World ill-prepared for climate change security threat

While governments around the world are pouring funding into counter-terrorism measures, few are facing up to the security threat presented by climate change.

This is the finding of a report published by defence and security think tank the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) this week.

The thorough title of the report, Delivering Climate Security: International Security Responses to a Climate Change World, gives a flavour of what will be covered but its neutrality doesn’t hint at the conclusion – that we’re not doing enough and what we are doing is being done too slowly.

The report essentially says that security organisations are focusing too intently on terrorism and nuclear proliferation and have failed to keep their eye on the ball when it comes to the potential impact of climate change.

It echoes the Stern report’s conclusion that money spent now is money saved later and argues that putting measures in place now would be affordable whereas to putting together a reactive ‘crash response’ to disasters triggered by extreme climate change would require astronomical spending equivalent to the bottomless budget afforded to NASA during the space race of the 1960s.

The report also points out that failing to act due to the lack of certainty when it comes predicting the nature of the threats posed by a changing climate is no excuse for the security community, which is faced with far greater degrees of uncertainty when it comes to more traditional military and terrorist threats.

“In the next decades, climate change will drive as significant a change in the strategic security environment as the end of the Cold War,” said the report’s author, Nick Mabey, chief executive of E3G and former senior advisor in the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit.

“If uncontrolled, climate change will have security implications of similar magnitude to the World Wars, but which will last for centuries.

“Over the next decades, the determinant of whether climate change drives serious conflicts lies in how political systems respond to the tensions it creates. Too often, analysis of climate change impacts assumes that all governments will act to maximise the common good in response to change.

“In general, climate change could drive a more collaborative approach in inter-state relations or it could exacerbate tensions between and within countries, leading to a ‘politics of insecurity’ as countries focus on protecting themselves against the impact.

“The pattern of co-operation which arises will depend on how effectively climate change is incorporated into mainstream foreign policy, and succeeds in changing the balance of national interests in major countries across critical security and geo-political issues.

“Climate impacts will force us into a radical rethink of how we identify and secure our national interests. For example, our energy and climate security will increasingly depend on stronger alliances with other large energy consumers, such as China, to develop and deploy new energy technologies, and less on relations with oil producing states.”

Sam Bond

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