What steps should the EU take to mitigate the security challenges posed by climate change? At a minimum, Gerald Stang thinks that it’s time for Brussels to look less at climate-related threats from abroad and to consider the ones that exist close to home.
The potential security challenges linked with climate change can make for great headlines. While sensationalist claims about water wars, states collapsing in chaos or the forced migration ofhundreds of millions cannot be completely discounted for the long term, intelligent mitigation and adaptation efforts can help avoid the worst of these – and manage the rest. Planning these efforts, however, requires that the likelihood and time frame of climate change impacts are well understood (as much as they can be); that security challenges associated with these impacts are placed in their proper context; and that resilience mechanisms, including security and defence systems, are appropriately organized to withstand potential shocks. And while much analysis is necessarily focused on potential climate-related threats abroad – climactic stressors that can change the calculus of potential conflicts in far-off lands – climate change will also impact security and defence considerations closer to home.
A US pivot
While Washington is often seen as slow to respond to the challenge of climate change, the surprise announcement of a joint climate accord between China and the US signifies agreement between the world’s two largest carbon emitters (and major geostrategic competitors) on the need to share the burden of emission mitigation. It has shown that, despite discord in Congress, the American executive branch takes climate change very seriously and retains the capacity to take significant action.
The American security establishment has also been quick to incorporate the potential risks of climate change into its strategic planning. The recent release of the latest version of the Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap by the US Department of Defense highlights the potential impacts of climate change on the department’s infrastructure, logistics support, training and operations. A few months before, a group of retired US officers produced a paper for the CNA Corporation, a US Navy-affiliated research organisation, taking a broader view by looking at the threat of climate change to the political, military, social, infrastructure, and information systems that constitute American 'national power’. Climate change has clearly become relevant for the strategic thinking of the US intelligence and defence communities, moving beyond its status as a mere environmental issue.
The updated Adaptation Roadmap focuses on how climate change will impact military capabilities. Other strategic documents (including the 2014 National Intelligence Strategy and 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review) describe climate change as a 'threat multiplier’ which will affect strategic calculations about security and conflict in various corners of the world. This viewof climate change is widely spread, having been expressed by both the UN secretary general in a 2009 report and by the EU high representative for foreign affairs and security policy in a 2008 paper on climate change and international security.
The Global Security Defense Index on Climate Change lists 110 countries which have identified climate change as a security threat, including most regional leaders but with notable exceptions such as Brazil, India and Egypt. This apparent threat perception has seen climate change added to lists of complex, non-traditional and transnational threats (often including energy security, arms proliferation, terrorism, the continued rise of non- state actors and cyber attacks) in the national security policies of many states, though detailed analysis of the expected impacts, and how to respond to them, are rarer.
Although most European states acknowledge the potential threats posed by climate change, its impacts have yet to be deeply integrated into their strategic planning (though the UK is expected to do so over the next year). The EU has increasingly mainstreamed climate change issues in its work across multiple sectors, with at least 20% of its near-trillion euro 2014-2020 budget expected to be spent on climate change-related action. But Europeans have not engaged with climate change as a security issue as comprehensively as the US has, potentially due to the international exposure of the US with its globe-spanning range of responsibilities and military facilities.
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