The close of 2017 demonstrated that attention to the security risks of climate change has grown significantly on the international stage. The annual international climate security gathering, the Planetary Security Conference (PSC for the acronym-inclined), took place in The Hague on December 12-13, and was immediately followed by a UN Security Council dialogue on climate and security on December 15, chaired by the Italian government. Further, the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Congress, the EU and the Australian Senate, all showed leadership on addressing this risk.
The Planetary Security Conference (PSC)
The Center for Climate and Security, led by Shiloh Fetzek, and its four consortium partners in the Planetary Security Initiative (Clingendael as consortium lead, SIPRI, adelphi and the Hague Centre for Strategic Studies) co-convened this third in a series of conferences wherein experts and governments have gotten together in the Hague, through the support of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to help guide an international course on addressing the security risks of a changing climate. The theme of the PSC 2017 was ‘moving from analysis to action’, an aim embodied by the Hague Declaration on Planetary Security, a product of the PSC 2017.
The Center for Climate and Security ran two workshops and a special session at the PSC, highlighting across the conference that due to the unprecedented risks of climate change, as well as unprecedented foresight in terms of anticipating those risks, the international community has a Responsibility to Prepare. CCS Senior Advisor for International Security, Hon. Sherri Goodman, also spoke during the opening plenary and a Special Session on the Asia-Pacific convened by CCS.
The CCS workshops focused on tools for managing systemic risk, and included invaluable input from the New America Foundation’s Denice Ross and the MIT Climate Risks CoLab’s Rob Laubacher.
The first provided an overview of tools in the climate security space, some of which are well-established (CNA’s gaming exercises, the suite of tools supporting Anticipatory Governance) and many of which are new or under development, as befits these rapidly-changing times. The tools range from the innovative online scenario-building platform the Climate Risks CoLab to analytical tools under development at UNEP/adelphi and the French Ministry of Defence.
These tools were introduced within the framework of the Responsibility to Prepare (a responsibility resulting from unprecedented risks and unprecedented foresight – which these tools support). The objective of the session was not only to inspire participants to investigate the tools more thoroughly on their own, but also to examine barriers to acting on the information the tools provide. Understanding the contours of these barriers from across the Planetary Security community of practice can help to inform tool design, support the movement from from analysis of climate and security issues to action (both anticipatory and responsive), and assist in preparing communities, governments and international institutions for the disruptive security risks of climate change.
The second tools workshop organized by CCS demonstrated one of these tools in detail: the Climate Risks CoLab, an online platform for collaborative scenario development created by the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence. In this session, participants identified drivers of change that would affect human security on the 3-5 year time horizon, and then used these to build out scenarios (for example, considering how overstretched humanitarian systems, climate-related pandemics, the rise of non-state actors and new technologies might combine). It was an exercise in moving away from analytical, probabilistic approaches to understanding the risk landscape, and considering ways to ‘expect the unexpected’ – or what ‘the unexpected’ might look like. The workshop introduced participants to how the CoLab platform functions and allows these exercises to include a diverse, international group of online contributors.
Lastly, CCS convened a Special Session on the Asia-Pacific which discussed Japanese and Australian leadership in the climate security space (both domestically and in international fora), Track II processes on climate and security in the region, and the work of US Pacific Command on climate security risk management in the region.
This was one of a few workshops and discussions at the PSC aimed at providing practical ways to support moving from analysis to action, the overarching theme of the conference, and to highlight developments already underway in particularly vulnerable and dynamic regions, ranging from the Asia-Pacific to Iraq.
The UN Security Council
On the heels of this productive conference, which saw the release of the Hague Declaration on Planetary Security, both the Dutch Foreign Minister Halbe Zijlstra, and CCS’s Caitlin Werrell presented on the importance of addressing climate change risks to security at the UN Security Council (Arria Formula Dialogue) on December 15, chaired by Italy and co-hosted with Sweden, Morocco, the UK, the Netherlands, Peru, Japan, France, the Maldives and Germany. The session included a call for the UN Security Council to support an institutional home for climate and security issues at the UN, to support the Hague Declaration, and adopt the six principles of the Responsibility to Prepare framework.
The U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Congress, the EU and the Australian Senate
In addition to consequential actions noted above, the last half of 2017 showed leadership on the issue from other governmental bodies on the national and supranational level. This includes:
1. The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) demonstrating continued attention to climate and security risks through its maintenance of its DoD Directive on Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience, and public support for tackling the threat from six senior defense leaders, including Secretary of Defense Mattis, Assistant Secretary of Defense Niemeyer, Secretary of the Navy Spencer, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Selva, Chief of the National Guard Bureau Lengyel, and Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works R.D. James).
2. The U.S. Congress passing the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act declaring climate change a “direct threat to national security,” and requiring the DoD to report back to Congress on how climate change is affecting its mission, including the top ten most vulnerable military bases. The bill was subsequently signed into law by the President on December 12.
3. The EU paying high-level attention to climate change and security through its Global Strategy, with “Resilience” as is its leitmotif.
4. Last but not least, the Australian Senate, through a special Senate inquiry on climate and security (including testimony from the Center for Climate and Security’s Shiloh Fetzek, Sherri Goodman, Dr. Michael Thomas, and retired Rear Admiral David Titley, US Navy), showed a heightened attention to the issue.
A clear picture of growing concern over the security implications of climate change
In summary, the end of 2017 demonstrated a firm commitment from a number of governments across the globe to addressing the growing national, regional and international security risks of a changing climate. That momentum will likely continue in 2018 as the governments of Japan and Peru take up the issue once again at the UN Security Council, and the Planetary Security Conference enters into its fourth year. And that’s just what we can count on. As we saw in 2017, the issue has caught the attention of the international community as it never has before, and that is likely to translate into a range of other unforeseen actions on the matter this year. Watch this space for more.