Britain’s Environment Secretary David Miliband is calling for increased action on climate change, asserting that it would result not only in environmental and economic benefits but also a “peace dividend.” He said last Tuesday at a World Wildlife Fund conference
“[Action on climate change is] our best hope of addressing the underlying causes of future conflict in the world, and [it] is as significant for foreign policy as it is for environment policy.”
I agree that action on climate change can engender a “triple dividend” — to the economy, environment, and security. Encouraging a gradual transition toward a “low-carbon” economy is crucial for attracting investment and avoiding an abrupt, costlier one in the future. The welfare of many nations’ economies is linked to environment and security: rising sea levels would lead to displacement of coastal populations and potential battles over natural resources, while changing weather patterns could result in prolonged drought and famine in some places, or floods and the spread of waterborne diseases in others. As our planet changes, so too changes the availability of resources and how they are allocated.
I see Miliband’s comments as an articulation of the biggest economic, environmental, and security threat we currently face: a failure to successfully adapt to the impacts of climate change in the long run. Climate change “aggravates tensions that are already there and acts in conjunction with other sources of instability,” he said. The “peace dividend” he speaks of will result from soothing these tensions through adaptive climate policies on mitigating the foreign and domestic levels.
Miliband’s statement also comes at an interesting time for British policymaking, as parliament tries to establish a legislative framework for the country’s low-carbon transition. Additionally, with Prime Minister Tony Blair on the way out in 12 weeks, a storm of speculation brews over who will be the next Labour Party leader, and Miliband finds himself among the potential candidates. Rumored to also be a candidate for the foreign secretary cabinet post, his comments, at the very least, his comments rrepresent a growing awareness of the environment as a security issue in Britain.