Climate change will create hard security problems—including increasingly frequent and severe natural disasters, pandemic disease, desertification, and mass migration—but these challenges will not have hard security solutions, argues Nick Mabey in Delivering Climate Security: International Security Responses to a Climate Changed World
(subscription or purchase required), a policy paper published by the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies
. Instead, policymakers, NGOs, the private sector, and the security community will need to develop nontraditional, innovative policies and programs to mitigate these threats.
Mabey, who served as a senior adviser in the UK Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit before becoming founding director and chief executive of E3G, an NGO working on sustainable development, thoughtfully outlines the security challenges that many previous reports on climate security (including by the CNA Corporation and the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Center for a New American Security) have discussed. But he also examines several less frequently mentioned risks. For instance, he warns that some countries will try to use the need for renewable energy as a cover for obtaining nuclear technology for military purposes. Mabey argues that the development and dissemination of less risky energy technologies is the best way to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
In addition, Mabey notes, if the international system fails to address the threat of climate change effectively, its legitimacy will be undermined, and it will find it more difficult to resolve other global threats.
Mabey also calls our attention to the critical role that the environment plays in post-conflict reconstruction and peacebuilding efforts. Strategic planners developing 10-15-year security strategies for Afghanistan based on sustainable livelihoods must take climate change into account. Attempts to use a “hearts and minds” strategy against Islamist extremism may fall short as higher temperatures and lower rainfall dry up some of the main sources of jobs for young men in the Middle East and North Africa. In addition, Mabey notes, terrorists are likely to use climate change to feed existing grievances; Osama bin Laden has already spoken several times on climate change’s unequal impacts on different parts of the globe.
“Information on present and future serious climate security impacts is as good, if not better, than other information routinely used in security planning and assessment,” asserts Mabey. Therefore, he argues, the security community has no excuse for not planning for the worst-case climate change scenarios, just as it plans for the worst-case terrorism and nuclear weapons proliferation scenarios. Yet Mabey believes the international response to climate change so far has been “slow and inadequate.” He urges nations and international institutions to devote far greater resources to addressing the myriad threats it will pose to political stability and human well-being.