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BRIEFER: The Forgotten Countries in the “Muddy Middle” of Climate Security Risk: A Case for Addressing the Gap
By Tom Ellison
Climate security analysis lends itself to focusing on the extremes among countries, whether the greenhouse gas trajectories of the highest emitting countries or the adaptation challenges in the most exposed. This is evident in the (understandable) focus on the ten or 20 most climate vulnerable countries, where climate-related security impacts are most clear. However, with climate impacts set to worsen for decades even in a best-case emissions scenario, climate-related security challenges will continue to intensify in countries that are not considered the most vulnerable today–those in the “muddy middle” of climate vulnerability rankings. These countries get less attention because they are not top-5 emitters, great power rivals, or conflict-ridden crisis areas, but they are places where climate risks are less certain and where increased instability could be globally consequential.
This pitfall can be seen in the wide use of climate vulnerability indices by governments, civil society, journalists, and the private sector to measure countries’ vulnerability to climate change. Such indices have their place, but they can obscure aspects of climate security risks in countries with mixed or unremarkable scores.
This Briefer explores the limits of such rankings, examines the various climate-security risks of those countries in the “muddy middle,” and suggests analytical framing that can help reinforce the visibility of those risks faced in such countries:
Questions for country analysts to consider might include: How will climate change and the energy transition lift or depress the value of economic assets important to this country’s political forces? How might climate extremes align with existing social divisions, misinformation narratives, or cultural flashpoints, amplifying the impact of both? How could climate change or policies spur destabilizing grievances, by violating local expectations of governance, regardless of the level of absolute deprivation?
This briefer co-published with the International Committee of the Red Cross
The convergence of climate change, security, and humanitarian action, including in places affected by conflict, demands nuanced consideration and dialogue among decision makers at all levels. In response to this need for dialogue, the Center for Climate and Security (CCS) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) brought together representatives from a variety of U.S. government agencies as well as academic institutions, think tanks, and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) approaching these issues from different but complementary vantage points. The discussion explored how relevant actors can work together to anticipate, mitigate, and respond to the humanitarian consequences brought on by the intersection of climate risks and conflict—both now and in the future.
The purpose of this briefer is to highlight key elements of that discussion—namely, challenges and opportunities for current procedures addressing conflict and climate consequences, and in developing knowledge.(more…)
This case study was written as part of SIPRI’s ‘Environment of Peace’ initiative, and is reprinted with permission.
When recruiters for Iraq’s various militias came to the North Abu Zarag Marsh near Nasiriyah in southern Iraq in August of 2014, it didn’t take them long to empty the surrounding villages of most of their young men. For weeks before, locals had watched in horror as the Islamic State (also known as IS or ISIS) had surged across the country’s north and west. And for those weeks, they had been electrified by religious clerics’ call to arms against the jihadists. A good number of the community’s most committed fighters had answered that appeal, dusting down old weapons and heading to the front. But the real exodus didn’t begin until the worst of the summer heat set in and water flow through the marsh fell to its lowest level in years.
Haidar Salim, a buffalo farmer, signed on with the Badr Organization, one of the largest and most powerful of the militias. His income had all but disappeared as his animals’ milk yields withered in the now shallow, knee-deep waters—some four meters lower than they can be. Then came his unemployed twin, Mohammed, later to die in a suicide bombing during the battle for Ramadi. The brothers were followed in quick succession by no fewer than 50 fishermen, each of whom had long since given up hope of making their nets bulge. Vendors at three marsh fish markets estimate that the local catch has fallen by at least 50 percent since 2003 due to low and excessively saline river flow. “After the summer we were all women and old men and children here,” said Sayyid Mehdi Sayyid Hashem, a community leader and overseer of an important local shrine. “After the groups came through, the marsh went with them.”
In marching off to war, many of these men invoked their patriotism and piety—and they undoubtedly meant it. But with that diminished water flow in a community where almost every profession is dependent on the Tigris and Euphrates’ irrigation of the marshlands, few could conceal the undercurrent of desperation. Bit by bit, water quantity and quality had deteriorated over the previous decade, plunging residents deeper into penury. Here at last was a chance to make at least something of a living. “When you’re hungry, when you have a family to feed, you’ll do anything,” said Salim. “I didn’t see myself as a fighter, but sometimes it’s your only option.”
This is what environmental disaster can look like, and among crumbling parts of rural southern Iraq, it is directly fueling the militarization of society.
Edited by Erin Sikorsky and Francesco Femia
“Threat multiplier” has become a widely used term by scholars and practitioners to describe climate change implications for security in both the policy realm and climate-security literature. The term was coined in 2007 by the CNA (Center for Naval Analyses) Military Advisory Board under the leadership of Sherri Goodman. It captures how climate change effects interact with and have the potential to exacerbate pre-existing threats and other drivers of instability to contribute to security risks. The concept has been characterized as “definitional” in having “set a baseline for how to talk about the issue” and having shaped “the way in which people studying climate policy think about risks.” Its use has also been described as “one of the most prominent ways in which the security implications of climate change have been understood.”
This briefer provides an account of the history of the “threat multiplier” term from its creation in the context of the environmental security era in 2007 to its progressive adoption by military, policy, and academic circles in the United States and abroad. It then examines the different conceptual ramifications that have derived from the term and its evolutions in capturing changing climate security realities.(more…)