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Two Days of Climate and Security Action in the UN Security Council and Japan

Joint disaster drill

Commander Fleet Activities Yokosuka port operations department sailors onboard USS Puyallup, simulate delivering food, clothing, first aid kits to Japanese disaster workers. US Navy Photo By Joseph Schmitt

By Shiloh Fetzek, Sherri Goodman and John Conger

Within 24 hours of each other, three significant security events will take place in New York, Brussels and Tokyo. On July 11/12, Sweden leads a debate in the UN Security Council on climate and security, the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs convenes a major conference on the same subject, and the NATO Summit begins in Brussels.

Climate change will be front and center at the first two of these, but likely not as front and center at the third.

The UN Security Council debate on July 11 is the culmination of two years of effort by Sweden to mainstream climate change into the work of the UN Security Council, making it fit for purpose in a climate-shaped security environment. Sweden managed to catalyze action and create significant momentum during their two-year term as a nonpermanent member of the Council, momentum which is likely to bridge the transition to new non-permanent members in 2019 – particularly Germany and Belgium. This follows on the Arria Formula Dialogue last December and almost a decade worth of work to address climate security risks at the UN Security Council.

Likewise, at a conference hosted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan on July 12, the country is demonstrating ongoing commitment and leadership on addressing the security dimensions of climate change at a time when its Self-Defense Forces have been deployed in domestic rescue efforts as record rainfall and flooding have devastated parts of the country and led to over 100 fatalities.

Understandably, NATO’s field of vision is taken up by tectonic shifts within the Alliance – an issue which is  dominating the Summit on July 11 and 12. Nevertheless, the Alliance has to manage the array of risks before them. Not just NATO, but the broader security establishment, ignores climate change and security risks at its peril. These threats will intertwine with traditional security issues like terrorism and nuclear threats and in ways that we can anticipate but nevertheless may catch us by surprise. In fact, this was echoed by NATO’s Deputy Secretary General, Rose Gottemoeller, at a recent EU High Level Dialogue on Climate, Peace and Security. CNN published  a piece by the Center for Climate and Security’s Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn yesterday on why the climate threat should not be absent from the NATO Summit, and we’ll soon see if it comes up.

The science of these risks, particularly sea level rise and extreme weather, is sounder than most other projections we have about the future. On top of that, new warnings from the science community indicate that we may be in a much riskier situation than we thought.

In important security forums, the climate security issue is moving ahead. There is increasing recognition of this from countries around the world – and all on the same day. These institutions know that it’s better to be on a proactive footing than caught unprepared by the security threats climate change poses. Whether or not we deal with climate change, climate change will deal with us.

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