In the OECD’s recent report “Global Security Risks and West Africa: Development Challenges,” there is a very interesting chapter by Rodrigues De Brito devoted to exploring the implications of the “securitisation” of climate change in the European Union. After examining the literature on the subject, which ranges from “climate change is a major security issue” to “we should never treat climate change as a security issue!” De Brito comes to the conclusion that the conceptualization of climate change as a security issue has been beneficial for EU policy on mitigating and adapting to climate change.
Addressing the oft-mentioned, yet rarely substantiated, claim that securitizing climate change will lead to “militarized responses,” De Brito states:
Instead of resulting in the adoption of traditional security measures, the securitisation of climate change has so far reinforced the urgency of environmental measures. As these are invested with a security purpose, it can be argued that the securitisation of climate change – as the securitisation of other non-traditional threats – is contributing to a transformation in security practices.
…should the EU response [to climate change] remain focused on development issues, securitisation could be a positive path as it invests development assistance with further urgency.
To us, this finding is not surprising, and likely applies to other countries, such as the United States. Climate change is indeed a security issue, and if it is treated as one, the best solutions for addressing it will be found. If those solutions are ones that have been traditionally reserved for the “human security” realm, then it is likely that governments will turn to development solutions, not military responses, to climate change. And this is what has generally happened. Furthermore, De Brito’s conclusion is consistent with what most security institutions would like to see occur in terms of responses to climate change, which is a more robust lead role for those agents of government responsible for development (see, for example, the climate section of the U.S. Department of Defense’s 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review Report, and the UN Security Council’s Presidential statement of July 2011). This is despite the common perception in some quarters that security institutions are champing at the bit to respond militarily to new security threats, such as the effects of climate change on conflict and migration.
Hopefully, De Brito’s chapter will help bring greater nuance and understanding to this important debate.