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BRIEFER: The Forgotten Countries in the “Muddy Middle” of Climate Security Risk: A Case for Addressing the Gap
By Tom Ellison
Climate security analysis lends itself to focusing on the extremes among countries, whether the greenhouse gas trajectories of the highest emitting countries or the adaptation challenges in the most exposed. This is evident in the (understandable) focus on the ten or 20 most climate vulnerable countries, where climate-related security impacts are most clear. However, with climate impacts set to worsen for decades even in a best-case emissions scenario, climate-related security challenges will continue to intensify in countries that are not considered the most vulnerable today–those in the “muddy middle” of climate vulnerability rankings. These countries get less attention because they are not top-5 emitters, great power rivals, or conflict-ridden crisis areas, but they are places where climate risks are less certain and where increased instability could be globally consequential.
This pitfall can be seen in the wide use of climate vulnerability indices by governments, civil society, journalists, and the private sector to measure countries’ vulnerability to climate change. Such indices have their place, but they can obscure aspects of climate security risks in countries with mixed or unremarkable scores.
This Briefer explores the limits of such rankings, examines the various climate-security risks of those countries in the “muddy middle,” and suggests analytical framing that can help reinforce the visibility of those risks faced in such countries:
Questions for country analysts to consider might include: How will climate change and the energy transition lift or depress the value of economic assets important to this country’s political forces? How might climate extremes align with existing social divisions, misinformation narratives, or cultural flashpoints, amplifying the impact of both? How could climate change or policies spur destabilizing grievances, by violating local expectations of governance, regardless of the level of absolute deprivation?
For the second year in row, the Center for Climate and Security (CCS) was named a “Best New Think Tank” in the Global Go To Think Tank Index Report. It’s an annual assessment of leading think tanks worldwide produced by the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program (TTCSP) at the Lauder Institute at the University of Pennsylvania. CCS is honored to be included, and extends a big thank you to staff, Advisory Board members, colleagues, donors and friends for their support and guidance.