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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.


Five Climate Security Angles to Consider at the Climate Change Conference in Sharm el-Sheikh

By Erin Sikorsky and Brigitte Hugh

As the 27th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change kicks off in Egypt next week, a wide range of climate change issues will be discussed. Wondering how these discussions connect to or impact security? CCS has you covered with some reading suggestions. 


From Analysis to Action: Two Events on Climate Security Next Steps

“The science is clear: We have only a brief window to raise our ambition and rise to meet the threat of climate change,” U.S. President Joe Biden at the COP in Glasgow. – November 1, 2021

In the wake of the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP26) and the Biden Administration’s release of a suite of climate security documents, the Center for Climate and Security is hosting two virtual events to put the latest developments in context. Both sessions will tackle how the US government can move from analysis to action on climate security. We hope you can join us for these important discussions.

12 November – Climate Security After the COP: Next Steps for the United States

This joint event held by the Center for Climate and Security with the Wilson Center will feature senior US government officials from the Department of Defense, National Security Council and USAID responsible for implementing the Biden Administration’s “whole of government” response to climate security. 

12 November 2021 

9:30-11:00 AM EST

RSVP and speaker details here.

17 November — From Analysis to Action: Integrating Climate Security into the National Security and National Defense Strategies

This discussion will feature experts from the Council on Strategic Risks’s Center for Climate and Security and Converging Risks Lab, and the US Institute of Peace discussing the integration of climate security considerations into the U.S. National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy. 

Questions for discussion include: Why is mainstreaming climate change analysis across security and peacebuilding strategies so important? What opportunities are afforded by bringing a “climate lens” to national security? How can the findings of the newest reports released by the Biden Administration help move this important work forward?

17 November 2021

1:30-3:00 PM EST

RSVP and speaker details here.

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