resiliency from the effects of climate change, it needs clear-cut policies on risk reduction and preparedness, “including adaptation and mitigation” measures.

“However, planners should expect that, in a globally interconnected world, the impacts of climate change on one area will have spillover effects on other, unknown areas elsewhere,” the report said.

 

Risk management

BECAUSE climate change is a “clear and present danger” to the world’s stability, there is a need “to create strategic policy options for the future” that require honest dialogue involving all stakeholders, Cheney said.

Quoting US Sen. Gary Hart, the report said, “Traditional national security is giving way to international security…. The 21st century is already as different from the 20th as the 20th century was from the 19th. Traditional, conventional thinking will increase our vulnerability. Anticipation, imagination, flexibility and experimentation are required to make us secure in an age of profound revolutionary change. Our senior military leadership now acknowledges climate change as an international security issue.”

Because of the uncertainty of the world’s future security brought about by climate change, governments and security planners must employ an approach called risk management, which provides a systematic way to consider risks and vulnerabilities in order to take the necessary steps to minimize risk.

In their paper entitled “Take a Page from the Military: Risk Management Could Reboot Climate-Change Debate,” Nick Mabey and Jay Gulledge said “risk-management approaches have allowed countries to plan and act in the face of even the most terrifying threats.”

Mabey is the chief executive of E3G, an international non-profit group. He was a senior adviser of the UK Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit, leading work on energy, climate change and countries at risk of instability. Gulledge is the director of the Science and Impacts Program at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change and a non-resident senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security.

“When it comes to climate change, uncertainty must not be a barrier to action. Uncertainty doesn’t mean we know nothing; just that we do not know precisely what the future may hold in a given place at a given time. But we have a good handle on what the risks of climate change look like. Will the oceans rise by 2 feet or 6? Will global average temperatures rise by 2 degrees, or 5? Other weighty public policy decisions—from military procurement to interest rates to financial system regulation—are taken under far higher uncertainty than what exists when it comes to climate-change science,” Mabey and Gulledge said.

“It is time to reboot the conversation about global warming, to focus not on politics but on the risk to global security that climate change represents. Like other such threats—nuclear proliferation, terrorism or failing states—climate change requires responsible planning that takes into account the full range of uncertainty. It requires that our leaders truly explore what level of risk we are willing to take and put in place effective strategies to manage the risk to us all,” they added.

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