The independent resource on global security

12. Climate and security


Overview, Janani Vivekananda and Lukas Rüttinger

I. Understanding the compound risks of climate change and fragility, Janani Vivekananda and Lukas Rüttinger

II. Climate security policy and initiatives, Janani Vivekananda and Lukas Rüttinger

III. Entry points for policy and practice, Janani Vivekananda and Lukas Rüttinger

The past decade has seen increased acknowledgement within the academic literature and among the policy community of the relationship between climate change and security. Growing evidence of the links between climate change impacts and human security have been detailed in the most recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Its first ever chapter dedicated to the topic states that ‘human security will be progressively threatened as the climate changes’.

Climate change: a ‘threat multiplier’

Climate change is best understood as a ‘threat multiplier’ that interacts with and compounds existing risks and pressures in a given context, and can increase the likelihood of instability or violent conflict. The IPCC sets out evidence that contextual factors such as ‘low per capita incomes, economic contraction, and inconsistent state institutions’ are drivers of conflict and sensitive to climate change. The IPCC also found that ‘People living in places affected by violent conflict are particularly vulnerable to climate change’ and that ‘conflict strongly influences vulnerability to climate change impacts’. Taking this further, the Group of Seven (G7) commissioned an independent study in 2015: A New Climate for Peace: Taking Action on Climate and Fragility Risks. The study identified compound risks such as resource competition, livelihood insecurity, extreme weather events, volatile food prices and trans-boundary water management, as well as the unintended impacts of climate change policies, as some of the main ways in which climate change interacts with fragility. The study also found that both mitigation and adaptation to climate change are highly relevant in addressing security and fragility risks.

Mirroring the growth in academic literature, the potential security implications of climate change have been gaining more attention from foreign and security policymakers at the national and international levels. Debates on climate change and security in the United Nations Security Council in 2007 and 2011 also underscored the issue. In 2011 the Security Council asserted that ‘possible adverse effects of climate change may, in the long run, aggravate certain existing threats to international peace and security’.

International policy response

The international policy community faces practical obstacles to addressing these complex links. For example, the 2015 global frameworks—such as the Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the Sendai Declaration on Disaster Risk Reduction—do not acknowledge the linked risks of climate change and security. This has inhibited joined-up policy and action. However, concepts such as resilience have helped to bring the idea of ‘interconnectivity’ to the fore and an increasing number of donors are integrating individual issues across their policy, programmes and funding decision-making processes. An opportunity exists in the emerging resilience agenda to provide a thematic umbrella to integrate efforts across policy fields.