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CCS at COP25: Time to Get Serious About Climate and Security Risks to Small Islands

Oliver_CCS_COP Madrid 2019

CCS Senior Research Fellow LCDR Oliver-Leighton Barrett, US Navy (Ret), speaking at the “Climate and Security- emerging trends and adaptive strategies” event at COP25 in Madrid, Spain (December 11, 2019)

The European Union (EU) is taking decisive action on addressing climate change and making it an integral part of its foreign aid strategy. To advance the climate change focused portion of its foreign policy, in 2007 the EU founded the Global Climate Change Alliance (GCCA) with a charter to develop “climate security” strategies that address the strategic and political impacts of climate change. Most specifically, the GCCA aims to strengthen dialogue and cooperation, on climate change with developing countries most vulnerable to the phenomenon, in particular Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

As part of this “dialogue and cooperation” effort, on the afternoon of December 11, 2019, at the U.N. Conference of the Parties 25 (COP25) in Madrid, Spain, the GCCA hosted a climate security focused side event titled “Climate and Security- emerging trends and adaptive strategies.” The event aspired to expand on understanding of the ways in which climate variability interacts with human security by examining themes that included the security implications of ecological changes on SIDS and LDCs. The Center for Climate and Security’s Senior Research Fellow, Lieutenant Commander Oliver Leighton Barrett, US Navy (retired), a former advisor to U.S. Southern Command, was invited to discuss some of these themes with the COP25 audience.

Oliver’s presentation focused on the Caribbean basin (a regional subset of his CCS America’s portfolio), describing how climate trends and island states’ underlying security trends will invariably converge in ways that heighten insecurity and instability across the basin. Climate hazards such as tropical storms and hurricanes, sea level rise, ocean acidification, and coral bleaching are hazards that when superimposed on existing economic and security vulnerabilities can lead to crises well beyond the capacities of governments to manage.

The presentation underscored some of the key points made in a 2018 CCS-published Caribbean-focused policy brief  to include the fact that island states are overly exposed to climate risks due to their geography, dependency on agricultural and tourism sectors, and in some cases, economic fragility and political instability. The report also warned that both vexing security issues in the region, including illicit trafficking, and trans-regional crime, as well as new trends such as heavy migration streams emanating from Venezuela which may all be exacerbated by climate change.

In the “What Can Be Done” portion of his presentation, Oliver emphasized that a more thorough assessment of Caribbean climate-security risks needs to be done (none has been accomplished to date) to determine the severity of these underappreciated risks, and to serve as a basis for action. He also explained that it was the CCS’s view that making the most of existing regional institutional capacities by better aligning them and adding climate security to their remit would be a prudent, and cost effective first step to start de-risking the Caribbean’s vulnerability. Weaving climate security imperatives into broader climate resiliency and disaster preparation plans and working on high-level political buy-in for a regional climate security agenda were also cited as crucial elements of any regional action plan.

CCS appreciates the EU’s continued commitment to helping climate proof LDCS and SIDS. We hope that other development and security stakeholders will heed the warnings, and call for robust action.

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