In case you missed it, there was an important security conference in Munich this weekend: the appropriately-named “Munich Security Conference.” There were a lot of senior leaders of the international security community in attendance, and climate security was on the program. In fact, it seems to be the first year that climate security, rather than resource, energy or environmental security, was explicitly incorporated into the title and substance of a breakout session at the conference. Climate security risks also made appearances throughout several headline speeches.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was very clear about the threat of climate change in his speech, stating:
“Climate change is every much a security threat as an armed group bent on plunder.”
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s remarks included a comprehensive discussion of climate change, including several significant mentions regarding associated threats and opportunities, including the following statement made in context of a discussion of other transnational threats:
“And this is all before you get to the challenge of global food security, water availability, and global climate change. These are the great tests of our time.”
U.S. Secretary of Defense Hagel did not explicitly mention climate change in his remarks (though he did extensively as the Halifax International Security Forum last year) but did make a point of mentioning the importance of partnerships with Europeans for humanitarian relief operations, which are likely to increase as climate-related stresses become more severe:
“In Africa, the U.S. military and our European allies are already partners in combating violent extremism and working alongside our diplomats to avert humanitarian catastrophes.”
As mentioned, there was a breakout session on “Energy and Climate Security” that provided a 30,000 foot look at the linkages between climate, energy and security. The session included remarks by Prof. Dr. Bernhard Lorentz (President and Chief Executive Officer, Stiftung Mercator), Günther Oettinger (Commissioner for Energy, European Union), Anshu Jain (Co-Chief Executive Officer, Deutsche Bank AG), Sheldon Whitehouse (Senator, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism for the Senate Committee on Judiciary, United States of America), Christiana Figueres (Executive Secretary, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), and was moderated by Dr. Daniel Yergin (Executive Vice President and Chairman, IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates).
Overall, it is good to see climate security on the program at high-level security conferences (particularly one that began its life as a NATO strategy meeting in the midst of the Cold War). In the future, we hope treatment of the subject within collective security institutions and forums continues to evolve to match the increasing severity of the climate threat.
But transitioning the global security dialogue to include a greater emphasis on such transnational security threats is still an uphill battle. In an interview from 2012, Wolfgang Ischinger, Chairman of the Munich Security Conference, discussed the difficulty of incorporating climate change and natural resource threats into the global security discourse, comparing the challenge to the historic example of evolving laws of war, which transformed only as new threats from advanced weaponry became unavoidably (and sometimes, horrifically) clear. Thus far, Ischinger seems up to the task. As he stated previously: “The Munich Security Conference has become a barometer for the transformation in security policy in the 21st century…As well as ‘hard’ areas of security policy, there are also ‘soft’ issues, like climate change and cyber security, on the agenda.” Though as the challenges associated with climate change deepen over time, its characterization as a “soft” security issue will likely fade into history.