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Munich Security Report: Few Doubts on Climate Impacts to International Security

Mattis_Munich 2017

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, Munich Security Conference, Feb. 17, 2017. (DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Brigitte N. Brantley)

The Munich Security Conference is a high-level forum of senior leaders from across security community that get together in Munich to discuss, well, security policy. It is often attended by defense and foreign ministers or their deputies, military professionals of all stripes, members of legislative bodies with security mandates, security think tanks, and other organizations that are concerned about national and international security.

The next one will be held from February 16-18. In advance of that, the conference organizers at the Munich Security Conference Foundation have released the Munich Security Report 2018.

The main thrust of the report is an issue on the minds of many that concern themselves with international security: is the liberal international order under threat? That’s reflected in the report subtitle “To the Brink – and Back?” as well as the title of its first chapter “Present at the Erosion: International Order on the Brink?”  inspired by former U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson’s memoirs “Present at the Creation,” which referred to the creation of the post-World War II  international order that many fear is now faltering. Whether it’s the rise of nationalism, the rise of major powers with different views of international order, or growing nuclear proliferation concerns, anxiety is high about the resilience of the current international rules-based system.

Within this construct, the Munich Security Report takes up some space to go beyond the aforementioned disruptive phenomena to address another increasingly serious risk to international security – climate change, and other environmental security stresses. On page 46, the report notes:

For, in the end, few experts doubt the long-term effects a changing climate will
have on international security. A recent overview of existing research concluded
that most studies found a positive correlation between climate change and higher
levels of violent conflict, “although many subtleties and countertrends underlie
this overall pattern.” 11 While climate change will affect economic, security, and
political systems all over the world, it will mainly act as a “threat multiplier” in those states with limited capacities to deal with it. 12

Coupled with recent robust actions on climate change at the UN Security Council, and concerns about climate change risks from a growing number of national and regional security institutions (see the OSCE’s recent reports on climate and security in Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the Caucuses), the Munich Security Conference Report hopefully signals that a real and substantial elevation of climate change risks to the highest levels of international security thinking is underway. Subsequent actions by governments and intergovernmental institutions will either confirm or deny that.

Read the full report here.


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