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Briefer: One Year Later: Unraveling Climate and Ecological Security in Ukraine
By Elsa Barron, Brigitte Hugh, and Michael R. Zarfos
Edited by Tom Ellison
On February 24, 2022, the brutal Russian invasion of Ukraine irrevocably altered the geopolitical landscape. The year since has witnessed a devastating humanitarian catastrophe in the country, and also a complex and systemic interplay of climate change, environmental degradation, and conflict.
In the wake of the initial invasion, the Center for Climate and Security published a briefer overviewing challenges and concerns regarding climate and ecological security in the midst of the conflict. One year after the invasion, this briefer reassesses the war’s implications for the energy transition, as well as global climate, ecological and food security.
Briefer: The Devil’s in the Deep: Marine Fisheries, Ecological Tipping Point Risks, and Maritime Security
By David Michel
Escalating human pressures are transforming the world’s seas. Habitat destruction, biodiversity loss, pollution, resource depletion, and the mounting effects of global climate change increasingly threaten ocean ecosystems. Many stresses interact, generating compound risks that could push marine systems over tipping points past which they cannot readily recover.
For countries and communities reliant on ocean resources, the ramifications could be considerable, jeopardizing the livelihoods, security, and welfare of millions of people.
Climate and Ecological Security in the 2023 Annual Threat Assessment
By Erin Sikorsky and Michael Zarfos
On March 8, the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) and other top U.S. intelligence agency leaders came before the Senate Intelligence Committee to present their Annual Threat Assessment (ATA)—a rundown of the top threats facing the United States in the coming year. As in previous iterations, climate and ecological security issues featured in the briefing and submitted testimony from the DNI, with the unclassified version of the testimony’s Foreword stating, “ The accelerating effects of climate change are placing more of the world’s population, particularly in low- and middle-income countries, under threat from extreme weather, food insecurity, and humanitarian disasters, fueling migration flows and increasing the risks of future pandemics as pathogens exploit the changing environment.”
In the question and answer portion of the hearing, Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM) highlighted (1:29:30) the Council on Strategic Risks 2020 report, “The Security Threat that Binds Us,” which he commended for its recommendation of elevating ecological security in U.S. national security policymaking. He noted in particular its assessment of China’s illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. DNI Avril Haines acknowledged seeing the report, her concern regarding IUU fishing, and explained that the intelligence community was working to follow some of its recommendations, including a greater integration of the federal scientific community with the Intelligence Community (IC).
The ATA identified IUU fishing as a significant driver of stock depletion across the globe. It also highlighted the converging risks that combine with overexploitation to cause species declines. Human pollution (e.g. agricultural and sewage nutrient runoff) and climate change (e.g. warmer, more acidic water) increase the vulnerability of marine species to decline as important ecosystems (e.g. seagrass and coral reefs) are undermined.
Warming waters are expected to drive important species into new regions of the ocean, while also removing some species from countries’ territorial waters and Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs). The presence of heavily subsidized IUU fleets—such as those fielded by China—increases competition for these diminishing and shifting fish stocks. Poorer countries that rely on the sea are ill-equipped to compete with these fleets, leading to reduced economic and food security that may contribute to internal unrest.
More broadly, the ATA outlines how ecological degradation in general (e.g. deforestation, pollution, wildlife trafficking) can combine with climate change to threaten human and national security. As each of these anthropogenic stressors progresses, natural resources (e.g. food, soil, timber, and water) will in some regions decline or shift in their geographic availability. These outcomes, combined with a changing climate, will impact human health through malnutrition and the spread of unfamiliar diseases. Natural disasters will add immediate stress to punctuate these gradual processes. Where these combined stressors do not immediately contribute to conflict, they will displace populations and exacerbate inequality, which in turn may destabilize societies.
An important new angle of climate security in this year’s ATA was its focus on potential geopolitical challenges related to climate finance. The ATA noted, “Tensions also are rising between countries over climate financing. High-and middle-income countries still have not met their 2015 Paris Agreement pledges to provide $100 billion per year to low-income countries by 2020, and low-income countries want more assistance with adapting to climate effects.”
The assessment goes on to raise last year’s climate-driven floods in Pakistan and the country’s subsequent calls for loss and damage funding as an example. Certainly, the dynamics at COP27 around the creation of a loss and damage fund, including the eventual agreement by developing countries that China would not benefit from such a fund, reflect the changing global dynamics of climate finance. This highlight in the ATA underscores a point the Center for Climate and Security (CCS) made in a briefer earlier this year about the security links to climate finance issues, and the importance of the United States understanding these connections as it approaches allies and partners on climate issues.
Overall, it is heartening to see both the IC exploring a wide range of climate and ecological security issues in the ATA, and members of Congress expressing increased interest in these critical issues.
CCS and IMCCS to Host Events on Food Security and the Clean Energy Transition at the Munich Security Conference
The Center for Climate and Security (CCS) and the International Military Council on Climate and Security (IMCCS) in partnership with NATO look forward to hosting innovative conversations on key climate security issues, including food security and the clean energy transition, at the Munich Security Conference set to take place February 17-19, 2023.
Climate change is a strategically significant security risk that will affect our most basic resources, including food, with potentially dire security ramifications. National and international security communities, including militaries and intelligence agencies, understand these risks and are taking action to anticipate them. However, progress in mitigating these risks will require deeper collaboration among the climate change, agriculture and food security, and national security communities through targeted research, policy development, and community building.
In order to address these challenges, CCS will host an interactive roundtable under the title “Feeding Climate Resilience: Mapping the Security Benefits of Agriculture and Climate Adaptation” with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, featuring a high-level discussion aimed at identifying further areas of cooperation among these sectors and exploring possible areas for policy action.
The Clean Energy Transition
The Russian invasion of Ukraine and subsequent global energy crisis, coupled with the last few years of unprecedented extreme heat, droughts, and floods, have revealed a new, more complex security reality for NATO countries. Navigating this reality requires militaries to systematically recognize the opportunities and challenges that exist within the nexus between climate change and security, and the global clean energy transition.
The deterioration in Euro-Atlantic security will lead to increases in Alliance military procurement as well as the intensity of training, exercising, and patrolling. Such investment decisions can maintain and enhance operational effectiveness and collective defense requirements by taking advantage of the innovative solutions offered by the green energy transition that are designed for future operating environments while contributing to individual countries’ UNFCCC Paris Agreement commitments. However, it is also important to identify and mitigate new dependencies created by a switch from Russian fossil fuels to a critical minerals supply chain currently dominated by China and to think holistically about interoperability and other factors of relevance to the Alliance.
A roundtable discussion titled “Cleaner and Meaner: The Military Energy Transition by Design” and hosted by IMCCS and NATO will identify key opportunities to speed NATO militaries’ transition to clean energy, as well as challenges/obstacles that require cooperation and strategic planning across the Alliance. The conversation will seek to identify next steps for NATO countries, including through technological innovation and partnerships with the private sector, and builds on conversations about the implementation of climate security planning hosted by IMCCS and NATO at the 2022 conference.
Follow us here and on social media for more coming out of this year’s conversations at MSC.