Climate as a Lens for Global Peace and Security

By Antoine Lucic, EGA Intern

For a long time, climatic variations have shaped and influenced civilizations across the world. While traditional examples have often relied on the distant fall of the Mayan Empire to demonstrate the link between environmental stresses and political turmoil, a growing number of studies on contemporary cases demonstrate an ever stronger link within the climate security nexus.

Research conducted by the Center for Climate and Security (CCS) suggests that both Syria and Egypt have experienced direct, indirect and multiplier effects of climate change on their food, water and energy supplies. Despite certain challenges within the field when it comes to advancing unprecedented connections, the field has witnessed an increasing number of research centers, NGOs and initiatives. As time gives place to more evidence, resources must follow the assessments made by the research community. As it stands with other dimensions around climate change, non-action will cost much more, and in this case, involve much larger risks in terms of national, international and geopolitical security across the world.

Over 70 percent of the world’s governments have explicitly acknowledged climate change as a national security concern. A recent report commissioned by the UK Foreign Office, claimed that the power dynamics around climate change should be similarly assessed as the ones of nuclear proliferation. The Pew Research Center recently published a study placing Climate Change along ISIS and cyber criminality as the world top security threats. The US Department of Defense has weighed in the argument with another report to Congress affirming that climate change is a security risk “because it degrades living conditions, human security and the ability of governments to meet the basic needs of their populations.” Whether behind closed doors, or under different appellations (Energy and Security, or Disaster and Conflict), discussions around climate and security are happening across sectors.

Within the philanthropic community, collaborations between two affinity groups, the Environmental Grantmakers Association and the Peace and Security Funders Group exemplifies the growing interest of big donors in these subtle but very pertinent connections. Such discussions were highlighted by the importance of the coordination of efforts as well as the additional funding towards research. 

While the media coverage remains limited on the discussion happening, we are constantly reminded of the effects of climate change. This builds on the idea that climate change is not only a problem of future generations but is and will increasingly be one of the present. Today, certain geographic regions line up directly with zones of higher instability and effects can be witnessed across the Middle East, North Africa and Southeast Asia. Not only will climate change directly affect these zones through climatic events, indirect effects will be amplified by the local population’s inability to cope with them. This will have devastating effect in which the very core of governmental structure, social services and basic needs of these nations and neighboring ones, will be at risk. 

From a growing population, rising demands for water, food and social service, to threats of both flooding and desertification, Egypt is typical example of a developing country highly vulnerable to climate change. In 2010, a drought in Russia had devastating effects on Egyptian wheat reserves, in part sparking the Arab Spring. On another front, the Los Angeles Times recently published a piece divulging the historical irony of drought-devastated Mali in transforming cattle-farmers into Jihadists. “To understand why cowboys would go to war, simply look at the dried-up land around them”.

The instability and threat caused by the intensification of climate change on populations and regions is forcing people to seek a better living across borders. Figures are exploding the roofs in terms of migrants fleeing the global south to the global north, from coastal lands to inner regions. From island nations in Micronesia, to the case of Bangladesh, climate refugees are increasingly facing hostility from isolationist foreign policies.

Both the urgency and multi-dimensional aspects of climate change have called upon the attention of global leaders around the world. From summits hosted at the Vatican to growing political pressure in the world’s largest emitting countries, the interdependencies that characterize our globalized world puts at risk even the most stable regions, ironically imitating the instability driven from natural feedback loops. This shift of language in which climate change is measured in terms of national security, might very well be the extra stake that animates the fast approaching COP21 discussions planned at the end of the year.