Wilson Center Roundtable on ‘Backdraft’: The Unintended Consequences of Climate Change ResponseJune 25, 2013 By Jacob Glass
As President Obama readies a new road map for addressing climate change in the United States, experts warn that poorly designed and implemented initiatives, especially in already-fragile parts of the world, could unintentionally provoke conflicts, rather than diffuse them.
“As we respond to climate change, we need to go in with our eyes open,” explained Geoff Dabelko, senior advisor for ECSP and director of environmental studies at Ohio University, in a recent episode of Dialogue at the Wilson Center. “There are ways we can do this well, and ways we can do this poorly.”
Dabelko was joined by Lisa Friedman, deputy editor of ClimateWire, and Stacy VanDeveer, associate professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire, to discuss ECSP’s latest report, Backdraft: The Conflict Potential of Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation.
“In the past, the climate community has focused on what the impacts of climate change may mean for the security realm, or for the conflict realm. What this report does is offer another set of issues that we have not thought about in a systematic manner, but that we must now consider,” said Dabelko.
As countries develop technological and policy interventions in response to, and anticipation of, climate change, the potential for such measures to instigate conflict may be greater than previously supposed.
Because the future impacts of climate change remain uncertain, policymakers have tended to favor state-oriented initiatives, rather than confront the complexities of trans-boundary and regional climate-policy development. Backdraft “looks around the corner to tell us what’s next,” said Friedman.
“Change means there are winners and losers. We can’t pretend that there won’t be real challenges that come with change,” said Dabelko.
For example, VanDeveer, who wrote a chapter in the report, explained that in the rush to develop “green” infrastructure, the challenges associated with emerging resource markets may be overlooked. “You can make existing problems much worse,” he said. “You can encourage people to drop what they’re doing and rush into mining commodities in order to meet the new demand. This can create human and environmental challenges in places product companies don’t even think about.”
Dabelko recommended that policymakers broaden the scope of their planning and embrace a more holistic and transboundary approach to adaptation.
“We can take account of these issues if we are willing to break out of our silos and understand that climate change is not a single sector intervention, impact, or response,” he said. “We must understand it in its wider context.”
Also in this episode, Wilson Center Distinguished Scholar Aaron David Miller gives an update on “what we know” in Syria.
Video Credit: “Environment Roundtable: Responding to Climate Change & Syria Update,” courtesy of Dialogue at the Wilson Center.
Sources: Georgetown University.