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The Biden Administration’s new National Security Strategy (NSS), released in October 2022, elevates attention and focus on climate security beyond any prior NSS. The security risks of climate change get the attention in the NSS they have long deserved. Climate change is in fact framed as a top-tier threat on a par with geopolitical challenges from U.S. adversaries and competitors.
The NSS states:
“Of all of the shared problems we face, climate change is the greatest and potentially [most] existential for all nations. Without immediate global action during this crucial decade, global temperatures will cross the critical warming threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius after which scientists have warned some of the most catastrophic climate impacts will be irreversible.”
The world is already experiencing deadly and life-altering climate-related catastrophes (e.g, flooding in Pakistan, fires and drought in California, hurricanes in Florida) when the Earth’s global average land and ocean surface temperature has risen at least 1.1 degrees Celsius since the mid-1800s (approximately 2 degrees Fahrenheit). This NSS recognizes the unprecedented risks posed by such disasters. It therefore includes climate risks and related solutions in every aspect of national security and foreign policy, from reduction of carbon pollution to building resilience at home and abroad, and threading climate risks into every regional strategy. In this regard, the new NSS includes many of the recommendations in our Briefer of June 2021,“Climate Change in the U.S. National Security Strategy: History and Recommendations.”
The most recent NSS addresses our five key recommendations as well emerging concerns due to Russia’s war in Ukraine. These are 1) include all sectors, not just energy, including sources and sinks; 2) expand the concept of climate security to ecological security; 3) increase environmental monitoring; 4) forecast and plan for unpredictability; 5) assert strong U.S. leadership on climate and inter-related global ecological concerns, including passing aggressive climate and environmental restoration legislation and appropriating sufficient funding.
This briefer by the Center for Climate and Security focuses on these five recommendations and the relevant provisions within the NSS, concluding that the NSS both succeeds in recognizing the interdependence of all natural systems and resources, but also embodies several contradictions which should be improved. However, “the theme of the 2022 NSS is spot on: ‘No country should withhold progress on existential transnational issues like the climate crisis because of bilateral differences.'”
The tragedy unfolding in Pakistan in the wake of unprecedented flooding late last month, which has inundated a third of the country and displaced millions of people, is not only a humanitarian catastrophe but also poses significant security threats. Already before the floods, South Asia experienced record breaking heat waves in April and May, leading to unbearable living conditions, widespread energy blackouts, and rapid glacial melt. These climate hazards will compound existing challenges in the country, including political instability, Islamic extremism, and nuclear security.
Given these dynamics, efforts to address the immediate humanitarian crisis as well as develop longer-term climate adaptation and resilience measures are not just the right thing for Western countries to do—such investments will also provide security benefits as they contribute to a more stable Pakistan in the future. In particular, the United States must live up to its climate finance commitments, and better integrate climate considerations into the range of engagements it has with Pakistan, including ongoing military training and support.
In April 2022, the U.S. State Department released a Prologue to the 2020 United States Strategy to Prevent Conflict and Promote Stability, part of the Global Fragility Act of 2019. The prologue selected four countries and one region—including Papua New Guinea—as a geographic focus in developing a blueprint for promoting global peace and security.
Papua New Guinea (PNG) is at a pivotal moment in its development. Opportunities to modernize are clashing with traditional tribal strictures; foreign commercial and political actors are vying for favor and resources; and global geopolitical competition is buffeting regional relationships. Exacerbating all of these challenges is climate change.
This briefer by the Center for Climate and Security focuses on key PNG security risks, and the role of climate change in shaping security outcomes in the country. It highlights both risks and opportunities, and offers policymakers targeted recommendations to prevent instability and conflict in a complex, climate-stressed environment.
About the author
Rachel Fleishman is Nonresident Senior Research Fellow for the Asia-Pacific at the Center for Climate and Security, an institute of the Council on Strategic Risks.
By Dr. Duncan Depledge, Matt Ince, Olivia Lazard, and Erin Sikorsky
Climate change is altering the physical and strategic context in which national and international security is pursued. But it is not just increased climate variability and its socio-economic consequences that could compound instability and violent conflict in the future. The scale of transformation required to mitigate and adapt to the climate crisis, as well as the speed and orderliness with which any such transition must occur, carries additional risk and demands more attention from scholars and policymakers. That was the
conclusion of a virtual roundtable organized by the UK Ministry of Defence’s Climate Change & Sustainability Directorate and Loughborough University in May 2022, led by the authors of this briefer. The following draws from the roundtable conversations.
Read the full briefer here.