The recent appointment of Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti as climate security envoy for the UK Foreign Commonwealth Office (FCO
) and Ministry of Defence (MOD
) represents a new level of seriousness
for militaries considering climate change and security links. Morisetti made a number of appearances
earlier this month and left no doubt that the British
military was as interested in climate issues as the U.S. military, if not more.
I particularly respect the broader approach the Rear Admiral’s appointment represents–a “joined-up government” framework for complex challenges like climate change that bridge traditional bureaucratic silos.
While there are plenty of examples where joined-up government efforts fall short, the MOD and FCO are finding a good balance in the climate-security case. In the United States, the CNA’s Military Advisory Board demonstrates that military leaders can serve as effective non-traditional spokespeople for climate mitigation and adaptation.
But this more political role for military leaders must spring from systematic assessments of the direct and knock-on effects of climate change on both broad human security and narrow traditional security concerns, as well as the institutions used to provide that security. A thorough and evidenced-based understanding of the direct effects of climate change on traditional security concerns is required to make an effective case and stay grounded in reality. Merely deploying military leaders as advocates because climate-security “polls well” with the American public would, in the long run, be damaging to supporters of both enhanced security and aggressive climate mitigation efforts.
The UK climate-security team is building that evidence base by funding practical analytical studies on the security impacts of climate change in key countries and regions (e.g., Colombia, China, Central America). Their use of Hadley Centre products ground the work in the latest scientific understanding, such as the new map of the world with 4C (7F) degrees of warming.
Back in the United States, the U.S. Defense Department’s Quadrennial Review (QDR) is due to Congress in February 2010. The report is required by law to include assessments of the impacts of climate change for U.S. security and of the military’s capacities to respond to those impacts. Work on that section of the report has been underway for months with in-depth consultations inside and outside government.
Here’s hoping the U.S. appoints its own flag officer to run point on the climate-security challenges outlined in the QDR.