After decades on the periphery, climate change has made its way onto the national security stage. Yet, while the worlds of science, policy
, and defense
are awakening to the threats of rising sea levels
, stronger storms
, and record temperatures
, debate continues over the means and extent of adaptation and mitigation programs. In a world of possibilities, how to decide which paddle to use to navigate uncertain waters?
A report from E3G titled, Degrees of Risk: Defining a Risk Management Framework for Climate Security, contends that a more rigorous risk management approach is needed to deal with the security implications of climate change, and cues should be taken from the risk management approach of the national security community. Risk management, while not a “panacea” for divisive climate change politics, “provides a way to frame these debates around a careful consideration of all the available information.”
The report calls for a three-tier, “ABC” framework for international planning:
1) Aim to stay below 2°C (3.6°F) of warmingAuthors Nick Mabey, Jay Gulledge, Bernard Finel, and Katherine Silverthorne write, “Absolutes are a rarity in national security and decisions are generally a matter of managing and balancing various forms of risk.” Climate change adaptation and mitigation, they say, is no different. “There are multiple levels of uncertainty involved in addressing and planning for climate change…such as how much global temperatures will rise, what the impact of more rapid regional climate change will be, and how effective countries will be in agreeing to and implementing adaptation and emissions reduction plans?”
2) Build and budget assuming 3-4°C (5.4-7.2°F) of warming
3) Contingency plan for 5-7°C (9-12.6°F) of warming
The security community “need[s] to go out and tell leaders that they will not be able to guarantee security in a world where we don’t control climate change, and that controlling climate change means radical changes – not just more incremental progress,” argued Mabey, the Founding Director and Chief Executive of E3G, in a video interview with ECSP in May 2009.
Preparing for the effects of climate change is certainly a daunting task given the complexity and scope of the system – the entire planet. It is therefore important to gather as much information as possible and to “look in the dark spaces” of our knowledge gap.
But, “uncertainty per se cannot be a barrier to action,” write Mabey et al. “Uncertainty doesn’t mean we know nothing, just that we do not know precisely what the future may hold. Risk management is both an art and a science. It depends on using the best data possible, but also being aware of what we do not know and cannot know.”
Sources: E3G, USA Today, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Photo Credit: “Messing about on the river!” courtesy of flickr user Pondspider.