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Climate Change in the UK National Security Strategy & Strategic Defence & Security Review 2015


UK Parliament (Photo by Mdbeckwith)

The United Kingdom recently released its latest National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015. The strategic document essentially lays out the fundamentals of the UK’s approach to national security, and climate change features prominently (all explicit mentions of climate change are quoted below). Broadly speaking, climate change is listed as a contributor to instability, an opportunity for engagement with other nations, including the United States, and as a factor affecting UK global influence.

It is also worth noting that the integration of climate change into UK National Security Strategies is not a recent addition. As noted in a report by the House of Lords, House of Commons, Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy “The first NSS was produced in 2008, with a 2009 update, and the second after the General Election in 2010, in parallel with the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) and the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR).” All of these strategies have included references to “climate change.”

The Foreword by the Prime Minister, David Cameron notes:

Britain’s safety and security depends not just on our own efforts, but on working hand in glove with our allies to deal with the common threats that face us all, from terrorism to climate change. When confronted by danger, we are stronger together. So we will play our full part in the alliances which underpin our security and amplify our national power. We will work with our allies in Europe and around the world – as well as seizing opportunities to reach out to emerging powers.

The whole strategy is worth a read as a window into the current security landscape through the eyes of the UK. The treatment of climate change within that view is also interesting, as it goes further than other equivalent strategic documents in drawing connections between climate change and other traditional and non-traditional risks in the security landscape.

Mentions of “climate change” in the UK National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015 (full document here):

Chapter 3 – The National Security Context

Domestic and global security challenges

Impact of instability

3.12 Many drivers of instability are likely to persist over the medium to long term, including social inequality and exclusion, demographic changes, rapid and unplanned urbanisation, climate change, and global economic and other shocks. This is why we have chosen to focus more of our development effort on building stability overseas in fragile states.

Continuing risks

3.36 There are a number of other risks which remain important and need to be addressed.

Climate change and resource scarcity

3.42 By 2030, the world could face demands for 50% more food and energy and 30% more water, while their availability becomes threatened by climate change. The Middle East and North Africa region will be particularly at risk, given existing high levels of water stress and high rates of population growth. Sub-Saharan Africa may suffer from climate change impacts on crop production in particular. Rising sea levels threaten coastal cities and small islands. More frequent extreme weather events are likely to disrupt populations, agriculture and supply chains, making political instability, conflict and migration more likely.

Chapter 4 – Protect Our People

A. Protecting the UK, Overseas Territories and British nationals overseas

Our Overseas Territories

4.19 Some of our Overseas Territories face threats from transnational crimes such as illegal migration, narcotics smuggling, money laundering and illegal fishing. In the Caribbean in particular, we are working with our Overseas Territories to improve security and law enforcement. There are also risks from climate change, natural disasters and hostile foreign activity. We will continue to build our Overseas Territories’ resilience, crisis preparedness and response.

G. Crisis response and resilience

Energy security

4.140 The UK will meet future energy needs from both domestic production and imports from overseas. We aim to ensure that consumers have secure, sustainable and affordable access to the energy they need, managing the risks posed by regional instability, climate change, natural events and rising global demand.

Chapter 5 – Project Our Global Influence

5.2 This chapter sets out how the Government will use our global influence to protect and promote our interests and values, supporting our security and prosperity. We will use our diplomats, development assistance, Armed Forces, security and intelligence agencies, law enforcement and soft power. We will invest more in our relationships with our traditional allies and partners and build stronger partnerships around the world, to multiply what we can achieve alone. We will work with our allies and partners to strengthen, adapt and extend the rules-based international order and its institutions, enabling further participation of growing powers. We will be more ambitious in tackling conflict and building stability overseas, and we will help others to develop their resilience and preparedness, including for the global challenges of climate and health security.

B. Allies, partners and global engagement

The United States of America

5.33 We work together to support peace and stability in Europe’s neighbourhood, the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia. We will work with the US to deliver more for global stability and our shared interests:

  • We will extend our cooperation on global issues, especially countering violent extremism and terrorism, corruption, climate change, and promoting the rule of law and free trade, including through conclusion of the transformational Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.
  • We will enhance our cooperation on development in fragile states and regions, building on the new joint DFID-USAID programmes to support education in countries affected by conflict.

The wider world

The Commonwealth

5.50 The Commonwealth is a worldwide partnership of diversity and shared values.
We will work with the new Secretary-General to strengthen the Commonwealth’s promotion of democratic values, development, and trade and investment and to address extremism and radicalisation, corruption and climate change. We will strengthen partnerships with Commonwealth countries around the world, as described later in this section.

Asia and the Pacific

5.73 We will also deepen our cooperation with the Republic of Korea, including in maritime and cyber security, countering violent extremism and terrorism, and climate change.

5.74 Our relationship with China is rapidly expanding. We do not expect to agree
with the Chinese Government on everything. In all our dealings we will protect the UK’s interests vigorously. But our aim is to build a deeper partnership with China, working more closely together to address global challenges, including climate change, AMR, terrorism, economic development in Africa, peacekeeping, and to counter North Korea’s nuclear programme.

5.76 India is the world’s largest democracy. We are working with India to deepen our bilateral partnership. This includes a closer strategic partnership on diplomatic, defence
and security issues, including terrorism, extremism, cyber, nuclear proliferation, and conflict. We are working together to strengthen our people to people links, culture, education, skills, science, technology, research and innovation; to address the challenges of climate change; and to ensure clean energy supplies.

C. Strengthening the rules-based international order and its institutions


5.89 Multilateral institutions set and enforce rules and standards of behaviour, and deliver assistance and capacity-building programmes across a wide range of areas essential to the UK’s interests.

Global Economic Architecture

5.95 The G20 is the premier forum for international economic cooperation. We support its increased activism and global leadership to achieve strong, sustainable growth, coordinating macro-economic policy and tackling the challenges which could threaten this goal. We also welcome the continued close working of the G7, a forum made up of nations with shared values, interests and global outlooks. The G7 has coordinated action on climate change and global health security, among other issues of global importance. We will continue to work closely with partners to coordinate action, agree positions and reinforce each other in international negotiations.

D. Tackling conflict and building stability overseas

Tackling the drivers of instability

Building international resilience

5.128 Our long-term objective is to strengthen the resilience of poor and fragile countries
to disasters, shocks and climate change. This will save lives and reduce the risk of instability. It is also much better value for money to invest in disaster preparedness and resilience than to respond after the event.

Climate change

5.131 Climate change is one of the biggest long-term challenges for the future of our planet. It leads to and exacerbates instability overseas, including through resource stresses, migration, impact on trade, and global economic and food insecurity.

5.132 We set up the International Climate Fund to provide £3.87 billion in international climate finance between April 2011 and March 2016, helping the world’s poorest to adapt to climate change and promote cleaner, greener growth. We will increase UK climate finance for developing countries by at least 50%, rising to £5.8 billion over five years, to reduce emissions, increase access to energy, build resilience of the poorest and most vulnerable people, and reduce deforestation. This will in turn help reduce global impacts and reduce the costs of responding to disasters.

5.133 We will continue to focus diplomatic effort on driving global action to reduce emissions through national policies, bilateral cooperation and negotiations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. We will work with partners to manage the consequences of climate change, including for our strategic interests such as in the Polar regions.

5.134 Our businesses, institutions and public bodies are world leaders in tackling and adapting to climate change. We will support them in exploring opportunities to export UK expertise to countries developing their own mitigation and adaptation policies.

Supporting global action to build stability and resilience

5.142 The UK helped to secure agreement in 2015 on the Global Goals for sustainable development, which set new momentum for improving global stability by bringing together goals to end extreme poverty with work on peace, economic growth, good governance, equality, human development, environmental sustainability and tackling climate change. We will press for their effective international implementation and lead the way in delivering them.

Chapter 6 – Promote Our Prosperity

A. Economic security and opportunity

Promoting prosperity overseas

6.12 We will increase our efforts to build mutually beneficial, long-term, sustainable relationships with developing and emerging economies. We will support reforms in developing economies which will stimulate economic growth. We are also investing in climate change reduction and resilience programmes and there are significant trade and economic opportunities in helping drive low carbon transition across the globe; the current market is worth around £4 trillion and is growing at 4–5% a year.

Annex A – Summary of the National Security Risk Assessment 2015

National Security Risk Assessment 2015

The longer term

5. Over the longer term, the main drivers of the impact and likelihood of risk arechanges in technology, and the geopolitical and global economic context. Climate change is increasingly a risk to the UK, with the full effects on UK national security more likely to be seen after 2035.

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