Washington, DC, August 12, 2020 – As ASEAN convenes the 13th Meeting of its Joint Task Force on Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief, the Expert Group of the International Military Council on Climate and Security (IMCCS) released a new report urging leaders to make climate change a “security priority” in the Indo-Asia Pacific. The IMCCS is a group of senior military leaders, security experts, and security institutions across the globe – currently hailing from 38 countries in every hemisphere – dedicated to anticipating, analyzing, and addressing the security risks of a changing climate.
The emergence and ongoing consequences of COVID-19 have exposed serious societal vulnerabilities, even in wealthy nations, and demonstrated that foreseeable crises can have severe social, economic, political and security consequences. Furthermore, the COVID-19 crisis is a wake-up call for using science as a basis for risk management. Likewise, climate science should be incorporated into security policy and planning to avoid worst outcomes. This is according to the new report by the Expert Group of the International Military Council on Climate and Security (IMCCS), titled “Climate and Security in the Indo-Asia Pacific.” The report, which is part of the World Climate and Security Report 2020 Briefer Series, articulates six main points.
- Addressing the root causes of climate change should be a security priority for the region. Addressing the root causes of climate-related security threats, including by considering the full scope of implications of fossil fuel energy investments on national interests and national security, can support regional stability in a changing world. Significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the region should therefore be a security priority for the region.
- Climate change should be higher on the regional security agenda. Though the Indo-Asia Pacific is one of the regions most vulnerable to climate impacts, the security dimensions of climate change are not high on the agenda in policy circles. It is the most disaster-prone part of the world; food and water security are vulnerable to climate impacts; its population and economic infrastructure are concentrated on the coasts and vulnerable to storms and sea level rise.
- Climate change is worsening underlying security tensions in the region. In a region where geostrategic competition, inter- and intra-state tensions and violent unrest have increased, the report finds that climate change-related stressors including changing river flows, migrating fish stocks, extreme weather and sea level rise could erode coping capacities, increase grievances, worsen underlying tensions and fragilities, overwhelm state capacities and degrade the security environment, if not managed effectively.
- Many security dynamics in the region are highly sensitive to climate change. Some of the region’s security dynamics are particularly sensitive to climate impacts, e.g. sea level rise and military buildup on contested features in the South China Sea; interstate tensions expressed through (and exacerbated by) transboundary water management disputes; confrontations over fishing driven by declining yields (due to overfishing and pollution as well as climate-driven ocean warming and acidification); and eroding livelihoods potentially driving more piracy and serious organized crime.
- Foreseeable security challenges related to climate change underly a regional Responsibility to Prepare and Prevent. Security communities in the Indo-Asia Pacific have a responsibility to prepare for and prevent these foreseeable security challenges, alongside development and diplomatic actors, the authors find. This includes supporting climate resilience by strengthening military capacities for Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief operations, and improving responses to climate threats by supporting long-range planning within government.
- Better coordination between security communities is critical for combating climate-related security threats. Better coordination and networking among the international security community working to address climate-related threats, such as through the International Military Council on Climate and Security, can facilitate information exchange and sharing lessons learned. This includes sharing the world-leading expertise of Indo-Asia Pacific militaries in responding to climate-driven disasters.
The IMCCS Secretary General, the Honorable Sherri Goodman, Senior Strategist at the Center for Climate and Security and former U.S. Deputy Undersecretary of Defense, stated:
“Climate change acts as a threat multiplier, increasing security threats across the Indo-Pacific region, from increasingly devastating storms and sea level rise, to migrating fish stocks compromising the region’s food security. The region’s megacities are at particular risk, which will only intensify with high temperatures and warmer waters. Now is the time for “climate-proofing” measures, from incorporating climate security risks into foreign and defense policies in the region, to strengthening capacities for Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief. Security organizations should work together with diplomatic, development and disaster response agencies to coordinate preparedness, planning and response.”
In highlighting the key findings of the report, General Tom Middendorp, Chair of the IMCCS and former Chief of Defence of the Netherlands, said:
“The COVID-19 crisis has showed us how vulnerable we are to changes in our environment. We can’t hide from them behind our national boundaries and we have to address them collectively. The crisis also taught us what happens if we let time slip through our fingers; the longer we wait to prepare and to respond, the more severe the consequences will be. To me, COVID-19 is a prelude of the disruptions we can expect from our changing climate. This unprecedented report clearly outlines how climate change is already affecting the security situation in the Indo-Asia Pacific region and what the future security risks are. It’s not often that we have such foresight of future security threats. We have a responsibility to be prepared, to build resilience and to not let time slip through our fingers.”
Senior Participant in the International Military Council on Climate and Security, Colonel Sapenafa K. Motufaga, Military and Police Adviser to the Permanent Mission of Fiji to the United Nations, noted:
“Fiji’s Prime Minister has stated that the climate crisis means ‘The fight for our very survival.’ These threats to Pacific Islands and across Asia make climate change a critical issue for the international community to pay attention to.”
Senior Participant in the International Military Council on Climate and Security, Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn, US Navy (Ret), also weighed in: “Military and intelligence leaders have consistently warned that foreseeable threats like pandemics and climate change can cause major national security disruptions. Covid-19 shows why we should pay attention to these threats, manage risks based on the science and act decisively before situations spiral out of control. The security landscape in the Indo-Asia Pacific is getting more complicated, just as climate change impacts on this dynamic. Clearly, these dangers need to be minimized through smart investments in sustainability and sound policy decisions to preserve regional stability and enhanced prosperity.”
Read the “Climate and Security in the Indo-Asia Pacific” report: Here
Direct inquiries to: Francesco Femia, ffemia at csrisks dot org
- World Climate and Security Report 2020 by the Expert Group of the International Military Council on Climate Change
- The Responsibility to Prepare and Prevent: A Climate Security Governance Framework for the 21st Century by Caitlin Werrell and Francesco Femia, the Council on Strategic Risks