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Responding to climate-related security risks: Are regional organizations in Asia and Africa ready?


‘Victims’ are rescued in an emergency simulation involving the Philippine Coast Guard, Philippine Navy, the National Disaster Coordinating Council and the Japanese Coast Guard as part of an ASEAN disaster response exercise.

By, Dr. Florian Krampe, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) 

The transnational character of climate-related security risks often goes beyond the capacity of national governments to respond adequately. As such, it creates challenges for and increases the relevance of intergovernmental organizations (IGOs). It is, therefore, not only important to understand the climate-related security risks that regions are experiencing but also to analyze how regional IGOs are developing their capacities to deal with these risks.

A newly published study by the Stockholm International Peace research Institute, SIPRI, shows that, in various ways, climate-related security risks have found their way into the policy frameworks and institutional discourse of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC); and two in Africa, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD). Climate-related security risks have been identified as a growing concern for policymakers across all four of the IGOs considered in the study.

Some organizations, such as SAARC and IGAD, have been concerned with climate security for several decades. In the case of IGAD, climate-related security risks in the form of droughts were part of the very reason it was established. Other organizations, such as ASEAN, identify climate-related security risks as a direct challenge to their mandate to promote prosperity and stability in the South East Asian region. The regional security context and the vulnerability to climate change thereby both affect the framing of these risks. For example, ASEAN and SAARC have a strong emphasis on disaster management, stemming from the fact that their member states are located in areas of the globe exposed to natural disasters.

Both the regional security context and the regions’ vulnerability to climate change affect the framing of climate-related security risks. To that end, food security, caused by droughts or natural disasters, is a major concern for all four IGOs. ECOWAS’s focus on environmental issues and natural resources appears to originate from its experience with the role that natural resources played during recent conflicts. While there is an awareness of climate change among ECOWAS officials, the policy frameworks focus too narrowly on the implications of natural resources rather than on climate change. This is notably different within IGAD, even though the major consequence—transhumance conflict (conflict between pastoralists and farmers)—is the same in both organizations.

For regional organizations to adequately respond to increasing climate-related security risks, there is a need to develop better internal coordination mechanisms that are able to direct policy action across institutional boundaries. The example of the way the Lake Chad crisis has been dealt with by ECOWAS and the Economic Community of Central African States shows the difficulty of managing a crisis that extends across the borders of two regional organizations.

Inevitably, climate-related security risks stretch beyond the boundaries of IGOs. Thus, regions could increase their ability to respond to climate-related security risks by developing a coherent governance structure that is based on a subsidiarity principle. If a regional IGO is unable to adequately address climate risks, the next appropriate level of governance should fulfil its subsidiarity function and aid the regional organization.

Dr. Florian Krampe is a political scientist working at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) where he works on climate security and sustaining peace.

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