Chapter 5: International Peace and Security
In a major London address in early 2006, British Defence Secretary John Reid warned that global climate change and dwindling natural resources are combining to increase the likelihood of violent conflict over land, water and energy. Climate change, he argued, “will make scarce resources, clean water, viable agricultural land even scarcer”—and this will “make the emergence of violent conflict more, rather than less, likely.” This speech reflects a shift in strategic thinking, where military analysts are increasingly recognizing that environmental degradation and resource scarcity—stressors that will be exacerbated by climate change—could be potent sources of instability and armed conflict in the years to come. The European Security Strategy notes that climate change will aggravate competition for natural resources, and likely increase conflict and migratory movements in various regions.
Critical Issues: The Impact of International Peace and Security on Climate Change Efforts
The impact of climate change in fragile states around the world may not be so much a case of entirely new security threats, but more of enhancing existing instabilities and threats. There is no clear, mono-causal link between climate change and conflict. Environmental factors are rarely, if ever, the sole cause of violent conflict; however, it is clear that environmental stress can increase the severity, duration and collateral impacts of a conflict. The security dimensions of climate change are significant and will affect both the developed and the developing worlds.
Four dimensions of this scenario are of particular relevance to Danish foreign and security policy: environmental degradation; resource scarcity; movements of environmental refugees; and contests over access to newly accessible resources.
Climate Change may Aggravate Environmental Degradation
Climate change is a powerful force that will affect our environment in complex and interrelated ways. Early climate change scenarios predicted that the most serious impacts of climate change would fall on northerly and southerly latitudes. However, more recent models suggest that climate change could result in less rainfall around the equator and lead to a “drying out”of the tropics. This would entail serious security implications. Coupled with rapid population growth, there is a very real concern that climate change could undermine the “carrying capacity” of many developing countries—that is the capacity of countries to provide adequate food and water for its population. In particular, countries suffering environmental stress but with weak institutions and limited coping capacity are likely to experience increased crime and social unrest as well as the rise of radical social movements.
Developed countries are also not immune to the impacts of climate change and the expected increase in the severity and frequency of catastrophic weather events. Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast of the United States in 2005 was a powerful demonstration of the ability of such events to overwhelm rapidly the resources and the adaptive capacity of even the wealthiest countries.
Climate Change may Accelerate Resource Scarcity
Linked to accelerating environmental degradation is the prospect that climate change will further limit the supply of already scarce resources such as agricultural land and water. How countries and communities in resource-poor regions respond and adapt to reduced access to key resources is central to the possible security implications of a changing climate. It is predicted that Egypt, for example, will be affected by both temperature increases and sea-level rise. The first will increase evapotranspiration and the water needs of agriculture resulting in declining yields for agriculture. The second will inundate some of the most fertile land and densely populated regions. In Egypt, a sea-level rise of 37 centimeters (cm) by 2060 would cause food self-sufficiency to decline from 60 per cent in 1990 to 10 per cent by 2060. Former UN Secretary General Boutros Ghali warned in a 2005 interview that war between the countries of the Nile Basin over water is almost inevitable.
Climate Change may Drive “Distress Migration”
The combination of environmental degradation, more frequent extreme weather events and resource scarcity can be expected to displace large numbers of “environmental refugees” within countries and across borders. A sea-level rise of 45 cm in Bangladesh would result in a loss of nearly 11 per cent of Bangladesh’s territory, forcing the relocation of an estimated 5.5 million people. Increasing desertification is expected to cause the movement of some 60 million people from Sub-Saharan Africa towards Northern Africa and Europe between 1997 and 2020. Large population movements are already recognized by the UN Security Council as constituting a potential threat to international peace and security, particularly if there are pre-existing ethnic and social tensions. Immigration is, of course, already a very contentious issue within Europe.
Current projections of sea-level rise coupled with a likely increase in the frequency and severity of storms may make many small island states, such as Kiribati and Tuvalu, uninhabitable. In this sense, climate change presents the most serious security problem that any country can face—the entire loss of its territory. The President of the Federated States of Micronesia put this bluntly, “sea-level rise and other related consequences of climate change are grave security threats to our very existence as homelands and nation-states. ”The social, economic and political ramifications of large numbers of environmental refugees could be profound, and are increasingly becoming a reality with South Pacific island nations pursuing relocation options. For example, New Zealand has agreed to accept migrants from Tuvalu, which experts believe will be completely submerged by mid-century. Tokelauans have access to New Zealand, the Marshallese can settle in the United States under the Compact of Free Association, and Canada is funding the relocation of residents from parts of Vanuatu affected by climate change.
Conflict over Strategic Trade Routes and Newly Accessible Resources
Climate change’s impact on polar ice cover is redrawing global trade routes and opening up new areas to oil and gas exploration. Already ice cover in the Northwest Passage is thinning. By September 2005, Arctic sea ice had dropped to its lowest level on record. In fact, the same year, the Northern Sea route along the Siberian coast—once not navigable in its entirety—was free of ice for a whole month. And in August 2005 a Russian ship named the Akademik Fyodorov was the first ship to be able to reach the North Pole without the help of an icebreaker.
The retreat of the sea ice has serious implications for control over these highly strategic and potentially valuable trade routes. Reliable transit through the Northwest or Siberian passages would dramatically reduce freight transport time. For example, ships traveling between Copenhagen and Yokohama have to travel only half the distance if they go along the north Siberian coast as through the Suez Canal. In terms of carbon dioxide emissions, shorter transport routes would have a positive environmental effect.
The receding sea ice is also opening up new possibilities for oil and gas exploration in the increasingly accessible Barents Sea. The Arctic as a whole is believed to contain as much as a quarter of the world’s unextracted reserves of oil and gas. Rising temperatures may also change the distribution of other resources such as cold water fish stocks which could move north. At stake are sovereign rights to enormous quantities of natural resources as well as control over potentially valuable trade routes. Norwegian foreign minister Jonas Gahr Stoere noted in October 2005: “In the years to come, it may be from this high North that both continental Europe and the United States will be looking for additional supplies of oil and gas. ”Somewhat ironically, climate change might be revealing the very fossil fuels that could add even more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.
These valuable resources and strategically important trade routes have already generated significant international tension over their control. Denmark and Canada, of course, have had a long-running and much publicized disagreement over sovereignty of Hans Island in the Nares Strait. While it is nearly impossible to envisage this particular dispute ever escalating into armed conflict, it does indicate the tensions that contested sovereignty could generate in the future.
The Security Link
Fundamentally, climate change threatens to undermine governments’ ability to ensure security and stability. While the majority of the scientific data is not disputed, climate change still appears low on a list of foreign policy priorities, in part because the threat feels abstract and response measures are too often poorly defined and communicated. The “security link” conveys added, and arguably necessary, gravitas to the debate on climate change; and an appreciation of the security implications of climate change could give new impetus to the climate change agenda.
More stringent commitments to reduce carbon dioxide emissions may generate their own security implications. If renewable energy sources became more valuable as a result of an ambitious post-2012 climate agreement, the political economy of energy could shift dramatically. This could generate new tensions over access to different sources of energy or resources (such as water down-stream of large dams). In addition, there are questions as to whether a wide-spread move towards nuclear power as a less carbon dioxide intensive form of energy production would have an impact on nuclear proliferation.
Opportunities for Integration
The climate change debate in general has not yet articulated effectively the national and international security implications of climate change in a way that helps to generate increased momentum towards more rigorous commitments to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. In 2000, then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan recognized that non-traditional security challenges “require us to think creatively, and to adapt out traditional approaches to better meet the needs of our new era. ”This is as true for the global threat of climate change as the global threat of terrorism.
One way to adapt a traditional approach to peace and security would be to endeavor to get climate change more fully recognized as a threat to international peace and security within the UN system. The General Assembly has already directly noted the threat that sea-level rise presents to small island states. The UN Security Council is the primary entity mandated to decide on threats to the international community and it is also empowered to take (coercive) action to mitigate those threats. If it were to explicitly recognize climate change as a threat to international peace it would lend tremendous weight to the climate change debate.
Typically, the Security Council focuses reactively on immediate threats. The challenge would be to convince its members that climate change presents a proximate threat. However, given that the Security Council has already recognized population movements and nebulous, cross-border issues like terrorism as threats to international peace and security, it is not unthinkable that climate change will eventually find its way into a resolution of the Security Council; though the political barriers to this are certainly formidable. Denmark could play an important role in scoping out these barriers and providing a balanced evaluation of how to improve prospects, in the not too distant future, for recognition of this issue as a security threat in the UN Security Council.
In a similar vein, Denmark could work to promote the link between climate change and security at an EU level and through NATO. In particular at the EU level, Denmark could work to operationalize the acknowledgement of climate change as a threat to international security within the European Security Strategy with clear commitments on what this means in terms of peacekeeping and European foreign policy.
It is likely that climate change will play a role in future UN peacekeeping deployments—both as a reason for deployment but also potentially as an element of peacekeeping mandates. It is possible that future UN peacekeeping deployments might have to mediate access to water resources limited, in part, by climate change. With enlarged peacekeeping deployments in Africa (such as in Darfur) it may be valuable to help regional organizations such as the African Union build their capacity to deal with the security threats that may come from climate-induced degradation and scarcity.
Finally, an increase in environmental refugees will present very real challenges to the EU’s immigration policy. There is growing interest in EU circles in focusing development aid more effectively on “regions of origin” of immigration. This tries to balance the image of “fortress Europe” with attempts to deal with the core drivers of immigration in order to achieve more effective immigration policy all-around. Current political winds in Denmark are blowing the country more firmly into this camp. The potential impact of climate change on distress migration adds a new dimension (and perhaps impetus) to the move towards supporting sustainable development in areas likely to become source regions for environmental migrants.
- ^Klare, Michael, 2006. “The Coming Resource Wars.” The Energy Bulletin, March 6.
- ^European Union (EU), 2003. A Secure Europe in a Better World: European security strategy.
- ^Though the disruption of production cycles and extreme weather patterns, desertification or the reduction of water resources.
- ^Brauch, Hans Günter, 2002. Climate Change, Environmental Stress and Conflict. AFES-PRESS Report for the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety. p.87.
- ^BBC News, 2005. Ex-UN Chief Warns of Water Wars. February.
- ^Barnett, Jon, 2003. “Security and Climate Change.” Global Environmental Change, Vol.13, Pergamon, p.9.
- ^United Nations (UN), 2004. "Facts and Figures: Desertification and Drought.” 2003: International Year of Fresh Water.
- ^Sindico, Francesco, 2005. “Ex-Post and Ex-Ante [Legal] Approaches to Climate Change Threats to the International Community.” New Zealand Journal of Environmental Law, 9: 209–238.
- ^McLeman, Robert and Barry Smit, 2004. Climate Change, Migration and Security. Commentary No. 88, Canadian Security Intelligence Service.
- ^Barnett, Jon. 2003. “Security and Climate Change,” Global Environmental Change, Vol. 13, Pergamon, p 7.
- ^Pacific News Service, 2006. "Niue: No Response Yet To Tuvalu’s Resettlement Proposal.” Pacific Magazine; and Dupont, Alan and Graeme Pearman, 2006. Heating up the Planet: Climate Change and Security. Lowry Institute Paper 12. Double Bay, Australia: Lowry Institute for International Policy.
- ^Huebert, Rob, 2001. “Climate Change and Canadian Sovereignty in the Northwest Passage.” Isuma, 2(4), Winter.
- ^Duval-Smith, Alex, 2005. “Arctic Booms as Climate Change Melts Polar Ice Cap.” The Guardian, November 27.
- ^Madslien, Jorn, 2005. Global Warming: Help or hindrance? BBC News, October 27.
- ^Annan, Kofi, 2000. We the Peoples: The role of the United Nations in the 21st century, Millennium Report of the Secretary General, UN Doc.A/54/2000, April 3.
- ^UN General Assembly resolution 44/206 (December 22, 1989) recognizes the long-term threat posed to many low-lying states as a result of rising sea levels fuelled by climate change. See Penny, Christopher. 2005. Greening the Security Council: Climate change as an emerging threat to international peace and security. Human Security and Climate Change Workshop, Oslo.
- ^European Union (EU). 2003. A Secure Europe in a better world: European Security Strategy.
This is a chapter from Climate Change and Foreign Policy: An exploration of options for greater integration (e-book).
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