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Climate Security at COP28: Issues to Watch

By Elsa Barron and Erin Sikorsky

As the 28th Conference of the Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change kicks off in the UAE later this week, a range of challenging security and geopolitical dynamics will shape the landscape against which the negotiations will unfold. At the same time, it’s never been clearer that action to tackle climate threats can pay peace, security, and stability dividends. For the climate security community, we recommend watching these four topics closely during the COP:

1. Nexus of Climate and Peace on the COP Agenda

For the first time in the history of the UN climate conference, peace is explicitly named on the agenda. The thematic focus for December 3rd is Health/ Relief/ Recovery and Peace and will focus on “accelerating adaptation, preventing and addressing loss and damage, including in fragile and conflict-affected contexts, which face severe barriers to accessing climate finance and strengthening climate action.” One of the hallmarks of the day will be the launch of a declaration on these topics by the COP28 host government, UAE, and other government and NGO partners. The declaration will be accompanied by a package of solutions – practical and implementable steps that signatories can make to ensure progress in these areas. 

More broadly, climate security will be featured at COP in multiple events in the Blue and Green Zone, with the United States sending a large delegation of officials from the Department of Defense responsible for climate and clean energy policies. 

Additional resources to consider:

2. The Geopolitical and Security Implications of Climate Finance

It is increasingly clear that investment in climate finance – particularly finance for adaptation – is a critical tool in the climate security toolkit. Buying down future risk of instability and conflict by helping vulnerable countries manage the energy transition and adapt to climate hazards is a smart security investment. 

Shortfalls in such funding are also increasingly a geopolitical flashpoint. As US Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines warned in her annual testimony to Congress earlier this year, “Tensions also are rising between countries over climate financing.” High-and middle-income countries are still lagging in their commitments to climate finance for low-income countries. 

Negotiations over the new loss and damage fund were tense in the lead-up to COP, as countries debated how to structure a fund aimed at providing payments for climate disasters suffered by nations that have contributed the least to greenhouse gas emissions. The operationalization of this fund, as well as the push to double funding for adaptation and meet and exceed the yearly $100 billion promise for finance, will be the focus of many developing countries in the COP discussions. 

Additional resources to consider:

3. The Impact of War on Climate and Environmental Concerns

The wars in Gaza and Ukraine will loom over negotiations at COP28. As the United States in particular prioritizes military aid to Israel and Ukraine and falls short on its climate finance commitments, it risks increasing frustration from countries in the Global South that feel betrayed by the unkept promises of wealthy nations for financial support. At last year’s COP in Egypt, Ukraine held a session on war-related emissions in an effort to hold Russia to account for the damage caused by its invasion, and it’s likely similar conversations will be held at this COP.

Both conflicts have serious environmental consequences, on top of their devastating and immediate humanitarian implications. Gaza is facing extreme food, water, and fuel shortages due to the combination of a seventeen-year siege, more acute blockades during the current war, and a lack of humanitarian aid, and is unable to desalinate critical water supplies or operate sanitation facilities before sewage water enters the Mediterranean Sea. In Ukraine, the conflict threatens long-term ecological health, agricultural productivity, and global food security.

Additional CCS resources to consider:

4. The Global Stocktake and Future Climate Security

One of the main objectives of COP28 is to complete the first-ever Global Stocktake, which will assess progress toward the Paris Agreement goal of limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Ahead of COP, the UN Environment Program’s Emissions Gap Report found that with current commitments, the world is on a trajectory toward 2.9 degrees Celsius of warming, nearly twice the Paris Agreement limit.

The world’s projected warming provides a map for understanding future climate security risks. With greater temperature rise comes more extreme heat, disaster, drought, ice melt, and sea level rise. In addition to the direct effects of these conditions on the security of impacted communities, they also intersect with existing social, political, and geopolitical dynamics, creating additional security risks. For example, recent analysis of Iran and Turkey illustrates the potential for water insecurity to exacerbate regional tension and conflict risk. Amidst the pursuit of greater investment in climate adaptation, it is important to re-emphasize that drawing down emissions today makes adaptation more achievable and climate security risks more manageable in the future. 

Additional CCS Resources to Consider:

Climate Finance, Food Security, and Cracks in the Transatlantic Alliance at COP28: Recommendations for the Global Stocktake

This blog post is part of the Nexus25 project, a joint initiative of the Istituto Affari Internazionali and the Center for Climate and Security, focused on sustainable multilateralism, and supported by Stiftung Mercator

By Siena Cicarelli

In the runup to the 28th Conference of the Parties (COP28) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), climate change’s role in complex security and humanitarian crises is continuing to challenge the capacity and ambition of the international community. As perhaps the most contentious issue in global climate action, climate finance is rightly a top priority for advocates and world leaders in Dubai.

While most member states recognize that climate change is driving, and will continue to drive, migration and food insecurity, and is disproportionately impacting marginalized populations, climate finance is a glaring gap in their policies and plans to respond to the resulting threats. The massive injection of funding required and the domestic politics that continue to stymie investment from world leaders is a critical barrier to meeting countries’ emissions and resilience goals, or Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). In this context, we recommend three key priorities in the leadup to COP28: finding new approaches to climate finance; improving messaging on the urgency of the climate threat; and repairing transatlantic relations to show leadership.


August 2023 Update: Military Responses to Climate Hazards (MiRCH) Tracker 

By Tom Ellison, Erin Sikorsky, and Michael Zarfos

In August 2023, the Military Responses to Climate Hazards (MiRCH) tracker identified 19 countries in which militaries were deployed in response to climate hazards, often multiple times to different regions and types of hazard. The tracker identified 35 incidents total. 

In the United States, the devastating wildfire in Maui resulted in one of the largest military deployments in response to a single hazard in recent years, which the military has sustained for more than a month. The disaster was the most lethal U.S. wildfire in a century, exceeding the annual deaths from terrorism in the United States in any year since 9/11. The fires prompted the creation of a U.S. Department of Defense task force to coordinate contributions from all U.S. armed forces branches and the National Guard, which have totaled nearly 600 personnel. In support of FEMA, the task force has provided relief services including water and fuel distribution, search and recovery, air and sea transportation, mortuary and forensic services, and facility usage. 

The crisis has attracted disinformation as well, such as a false claim that the military had arrested the head of FEMA in the wake of the disaster, Chinese government disinformation that the fires were caused by a U.S. “weather weapon,” and Russian claims that U.S. aid to Ukraine had undermined wildfire response.

The Maui wildfire underscored the fact that militaries are responding to hazards that reflect not only climate change, but broader ecological disruption as well. The fires were likely more destructive because of invasive species (an example of a biotic eruption) and insufficient environmental management. Grasses intentionally introduced in the late 1700s likely contributed to the fires through the buildup of flammable biomass in abandoned post-agricultural lands, which also spread into populated communities. There were many warnings about the risks posed by these invasive grasses prior to the fire, but lack of regulation, resources and urgency confounded efforts to reduce the grasses’ density and to exclude them from populated areas. Further, on Maui, decades of water diversion from streams supporting agriculture and development contributed to a drying of the land, increasing fire risk.

Meanwhile, responses to severe climate hazards prompted thorny political questions. In Canada, the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) continued to assist firefighting and evacuations in British Columbia and the Northwest Territories. The summer’s extreme weather prompted one retired Canadian military leader to call for a new national emergency response agency to minimize the burden on the CAF. In China in early August, thousands of People’s Liberation Army and People’s Armed Police personnel conducted evacuations during flooding from the landfall of Typhoon Doksuri, and a decision to divert flood waters to parts of Hebei Province to protect Beijing prompted anger at the government. (For more on the dynamics in China, see our analysis here).

Elsewhere, climate-driven hazards led neighbors to help neighbors, both in the United States and internationally. A wildfire in Louisiana drew in National Guard troops from as far away as Minnesota, while the EU Civil Protection Mechanism was activated for the second time this summer in Greece in response to wildfires. Many countries that deploy in support of the mechanism do so via their militaries, especially smaller countries like Croatia. According to the European Commission, the August fires in Greece were the largest fires ever seen in the EU.

New Analysis of Climate Security Risks in Iran and Türkiye

By Elsa Barron, Tom Ellison, Brigitte Hugh

This week, the Center for Climate and Security (CCS) and the Woodwell Climate Research Center released two interactive story maps on climate security risks in Iran and Türkiye.

As extreme weather this summer shows, no place is immune from climate change’s impact on the interconnected natural and human systems that underpin stability and security. Iran and Türkiye are two geopolitically critical countries that, despite not being among the very most vulnerable states, face serious climate risks that are likely to fuel insecurity and shape foreign policy. Just this summer, Iran experienced worsening water scarcity and an extreme heatwave that forced a two-day nationwide shutdown for fear of blackouts and protests. Türkiye faced dwindling reservoirs and severe flooding in Istanbul amid lethal wildfires that prompted the closing of the Dardanelles Strait, which connects the Aegean Sea to the Black Sea.

In these reports, CCS and Woodwell combine projections of climate trends, security analysis, and country expertise to convey how climate change is likely to fuel security challenges in both countries and what it means for the United States. The Iran analysis explores how climate change, poor governance, and international isolation are decimating agricultural livelihoods and exacerbating water insecurity–fueling repression and generating tensions with Türkiye, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Gulf States. Meanwhile, Türkiye faces worsening water shortages and wildfires that are likely to amplify domestic political tensions, exacerbate mistreatment of refugees, and fuel disputes with downstream countries over the shared Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

These publications continue a partnership between CCS and Woodwell to jointly create analysis on the nexus of climate change and security in key locations. This partnership combines sophisticated science, policy-relevant security analysis, and compelling presentation to identify and communicate climate-related security risks. Previous case studies examined climate security challenges involving nuclear-armed states, and focused on the Arctic, China-India border region, and North Korea