U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, during a speech in Jakarta, Indonesia on February 16, devoted a significant amount of attention to the national, global and existential security risks of a changing climate. His full remarks are worth a read (or a listen). Secretary Kerry compared climate change to other transnational security risks, much as we did in our piece for the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. We have included some excerpts from the speech, below, which touch on the climate-security nexus.
Climate change as a national security threat: “This year, as Secretary of State, I will engage in a series of discussions on the urgency of addressing climate change – particularly on the national security implications and the economic opportunities.”
Climate change compared to other global security threats: “When I think about the array of global climate – of global threats – think about this: terrorism, epidemics, poverty, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction – all challenges that know no borders – the reality is that climate change ranks right up there with every single one of them.”
“Or think about the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. It doesn’t keep us safe if the United States secures its nuclear arsenal, while other countries fail to prevent theirs from falling into the hands of terrorists. We all have to approach this challenge together, which is why all together we are focused on Iran and its nuclear program or focused on North Korea and its threat…The bottom line is this: it is the same thing with climate change. And in a sense, climate change can now be considered another weapon of mass destruction, perhaps the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction.”
On climate change, water and conflict: “Climate change also means water shortages. And if you have these enormous water shortages, then you have a change in the weather – because of the weather patterns, you’re going to wind up with droughts, the lack of water. And the droughts can become longer and more intense. In fact, this isn’t something around the corner – this is happening now…We are seeing record droughts right now, and they’re already putting a strain on water resources around the world. We’ve already seen in various parts of the world – in Africa, for instance – people fighting each other over water, and we’ve seen more conflicts shaping up now over the limits of water.”
On the threat of inaction: “But imagine if the 97 percent of those scientists are correct and the people who say no are wrong. Then the people who say no will have presented us with one of the most catastrophic, grave threats in the history of human life. That’s the choice here.”
On meeting the scale of the risk: “It is time for the world to approach this problem with the cooperation, the urgency, and the commitment that a challenge of this scale warrants.”
Kerry is right on. Climate change provokes and amplifies every other geopolitical risk. When agriculture begins to fail persistently across large areas, fear and panic will take over, and fearful, panicked people do extreme things.
Now only if his own administration would listen.