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Climate-Nuclear-Security Program


Photo by, Sharada Prasad C


Today, the international community is experiencing a number of nuclear-related trends and pressures. New nations are pursuing civilian nuclear capabilities. Some countries long holding nuclear energy are increasing their nuclear capacity, while others are witnessing the opposite trend. The threat of non-state actors seeking nuclear materials may be growing. Countries continue to debate proper approaches for keeping nuclear systems safe and secure, while innovative concepts such as nuclear fuel banks are reshaping the intellectual landscape regarding nuclear issues. At the same time, governments worldwide are having difficulty managing the effects of the rapidly changing climate, such as severe natural disasters, new disease trends, sea level rise, and exacerbated resource stress. Even without these major influencers, national security institutions are experiencing monumental stresses from technological change, continually-evolving terrorist threats, massive waves of migration, an emboldened Russia, the strength of the nonproliferation regime under question from flagrant use of chemical weapons and the emergence of a nuclear weapons ban treaty, and other pressures.

In some ways, climate, security, and nuclear trends are evolving in parallel, shaping the global landscape alongside political changes, demographic stress, globalization, and other factors. In other ways, these trends are directly influencing one another and intertwining. Innumerable examples are already clear. Bangladesh is struggling against sea level rise and changing Himalayan glacial patterns in tandem with rising terrorist threats and overpopulation, all as its government continues cooperation with Russia to build nuclear reactors. Jordan, a critical security partner of the United States, has seen protests over the country’s potential nuclear program in recent years as the government pushes forward on plans to develop a nuclear energy sector, in part to enable desalination to help address the country’s dire water shortages that are growing worse with the combined pressures of refugees and climate change. Given their humanitarian impacts and the existential risks they pose, the effects of nuclear weapons and climate change have both driven new legal challenges in targeted countries and international courts, combining to showcase a new type of lawfare that is empowering individuals and small states such as the Marshall Islands.


Bikini Atoll, Marshall Islands, Photo by NASA/USGS

Climate change is making the International Atomic Energy Agency’s nuclear work in medicine, agriculture, and clean water more important than ever, just as it seems its nuclear safety, security, and nonproliferation responsibilities will continue to grow.

The Center for Climate and Security launched a program in 2016 to explore the many ways climate change, nuclear, and security affairs are combining around the world. In order to understand the diverse and complex interactions among these three issue areas, the Center assembled a multidisciplinary Working Group on Climate, Nuclear, and Security Affairs. Its members include thought leaders with wide-ranging experiences in defense, diplomacy, business, academia, journalism, and international organizations.


Christine Parthemore, Director, Climate-Nuclear-Security Program
Andrea Rezzonico, Assistant Director, The Climate-Nuclear-Security Program

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