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BRIEFER: Breaking Silos: Climate Change, Security, and Humanitarian Action—Roundtable Summary

By Elsa Barron, Brigitte Hugh, and Alejandra Portillo-Taylor

Edited by Francesco Femia and Erin Sikorsky

This briefer co-published with the International Committee of the Red Cross

Executive Summary

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.

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BRIEFER: Deepening U.S. Climate Security Ambition: A Road Map for 2023

By Brigitte Hugh and Erin Sikorsky

In 2022, the world faced the challenging reality of the nexus of climate change and security on a daily basis. From deadly floods, heatwaves, and droughts across nearly every continent, to an energy and food security crisis sparked by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the impact of climate change and continued use of fossil fuels has increased instability and insecurity for communities around the globe. 

At the same time, U.S. policymakers and practitioners took unprecedented actions to address these intersecting security challenges. Many of these actions reflected recommendations the Center for Climate and Security (CCS) had made in the past – both in a short report, Taking Stock: Integrating Climate Change into U.S. National Security Practices in 2022 and the more in-depth Challenge Accepted: A Progress Report on the Climate Security Plan for America and Recommendations for the Way Ahead, endorsed by nearly 80 senior national security leaders. 

While we applaud and detail this progress in this briefer, we also recognize that it is far from enough. In particular, global investments in adaptation and resilience measures are woefully inadequate. The failure of the United States to increase climate finance funding last year – falling well short of its international pledges – was a missed opportunity to invest in U.S. national security. Helping the most climate-vulnerable countries address climate hazards can prevent instability and conflict that threatens U.S. interests, and strengthens U.S. credibility and leadership on the global stage. 

In 2023, U.S. policymakers and practitioners will have many opportunities to solidify and institutionalize progress on climate security. Overall, the key themes for 2023 should be: execution, integration, and sustainability. Strategies and roadmaps have been created – now it is time for implementation.

BRIEFER: Climate, Water and Militias: A Field Study From Southern Iraq

By Peter Schwartzstein

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.

BRIEFER: Climate Change as a “Threat Multiplier”: History, Uses and Future of the Concept

By Sherri Goodman and Pauline Baudu

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.

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