By Evan Barnard
The concept of climate security is decades-old, but a new sense of urgency and a renewed interest in the concept have developed over recent years, not least due to the efforts of CSR’s Center for Climate and Security. Climate change initially became a formal security focus for the U.S. after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, when military efforts began diverting from the nuclear arms race and standoff. Now, the field is rapidly developing and receiving greater attention.
The inclusion of a climate security session at the recent U.S.-hosted Leaders Summit on Climate suggests that world leaders are considering climate change a security risk in major diplomatic contexts. The Leaders Summit on Climate was just one of this year’s numerous high-level meetings emphasizing climate security, including the Munich Security Conference, a UN Security Council high-level debate on climate and security, and the widely-anticipated COP26 conference in November.
Today, we are sharing the first in a series of three podcasts reflecting on the upcoming 2021 World Climate and Security Report from the Expert Group of the International Military Council on Climate and Security, which builds upon the group’s 2020 World Climate and Security Report, which was released at that year’s Munich Security Conference. The report provides an update on the status of global and regional climate security factors, and details what climate experts predict will be the most important aspects of climate security.
Before the Leaders Summit on Climate, I discussed climate security priorities for the military and climate diplomacy with the Honorable Sherri Goodman. Ms. Goodman is a senior strategist and advisory board member at the Center for Climate and Security, chair of the board at the Council on Strategic Risks, secretary general of the International Military Council on Climate and Security, and senior fellow at the Wilson Center. At the inception of the field of climate security, she served as the first deputy undersecretary of defense for environmental security from 1993 to 2001.
The discussion included why the Department of Defense must cement a reputation as an environmental and clean energy leader and how the military is already taking steps toward resilience. Ms. Goodman believes the security sector will have an important role in the global effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change. The military industrial complex has an enormous carbon footprint, so the military should lead by example in emissions reduction and clean energy adoption. Militaries can make much greater progress toward these goals by working cooperatively. Most importantly, innovation will enable the military to develop and implement clean energy and other technologies, further leading by example and building a climate domain awareness.
Given the social, economic, political, and national security implications of accelerating climate change, the time to take action and mitigate and adapt for climate resilience is now. Ms. Goodman suggests an integrated, societal approach like the “Three Ds:” development, diplomacy, and defense. Solutions must be locally-based, because there is no one-size-fits-all solution to conflicts with climate as a factor.
In a 2007 CNA Military Advisory Report, Ms. Goodman coined the term “threat multiplier.” The term was used multiple times, including by Special Envoy for Climate John Kerry, during the Leaders Summit on Climate in terms of security risks. The term describes how climate change aggravates existing threats around the world. Modern examples include the melting Arctic Ocean, where a smaller, thinner icecap is translating to both economic and national security opportunities for Arctic nations like the U.S. and Russia as well as interested traders like China. These Arctic economic and military opportunities are sculpting a new geostrategic and geopolitical arena. As highlighted almost a decade ago by the Center for Climate and Security, climate change-augmented drought in locations like the Middle East and the Sahel can contribute to agricultural and pastoral devastation, famine, migration, and internal conflict. These climate security factors will increasingly shape troop deployment and activity.
The U.S. military should hold itself accountable and collaborate with allies to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief when and where necessary, which helps improve security situations. Climate change will remain a threat multiplier, and a sufficiently effective response will require multilateral cooperation. CSR will soon share a conversation that dives deeper into the 2021 World Climate and Security Report and its lessons. We hope these conversations will fuel security forces’ interest to integrate climate security risks into their planning.