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Climate Change Threats to National and International Security

Climate Change: A Risk Assessment, is one of three reports and articles featured in Volume 29, No. 3 of the Renewable Resources Journal (RRJ). The UK Foreign and Commonwealth commissioned this report as an independent contribution to the climate change debate. This issue of RRJ features a section of the report on climate change risks to national and international security.

According to the report, “a growing body of credible, empirical evidence has emerged over the past decade to show that the climate change that has occurred thus far – involving an increase of 0.8°C in global average temperatures – is already influencing dynamics associated with human, sub-national, national and international security.” Examples include drought, displacement, and conflict in Syria; heat waves, food price spikes, and civil unrest in Russia; and climate variability, change, and conflict in Russia. In addition to a focus on risks in the current climate, a longer-term view of climate change is necessary to inform decisions with long-term implications.

Relatively little analysis currently exists with regard to security risks in the long term. In light of this, the report’s authors commissioned the CNA Corporation, experts in futures analysis and wargaming, to design and conduct a wargame and scenario exercise to inform their assessment of how security risks could be affected by climate change. Twenty-four senior scientists, security experts, diplomats, and retired military personnel from various countries participated in this exercise. The report discusses some of the biggest security risks identified:

State failure. In the near-term future, climate change would be mostly likely to increase risk of state failure in states already water stressed or food insecure while suffering from poverty, social tensions, and poor governance. Countries with high reliance on subsistence farming may be at particular risk of instability due to climate change impacts on agriculture. At the high degrees of climate change possible in the long-term, there may be risks to the political integrity of states that are considered developed and stable.

Terrorism. The risk of terrorism is closely linked to the risk of state failure. The inequality of climate change impacts between countries and the potential for large-scale displacement of people could further increase the risk of terrorism.

Migration and displacement. Migration both within and between countries may be a significant security risk due to management of political and social tensions, as well as economic costs and pressure on resources.

Humanitarian crises, nationalism, and global governance. Climate change is extremely likely to exacerbate humanitarian crises over the coming decades, but there is uncertainty surrounding the extent to which the international community would have the capability and willingness to respond to these crises.

Resources competition and inter-state conflict. Under climate change, meeting national requirements for resources including food, fuel, and water may become an increasingly high priority, possibly even rising above traditional national security priorities.

Climate geo-engineering. Countries may choose to invest in climate geo-engineering to limit global temperature rise. Security risks could arise from the lack of recognized authority for decision-making on climate geo-engineering, and no means of preventing unilateral action by a country, region, corporation, or individual.

Although the future is abound with uncertainty, climate change will undoubtedly subject many parts of the natural, physical environment to intense pressure and create stresses difficult for any system of governance to manage. Given that the security risks of climate change may be the biggest risks of all, assessing them to the fullest extent possible is essential.

Volume 29, Number 3 of the Renewable Resources Journal is available for free download.]]>

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