All eyes are on the international climate negotiations at the 21st Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris. However, the risks associated with a changing climate are so far-reaching, that it will take a broad range of international, regional, national and sub-national institutions to address them. These institutions will have to conceive of and implement actions that go well beyond what is agreed in Paris this month.
In this context, two conferences – one hosted by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and one by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs – were held in late October/ early November, respectively. Among other objectives, a question both of these conferences sought to answer was: “Since climate change poses significant risks to international security, what can be done to make our governance systems more resilient?”
A historical view: Significant regional and international threats and disruptions have driven changes to international order throughout history. The destructive Thirty Years’ War, in many ways, drove the decision in Europe to establish a nation state system in Westphalia in 1648. The incredibly destructive Second World War precipitated the development of an international order (The United Nations), and a regional order in Europe (NATO, the European Coal and Steel Community, the European Community, and ultimately, the European Union), which were designed to lessen the likelihood of conflict between those nation states. Looking forward, the natural resources stresses that are projected as a result of climatic and demographic change are likely to strain the legitimacy of nation states worldwide, which in turn could place increasing pressure on the current world order which is built on the legitimacy of most of those nation states.
In this context, conversations in security forums like the OSCE, and the newly-established Planetary Security Initiative, revolve around improving, augmenting, and possibly even creating new international, regional, national and sub-national structures for addressing what’s increasingly considered to be an existential risk. Below is a short description of these events.
The OSCE “Security Days” Conference [Vienna, Oct 28]: The OSCE held a “Security Days” conference that was focused exclusively on the security implications of climate change, solutions to those risks, and the role of the OSCE in addressing climate change risks to regional security, including transboundary water issues. There were a range of sessions including government and non-governmental voices from across the OSCE community. Discussions revolved around the risks of climate change, as well as the conflict resolution opportunities inherent in dealing with its effects in a cooperative manner, through regional security institutions like the OSCE.
The Planetary Security Initiative [The Hague, Nov 2-3]: The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with the assistance of an Advisory Board of climate and security experts that included the Center for Climate and Security, hosted the very first conference in its Planetary Security Initiative at the Peace Palace in the Hague. The conference, titled “Planetary Security: Peace and Cooperation in Times of Climate Change and Global Environmental Challenges” included twelve workshops, which touched on both regional and thematic issues.
In one panel, the Center for Climate and Security’s Caitlin Werrell, Francesco Femia and Dr. Marcus King, along with Dr. Colin Kelley of the University of California, Santa Barbara, discussed the role of climate change in the Syrian drought of 2007-2010, as well as its broader role in water and food security, human displacement, and conflict in the country, both past and present. The discussion built on existing research by the Center for Climate and Security and Dr. Colin Kelley, as well as forthcoming research on Syria and Iraq by Dr. Marcus King. A list of these resources is below:
2012: Femia and Werrell, “Syria: Climate Change, Drought and Social Unrest,” The Center for Climate and Security
2013: Femia and Werrell, “Climate Change Before and After the Arab Awakening: The Cases of Syria and Libya,” in The Arab Spring and Climate Change, The Center for Climate and Security, the Stimson Center, the Center for American Progress
2014: Gleick, “Water, Drought, Climate Change, and Conflict in Syria. Weather, Climate and Society
2014: Francesca de Châtel, “The Role of Drought and Climate Change in the Syrian Uprising: Untangling the Triggers of the Revolution,” Middle Eastern Studies
2015: Kelley et al, “Climate Change in the Fertile Crescent and implications of the recent Syrian drought,” PNAS
2015: Werrell, Femia and Sternberg, “Did We See it Coming? State Fragility, Climate Vulnerability, and the Uprisings in Syria and Egypt,” SAIS Review of International Affairs
In another workshop, the Center for Climate and Security and the Skoll Global Threats Fund moderated a “Far Future Risks ‘Mini Scenario’ Exercise,” which placed government and non-governmental experts together to imagine a climate-changed future in 2050, and to offer policy solutions that could be put in place today to mitigate the security risks inherent in such a future. The exercise concluded that given the unprecedented changes occurring in the 21st century, looking exclusively to the historical record for guidance will no longer be sufficient. Imagination, in this context, is critical (and a failure of imagination could be catastrophic). Scenario exercises are important tools in planning for “improbable combinations of probable events.” Also, to paraphrase the late Carl Sagan, low probability events happen all the time, and governments and international institutions should not be hesitant to plan for such events. Participants recognized that we have enough information to work with, and in many ways, greater certainty in predicting climate risks than other transnational security risks. In other words, scenario exercises precipitate “informed imagination,” and should be seen as a key tool for the future.
A conference report is forthcoming, and will include summaries and takeaways from each of the twelve workshops. The Planetary Security Initiative is likely to host these conferences annually.
For more details on the conference, click here.
For a list of speakers, click here.
For interviews with some of the conference speakers, click here.
For a gallery of photos from the conference, click here.
Conclusion: Both the OSCE’s Security Days conference on climate change and security, and the Dutch Foreign Ministry’s Planetary Security Initiative, are evidence that the climate change issue has emerged from the “environmental box” and has arrived as a matter of national, regional and international security. This is part of a growing trend, as nearly 70% of governments across the world recognize climate change as a risk to their national security. Now what’s needed are solutions that are commensurate to the risk.