What do we mean by climate security?

Peace by Piece · Issue 05

The concept of »climate security« is gaining traction in political and public discourse. But we must analyse its implications for geopolitics and global justice more critically.

Multinational institutions recognised the nexus between climate change, peace and security quite some time ago. Early landmarks include the 2008 EU report on Climate Change and International Security, and the 2009 UN report on Climate Change and its Possible Security Implications. Even so, it was a decade before the UN established its Climate Security Mechanism (CSM) and the EEAS presented its first tangible Climate Change and Defence Roadmap. The OSCE has addressed climate change as a security risk only since 2021.

Despite these delays, climate security is now a significant factor in policymaking and international security. Notable examples include Security Council Resolution 2349 of 2017, which acknowledges climate change’s adverse effects on the stability of the Lake Chad Basin Region, and the recent establishment of a NATO Climate Change and Security Centre of Excellence. The EU's 2023 Joint Communication on the Climate-Security Nexus recognises a wide range of security threats. These include the unintended consequences of new and still poorly understood geo-engineering technologies, such as solar radiation modification. These developments have created the political space in which we can address climate insecurity.
In general terms, climate change poses direct threats to human life and well-being through extreme weather events. The potential impacts may exacerbate existing security risks, including forced displacement, water and food scarcity, disruptions in international trade, and pandemics. Domino effects include shifts in geopolitical power, natural resource competition, mass migration, political polarisation and extremism.

Climate change’s multidimensional security risks are closely linked to social imbalances between countries, social classes, generations and genders. Some 70 per cent of the countries most vulnerable to climate change are also among the most fragile. Existing inequalities mean that disadvantaged groups and countries suffer disproportionately from climate change and hinder their ability to cope. This feedback loop perpetuates susceptibility to climate change, unequal resource distribution and social tensions, with tangible consequences for more stable regions.

Thus climate security is intrinsically linked to justice, especially on a global scale. Our key concern must be our responsibility to break historical patterns of disempowerment and colonialism. A green transition will not work if we apply neo-colonial practices of exploitation and outsource socio-environmental costs to particular countries. The industrialised West must halt fossil fuel extraction in the Majority World to cover its own energy needs while ostentatiously decarbonising domestically. It must also curb its reckless push to privatise renewable energy in the Global South with a view to securing corporate control over environmentally-friendly energy projects solely for export. A prime example is Germany and Morocco’s 2020 partnership for green hydrogen development. The monopolisation of green technology, depriving countries of ownership of their energy transitions, undermines peace and stability – and puts Europe’s own climate transition at risk.

Climate change knows no borders. Future security challenges cannot be met unless we can rely on the resilience and independence of all. If some states and regions are denied self-determination and exploited in the guise of business and development cooperation, all climate security efforts will be in vain and peace will continue to erode.

About Peace by Piece

Peace is one of the major achievements on the European continent after 1945, yet it is barely being mentioned anymore. When it is, it is all too often accompanied by a connotation of appeasement and defeatism. That shouldn’t be the case. Peace is one of the most precious achievements for humankind. But building it and sustaining it requires effort, ideas, political will, and perseverance. However far out of reach it may appear, peace should nonetheless serve as the long-term aim of politicians in Europe. This series of comments provides ideas for a new European Security environment able to provide the basis for a more peaceful future in the face of new challenges.

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