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BRIEFER. Climate Change as Threat Multiplier: Understanding the Broader Nature of the Risk

63_years_of_climate_change_by_NASAThe Center for Climate and Security has released a short BRIEFER today titled “Climate Change as Threat Multiplier: Understanding the Broader Nature of the Risk.” The briefer takes a look at the World Economic Forum’s “Global Risks” reports from 2014 and 2015 as a case study, and finds that assessments of risk (and of perceptions of risk) need to more adequately account for the full scale of risks associated with climate change. From the introduction:

The 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review, issued by the U.S. Department of Defense, succinctly describes climate change as a “threat multiplier,” meaning that it may exacerbate other threats to security (DOD, 2014). Despite this recognition by the U.S. military, risk assessments that examine global, regional, national and subnational risks often fail to capture the “multiplier” effect of climate change. The climate change phenomenon is often either treated as an “environmental” factor, with little to no connection to other risk factors in the socio-political, economic and security spheres, or in some cases, as in the Fragile States Index (formerly the Failed State Index), not directly addressed (Fund for Peace, 2014).

This essay looks specifically at the World Economic Forum’s “Global Risks 2014” and “Global Risks 2015” reports to illuminate what’s missing in how influential risk assessments tend to treat climate change risks. These reports were chosen because they are illustrative of how climate change, a highly complex phenomenon that interacts with a range of other global risks, is often artificially narrowed in high-profile assessments of risk. The reports, given that they deal primarily with “perceptions of risk” among global elites, are also an interesting case because through their very design (and in the presentation of their results) they may shape global perceptions of risk, which could have far-reaching consequences for governments and societies.

In the case of climate change, the reports limit the scope of the climate change risk, effectively “downscaling” its risk profile. In this essay, through an analysis of climate change in the Global Risks 2014 and 2015 reports, the case is made that risk assessments of climate change need to be “upscaled.” That is, climate change interactions with a range of other risk factors must be fully accounted for in such assessments, in order to ensure that policy responses are commensurate to the actual risks involved. If not, these assessments could present a seemingly authoritative, yet false, sense of security.

Read the full briefer here.


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