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BRIEF REPORT: North Korea, Climate Change and Security

By Catherine Dill, Alexandra Naegele, Natalie Baillargeon, Monica Caparas, Dominick Dusseau, Madeleine Holland, and Christopher Schwalm

North Korea’s provocative posture and its nuclear arsenal have shielded it from much of the pressures of globalization and integration with the international community. But neither politics nor arms can defend it from climate change. Impending climate impacts threaten to exacerbate North Korea’s already precarious ability to provide public goods for its population and thus maintain regime stability, multiplying risk factors for the Korean peninsula and the entire region.

Our new report “Converging Crises in North Korea: Security, Stability and Climate Change,” accompanied by a visual storymap, projects climate impacts on crop yields by 2040, inland flooding by 2050, and sea levels by 2050. Projections reveal rice and maize yield failures will become more likely along the Western coastlines by 2030. The country will experience significant intensification of extreme rainfall and increased flooding, with coastal areas increasingly at risk from sea level rise and inland areas – including sensitive nuclear sites – at risk of inundation if not properly protected.

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The CSR Team on the Biden Budget and Systemic Threats

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To date, the Biden administration appears to be prioritizing work to address the greatest threats to international security and stability, including biological risks, the security implications of climate change, dramatic ecological disruption, and nuclear threats. Analyzing, anticipating, and addressing these issues—and how they intersect and exacerbate one another—are at the core of the mission of the Council on Strategic Risks (CSR). 

In anticipation of the administration releasing its first full budget request on May 27th, the CSR team offers the following insights and hopes for what it will contain.

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Managing Complex Emergencies in Complex Times – Lessons from Japan

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Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant 1975. Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, Japan

By Andrea Rezzonico

Anticipating and preparing for complex and simultaneous emergencies is critical as we move further into the 21st century. The coming decades will be characterized by significant disruptors including climate change, biological hazards, natural disasters, rapid technological change, growing geopolitical tensions, an increase in fragile states, and persistent economic shocks. These issues will not exist independently of each other – they will intersect and very possibly lead to cascading effects that strain entire systems. 

Over the last several years, the Council on Strategic Risks (CSR) has investigated this rising convergence of security risks, breaking down silos, pulling threads through previously unlinked issue sets, and establishing pathways along the way. This work, as well as lessons from the extraordinarily destabilizing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, has underscored that current emergency preparedness programs do not sufficiently consider how crises can overlap in time or cascade from one into another. A particularly harrowing example of this was Japan’s horrific Triple Disaster of 2011. The event serves as a warning, but Japan’s actions since then also serve as a potential model for the world on managing complex crises, including the one we’re in at the moment. Japan learned (and is arguably still learning) from the crisis, and so can we.  

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Agenda 2021: Prospects for Climate Security and Other Strategic Risks at the UN Security Council

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By Evan Barnard, Center for Climate and Security intern, with contributions from Andrea Rezzonico and William Beaver

The 2021 United Nations Security Council (UNSC) agenda promises to take on a range of issues central to the Council on Strategic Risks mission. This blog post provides recommendations for action by the UNSC, as well as an overview of the key topics we expect to see on the agenda. Key recommendations for the UNSC include:

  • Climate: Establish a robust institutional home for climate and security at the UN – a Climate Security Crisis Watch Center.
  • Bio: Invest in next-generation genome sequencing to guard against infectious diseases and biological warfare.
  • Nukes: Aim to reduce nuclear weapon arsenals and increase openness for negotiation between nuclear nations.
  • Intersection of risks: Rather than separating these risk factors into silos, consider their global security implications jointly over a range of timescales.
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