A new report from the International Military Council on Climate and Security (IMCCS) reveals that the increasing pace and intensity of climate hazards will strain military and security services around the world as they are called on to respond to climate-driven crises, as well as tackling direct climate threats to their own infrastructure and readiness.
Climate change affects many areas of security, and is not limited to human security. The report points to specific examples such as the vulnerability of the U.S. Atlantic fleet’s headquarters, which typically floods 10 times a year. In addition, the 2020 U.S. wildfires damaged military bases and training equipment along with civilian infrastructure. Droughts, dust storms and other climate-related events present problems for infrastructure and resources, which in turn decreases national and global security efforts.
Captain Steve Brock, U.S. Navy (Ret), IMCCS Chief of Staff, Senior Advisor at the Council on Strategic Risks, and lead author on the report, highlighted that though military and security professionals are raising the alarm, integrated, whole of society solutions are required: “The security landscape will be increasingly disrupted as a result of climate change. It has already begun. As military and security professionals, it is our duty to warn the public about this threat. Smart, integrated, “whole of society” solutions are urgently needed. We must work together to achieve significant emissions reductions to avoid the worst effects of climate change and also invest heavily in the climate resilience of nations that need it in order to avoid instability, conflict and major humanitarian disasters.”
The IMCCS report was founded on a risk perception survey that was administered from Feb.-March 2021. The survey included responses from 57 global climate security experts in defense, intelligence, climate, ecosystem change and national security. In the survey, experts distinguished various climate security risks for 2021, 2031 and 2041.
The top five most pressing climate security issues for 2021, according to respondents, were increased natural disasters, increased inequality, biodiversity loss, infectious diseases and forced displacement. Survey respondents expect there to be high to catastrophic levels of security risks from climate change as soon as 2031, with increased natural disasters, forced displacement and infectious diseases still among the top five most pressing climate security issues, along with precipitation change and population center disruption. The responses for 2041 kept precipitation change and population center disruption from 2031 in the top five, while also including extreme heat at number one. Sea level rise and oceanic disruption were brought into the top five as well for 2041.
Researchers were able to use the data collected to give scores to countries on a 0 to 100 scale. The higher the score, the more of a risk climate security impacts present. Certain countries, especially those surrounded by water, have higher impacts and higher probability of fluvial or riverine floods. Notably, India has a score of probability of 100 and impact as greater than 25.
Despite acknowledged challenges in analyzing the risks, IMCCS urges actors, like the military, to implement climate security measures “rather than simply addressing them on paper.” To do this, the report highlights two main areas to focus on: the law of the sea and building global governance for geoengineering.
IMCCS points to contested maritime areas like that of South and East China. Confrontations between navy, coast guard and fishing vessels regularly occur in this area. Areas like this underline the limitations of the International Court of Justice and its inability to enforce rules. The maritime problems experienced in this area will only become further complicated when climate change affects fish populations/distribution centers and sub-sea oil/gas exploration.
The report suggests solutions for this issue, including institutions adapting their policies on sovereignty claims and ocean resource rights. The Council notes that “most policies today create confusion and are unclear”.
Building global governance for geoengineering is a possible solution to mitigate climate change risks. Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) is one of the two principal types of geoengineering technology. The system works by capturing and storing CO2 to reduce its concentration in the atmosphere. The second system, solar radiation modification (SRM) reflects sunlight back into space to allow more heat to escape the atmosphere.
These systems have the potential to lessen climate change affects, but they must be used correctly. There are concerns that countries could turn these technologies into a weapon by monopolizing resources and modifying the chemical composition of the atmosphere. While CDR and SRM technologies are currently being used around the world, their connectivity is quite small and only a handful are being considered for large-scale deployment. For the systems to be beneficial, monitoring and regulating the technologies is vital.
In addition to the survey results, the report includes case studies, which offer other strategies to mitigate the impact.
One such case study examines the Colombian peace process, the first agreement in history to be based on climate, sustainability and rural economic development, as an example of how the application of climate policy to seemingly unrelated challenges can solve conflict.
“The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) controlled vast swaths of the Colombian rainforest for decades, essentially keeping them off limits to economic exploitation and development. Recognizing that unsustainable logging and slash and burn agriculture were likely to devastate a critical global carbon sink when the FARC disbanded, the Colombian government sought to enlist those most invested in preserving its forests. European nations led by Norway had invested billions in rainforest carbon offsets. Bogota brought them into the peace process as highly capable, well-funded stakeholders. In 2017 Colombia instituted a nationwide carbon tax to in part pay for FARC member reintegration. Additional financial commitments by the Europeans helped underwrite sustainable implementation of the accords.”
So, in Colombia, climate cooperation was used as a creative tool to help resolve a decades-old, previously intractable conflict. It is worth noting however, that the case also underscores the difficulty of generating a long-lasting effect.
Elsewhere, Europe provides some positive developments that are worth watching. Renewable energy is a huge avenue that security officials are looking into, for example, and France has put forward a plan that will cost $600 million over six years in order to reduce energy consumption by 40%.
Around the world, countries are applying strategies and programs to mitigate potential climate change risks. EcoPeace Middle East and CIGAR’s research program on water, land and ecosystems are two examples of programs that are working towards helping citizens and governments prepare for and prevent risk.
The picture painted by the report is somewhat dire, however along with the case studies, the Council presents various solutions, including long term actions from the United Nations. Many of the suggestions revolve around connectivity and incorporating climate security into reports and annual briefings. Another suggestion is establishing multiple regional Climate Security Crisis Watch Centers which would feed into an UN-wide Climate Security Crisis Watch Center. These centers would cultivate a shared data driven community, give regional organizations a role in the success of a global climate security data network and connect these organizations through a common mission.
These suggestions are commendable and necessary, but must be backed up by clear and targeted action – and investment, like the $617 million earmarked for the Department of Defense to confront environmental challenges in President Biden’s 2022 budget – if the world’s military and security communities are to win the battle with climate change.
The IMCCS Secretary General, the Honorable Sherri Goodman, former U.S. Deputy Undersecretary of Defense and now Senior Strategist at the Center for Climate and Security, stated: “Major and urgent global emissions reductions are necessary in order to avoid significant, severe or catastrophic global security consequences in the future. We also need to climate-proof all elements of security – including infrastructure, institutions and policies. While a great deal of analysis and planning has been done on the importance and potential of integrating the climate security nexus into development, diplomacy and defense activities, the actual number of implemented measures is small. The transition from concepts of climate security to implementation is critical and urgently needed.”