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Balancing on a Knife’s Edge: Climate Security Implications of the IPCC Findings

A wildfire at Florida Panther NWR. Photo by Josh O'Connor - USFWS.
A wildfire at Florida Panther NWR. Photo by Josh O’Connor – USFWS.

By Akash Ramnath and Kate Guy

New scientific consensus released today details the potential future course of climate change, with serious repercussions for international security and stability. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the first product of its Sixth Assessment Report (AR6), summarizing the latest scientific understanding on the state of global climate change. This report, completed by the IPCC Working Group I (WGI), offers the best collective picture of how human caused climate change is impacting the physical systems of the planet now and in the future. 

The report makes clear that our planet’s climatic systems are changing rapidly in response to the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. By 2100, global average temperatures are expected to rise between 2.1-3.5°C in an intermediate scenario, or 3.3-5.7°C in a high emissions scenario, if humans do not curb and continue expanding greenhouse gas emitting activities. The path to keeping global temperatures to just 1.5°C of warming, the report states, looks increasingly narrow; while every additional fraction of a degree in planetary warming will have worsening impacts on climate stability.

The findings of the WGI report have two important implications for security audiences: First, cutting emissions and adapting to climate impacts are equally important for security in the coming years; second, that the increasing risk of crossing climate tipping points suggests security services must prepare for managing multiple climate-induced crises at once. 

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Covid and Climate Change Push South Asia Toward a Complex Emergency

By Sarang Shidore and Andrea Rezzonico 

As Cyclone Tauktae hurtled toward India’s west coast on May 17, a grim scenario outlined in  Amitav Ghosh’s eloquent meditation on climate change, The Great Derangement, suddenly loomed as a distinct possibility. A direct hit on the megapolis of Mumbai, India’s financial capital, Ghosh wrote, could wreak damage far greater than the city’s monster flood of 2005. To the prospect of massive flooding and failure of essential services, Ghosh added the spectacle of corrugated iron roofs from the city’s teeming informal settlements turning into deadly projectiles slamming into its upscale glass towers, and major radioactive leakage in the city’s decades-old nuclear complex. The scenario is only too realistic, and may presage frequent complex emergency moments in South Asia, in which multiple risks (ranging from climate change to health, geopolitics, and governance) converge in a positive feedback loop, creating extensive dislocation and damage to large human populations. 

The Arabian Sea, on the coast of which Mumbai is located, has historically seen far less cyclonic activity than the more turbulent Bay of Bengal to its east. Bangladesh and the Indian states of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh, for example, are no strangers to major storms and attendant evacuation of tens of millions of people – with a potential new cyclone brewing even at the time of writing. But the Arabian Sea’s major urban agglomerations in South Asia – Mumbai and Karachi – but also Goa, Kochi, Mangalore and others, have generally had an easy ride, with Mumbai not seeing a serious cyclone in its vicinity in four decades.

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Call for Applications for the 2021-22 Climate Security Fellows

The Climate and Security Advisory Group (CSAG) is pleased to announce a call for applications for its Climate Security Fellowship Program, a collaborative program of the Center for Climate and Security, the American Security Project, and the Wilson Center’s Environmental Change and Security Program.

In response to the need for increased capacity on the part of the U.S. government to tackle climate insecurity, and a need for strong mentorship for aspiring climate and security practitioners, the Climate and Security Advisory Group developed a Climate Security Fellows Program which launched in 2018 (see information on previous classes here). It is the first professional fellowship program for emerging leaders seeking meaningful careers at the intersection of climate change and security.

The program for 2021-2022 will have three components:

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New Report: Melting Mountains, Mounting Tensions: Climate Change and the India-China Rivalry

By Rachel Fleishman and Sarang Shidore

See the associated India-China story map here.

In many parts of the world, climate change is a trigger for disaster. In some, it can also be a catalyst for conflict. On the India-China border, it has the potential to be both—exacerbating an already-fraught relationship with the potential for escalation to the nuclear plane.   

Melting Mountains, Mounting Tensions: Climate Change and the India-China Rivalry is the first of a series of case studies integrating security analysis of instability and conflict involving nuclear-armed states with cutting-edge climate science. The outcome of a novel collaboration between the Converging Risks Lab of the Council on Strategic Risks and the Woodwell Climate Research Center, the case studies aim to raise awareness and flag the urgency of converging climate and nuclear risks at a time when the global security landscape is becoming more complex.  Climate change is the main impetus for new Chinese hydropower projects in the Tibetan Plateau and in Pakistani-held Kashmir. The addition of clean energy to the Chinese grid will contribute to decarbonizing the economy. But Indian populations downstream in the Indus and Brahmaputra river basins worry that China will use its dams to manipulate water flow, inducing or worsening droughts and floods. 

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