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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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Watch: Marc Levy on Climate Change, Violence and Insecurity

Northern_Mali_conflict.svgMarc Levy, Deputy Director of the Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN) at Columbia University, recently gave a presentation at Simon Fraser University titled, “Welcome to the Pressure Cooker: How Climate Change is making our World More Violent and Less Secure.” (Watch the full video here and below). The talk provides an excellent overview of the evolution of the security community’s understanding of climate risks, which in many ways parallels his own research, which began by trying to disprove the alarmists (only to find that some trends were worth being alarmed about)! Levy ‘s presentation provides a very matter-of-fact look at climate security risks and what the future likely holds. (more…)

Top Climate Security Implications for Latin America: A Regional Breakdown

Severe flooding is one of many devastating effects of climate change, as the Caribbean island nation Dominica experienced in 2011. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Severe flooding is one of many devastating effects of
climate change, as the Caribbean island nation Dominica experienced in
2011. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Lieutenant Commander Oliver-Leighton Barrett, U.S. Navy (ret) Senior Research Fellow, The Center for Climate and Security

From December 1-12, world leaders are meeting in Lima, Peru to lay the groundwork for a global agreement on climate change. But aside from being a setting for this round of international climate talks, the Latin American region is facing significant security and development threats from climate change that are not often reported.

Climate change is a stressor that will compound, and already is compounding, vexing preexisting developmental challenges across the regions’ states – testing governments to the limits of their capacities and affecting populations in diverse ways. While this “stressor” is becoming better appreciated by development stakeholders, a dimension that is not as well-appreciated is the impact climatic and environmental shifts will have on states’ security in general, and on the operations of regional militaries more specifically. Below is a sub-regional breakdown – a sort of “get to the point” compilation – of the implications of climate change on this growing, dynamic and increasingly relevant region of the globe. The compilation draws from and builds on a joint military assessment I contributed to as a consultant for U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM). The geographic categories below reflect a structure commonly used in the U.S defense sector. (more…)

Managing Risk in an Era of Irreversible Climate Change

Pakistan flood reliefThe latest synthesis report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) re-issued some dire warnings. These include significant risks to food security, and the increased probability of conflict that could occur as climate change amplifies other known drivers of conflict, such as “poverty” and “economic shocks.”

But the top takeaway from the climate-security point of view is the notion that we are very close to climate change inflicting “severe, widespread, and irreversible” damage, and that “many aspects of climate change and its impacts will continue for centuries, even if anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are stopped.” The bottom line is that no matter what we do or do not do today to slow the rate of climate change, we are going to have to prepare to live in a warmer and more insecure world. (more…)

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