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Year in Review: The Top Climate & Security Stories of 2021

By Joon Hwang

2021 was a momentous year for climate security. From President Biden’s Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad, to NATO’s Climate and Security Plan of Action, to stacks of climate security reports from US federal agencies, to the increasing number of climate hazards driving security risks around the globe – the Center for Climate and Security (CCS) blog has provided context and clarity every step of the way. As we look towards a more resilient 2022, we wanted to highlight the ten most-read posts from the past year. 

As the Biden administration started to pursue its focus on climate change, CCS analysis of Department of Defense climate security products were especially of interest to our readers:

Our readers also dug into analysis of climate hazards in the Middle East, especially in relation to water security. 

  • Drought is Leading to Instability and Water Weaponization in the Middle East and North Africa by Marcus D. King and Rianna LeHane. Droughts in the MENA region and other “climate shocks weaken state resiliency on multiple fronts,” leading to decreased agricultural and economic output, mass displacements of peoples, and increased conflict by violent extremist organizations (VEOs). As water stress increases, so does the possibility and intensity of its weaponization, as we see in Turkey, Iran, and Iraq today.
  • A Recipe for Perpetual Insecurity? The Case of a Syrian Protected Area by Peter Schwartzstein. In northeastern Syria, an ill-planned government afforestation plan and the designation of a protected area threw many pastoral locals out of work and caused discontent. When an intense drought hit the area and the state banned irrigation, tensions flared and led to increased crime, extremist recruitment, and significant levels of out-migration. 
  •  Why Water Conflict is Rising, Especially on the Local Level by Peter Schwartzstein. Intra-state water conflicts at the local and communal levels have become widespread in the Middle East and North Africa. “[Most] of these water-related clashes are intimately wrapped up with poor governance, and because climate change stresses and population pressures only compound governance failures, even greater patches of the planet will become vulnerable to shortfalls in water quality and access.“

Finally, our readers frequently turned to the CCS blog when climate security was in the news, looking for a better understanding of the security implications of the top climate change developments of the year.

  • Central American Climate Migration is a Human Security Crisis by Amali Tower. Central American migrants face converging environmental, economic, and political hazards that lead to internal and international migration. Considering these structural factors, the U.S. should look at migration through the lens of human security and development, not hard security, argues Amali Tower. 
  • Balancing on a Knife’s Edge: Climate Security Implications of the IPCC Findings by Akash Ramnath and Kate Guy. According to the IPCC’s new report, the latest scientific consensus is that our planet could become warmer by an additional 2.1-5.7°C by 2100, depending on the level of greenhouse gas reductions. This finding has strong implications for security and defense: “First, cutting emissions and adapting to climate impacts are equally important for security in the coming years; second, that the increasing risk of crossing climate tipping points suggests security services must prepare for managing multiple climate-induced crises at once.” 
  • Climate Change in U.S. National Security Strategies under Obama, Trump and Biden by Dr. Marc Kodack. The Biden administration’s National Security Strategy (NSS) interim guidance shows a strong focus on climate security, building on the Obama administration’s NSS and reversing course from the Trump administration’s NSS, which did not focus on climate security. Most notably, the Biden NSS interim guidance mentions climate change as one of today’s biggest global challenges, and underscores the need to work with international partners and allies to increase resilience and recover from natural disasters.
  • Survey of Security Experts Warns of Potentially Catastrophic Climate Threats in the Next 20 Years by Kate Guy. According to a survey of climate security experts (final results published in the IMCCS’s World Climate and Security Report 2021), climate change will increase in severity to pose “severe and catastrophic levels of security risk.” The experts expressed particular concern for “direct environmental impacts, including precipitation changes, sea-level rise, and more severe natural disasters, as well as the subsequent effects that those impacts will pose to agricultural, economic, and healthcare systems worldwide. This suggests that nations should prioritize investment in disaster-relief and insurance systems, while focusing on bolstering critical infrastructure against increasing vulnerabilities.”

Thanks to you, our readers, for joining us each week. We look forward to continuing to share the latest insights and analysis on climate security risks and responses in 2022 and beyond!

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