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Climate Change Remains a Consistent Theme at Shangri-La Security Dialogue

U.S._Japan_and_Australian_Trilateral_meeting_Shangri-La 2018

U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis meets with Australian Minister of Defense, Senator Marise Payne and Japanese Minister of Defense, Itsunori Onodera, at Shangri-La Dialogue, June 2, 2018. (DoD Photo by Tech Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.)

By Steve Tebbe, Policy Associate

When Florence Parly, the French Minister of the Armed Forces, called to “disarm the climate” at this year’s IISS Shangri-La Dialogue (17th Asia Security Summit), it helped exemplify how seriously the summit’s panelists were taking the security risks of climate change. The Dialogue continued the pattern of recent Shangri-La Dialogues and other security conferences, with a range of leading defense ministers and practitioners speaking on how the changing climate has impacted their security.

Asia-Pacific defense ministers, military and civilian staff gather in Shangri-La every year to discuss the trends and threats in Indo-Pacific regional security. News outlets have covered the emphasis on ASEAN terrorism, the Korean Peninsula, and emphasized the Indo-Pacific space across the Dialogue. However, climate security was included in a number of speaker’s talks this year, including Minister Parly, Ron Mark, the Minister of Defence of New Zealand, and Philip Barton, the Director-General for Consular and Security at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the UK. In the Sixth Special Session focusing on regional security cooperation, Vice Admiral Hervé de Bonnaventure, the Acting Director-General of International Relations and Strategy at the French Ministry of the Armed Forces noted that he believes climate directly changes military operations:

 “Drought, floods, rising water level, coral reef erosions are not just natural events. They are also military events because they redraw maps, create new tension, displace population.”

Many other leaders mentioned climate change, remarking on the need to cooperate on addressing this global challenge, or the need to prioritize fisheries cooperation among Indo-Pacific nations. The Ministers of Defense for Japan, Australia, Germany, and Indonesia all referenced climate change throughout their Plenary Sessions. The keynote speaker, Indian PM Narendra Modi, brought up climate change in context of the International Solar Alliance, an international coalition to expand solar energy in response to the Paris Agreement. While it is promising that so many defense minsters discuss the risks climate change poses, the commentary from the French and New Zealand military officials, in particular, provided a clear example on how climate change’s impacts to military operations are continually becoming more recognized worldwide.

Below are excerpts from the speeches and panels that directly touched upon climate security:

Fifth Plenary Session – Raising the Bar for Regional Security Cooperation

Florence Parly, Minister of the Armed Forces, France (full remarks)

But we should look beyond all these traditional man-made calamities, and anticipate further risks. I am talking of another kind of man-made calamity: climate change. Its security consequences could be huge. In the Indo-Pacific, the risks are significant that some countries could disappear in a few decades because of the sea level rising. Ever more frequent extreme weather events will create new security vulnerabilities.

France is seeking to work with all the countries of the Indo-Pacific on an innovative approach to reduce the impact of climate change by anticipating the risks and setting up preventive measures. This will be a collaborative endeavor, and we look forward to working with all of you on this.

Closing Line: “Faced with so many gathering clouds, only a patient, collective, yes, a selfless effort, can rein in the passions, prove Thucydides wrong, uphold rules, disarm the climate, and show that, yes, we can raise the bar, rather than the flag.”

Special Session 4: Competition and Cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region (full session)

Philip Barton, Director-General, Consular and Security, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, United Kingdom – Q&A Session:

I wanted to answer your question with reference to the hurricanes that swept through the Caribbean last year because I was heavily involved in the UK response because it affected a number of our territories also affected French, Dutch, and US territories as well as independent Caribbean countries. And we were close to overwhelmed if we’re honest despite all of our resources at our disposal. So, when we reflected afterwards on the lessons, the things that we wished we had done in advance that we’re trying to do before this year’s hurricane season, are around understanding where the biggest risks are, and then putting in place in advance liaison arrangements, working out how we’ll do multinational command and control. So that, as different countries bring military and civilian assets in disaster relief, how you’re going to make sure the right things end up in the right places and you’re prioritizing according to acute need. So, I think anything that you can do in the Indian Ocean region to look at where are the biggest risks, who, if there was a catastrophic event, who would be bringing assets to bear to help provide relief, and how would they be coordinated is well worth investing in advance because when you have to do it in a crisis situation, it’s really hard as you go along so prior planning definitely pays dividends.

Special Session 6: Managing Competition in Regional Security Cooperation (full session)

Ron Mark, Minister of Defence, New Zealand

Pressure on the rules-based order also stems from intensifying transnational challenges such as climate change, transnational criminals, and other malicious non-state actors and cyber threats across geographies and domains. Challenges once conceived as future trends are becoming present realities…

Finally, we propose a fifth principle. That as a region, we must be forward looking and future-proof our cooperation. We need to turn our attention to geostrategic environmental and technological changes now and think carefully about how they may redefine future security cooperation. We know that due to climate change, natural disasters are going to increasingly test us with their severity and their frequency. We should continue to prioritize humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. Disaster relief cooperation so that when disasters do strike, we don’t have to play catch-up and have the systems in place to respond appropriately and effectively. We also have to build resilience in the face of such challenges and ensure we translate dialogue and exercises into practical outcomes.


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