May 26, 2021
Climate security is a hot topic amongst the ‘3Ds’—defense, diplomacy, and development—from the UN Security Council to capitals around the world. This growing consensus that climate change is a geopolitical risk and instability accelerant is one thing, but it’s another to actually build climate security. On May 18th, New America’s Resource Security Program held a public event with top global experts in the climate security field discussing the state of the climate, peace, and security community of practice, with a focus on decision support tools and best practices.
To kick things off, Sharon Burke proposed the following definition of climate security, drawn from a U.S. publication: “climate change is a threat multiplier, exacerbating existing risks to security.” The panelists largely agreed that the threat multiplier language was useful in building support and understanding, but did not fully encapsulate climate security. First, a number pointed out the complex linkages between climate change and peace and security, many of which may not constitute a “threat” with agency. Others noted that there are also direct climate change impacts on security, particularly if risks go unaddressed.
After dealing with lexicon and framing, Daniel Abrahams of USAID offered a few thoughts on how the agency is looking at climate security. Abrahams described the momentum on and interest in climate security as going beyond adaptation and mitigation to include things like “highly localized questions about climate change and gender based violence and the potential for environmental peacebuilding to mitigate cross-border conflicts.”
Next, panelists described their respective climate security risk analysis and decision support efforts:
- Janani Vivekananda described adelphi’s Weathering Risk Project and its three major goals of facilitating risk-informed planning, enhancing capacity for action, and improving operational responses that promote both climate resilience and peace.
- Benedetta Berti-Alberti described NATO’s recently released climate and security agenda, describing it as the building blocks of a common strategy.
- Catherine Wong described the UN Climate Security Mechanism work to assess and address the intersectional risks at the nexus of climate change and security.
Next, panelists discussed field work and best practices:
- Louise van Shaik talked about Clingendael’s recent report on climate security practices. van Shaik described the challenges that policymakers face when justifying climate security interventions versus other typical interventions, noting that climate security practices shouldn’t be judged from a climate finance perspective—the number of people safeguarded from flood risk, for example—but rather using longer-term, plausible metrics like how resource distribution is affected or how the practices might stop terrorist group recruitment.
- Florian Krampe described two recent SIPRI reports looking at peacebuilding operations in Mali and Somalia. Krampe noted the reports focus on how climate-related security risks impact the mandate of peacebuilding missions and how the missions respond.
- Eliot Levine discussed Mercy Corps’ climate security work and how the humanitarian organization approaches the issue. Eliot mentioned that Mercy Corps elevated climate security to the agency’s primary strategy mechanism, the Global Compass, and although the agency had some existing programs addressing climate security dynamics, it didn’t have the tools or knowledge to achieve the desired impacts but is working to develop such tools.
And finally, all the panelists offered thoughts on how climate change is actually practiced, which is captured well in the myriad examples of Climate Security Practices (CSPs) listed in Clingendael’s recent report on the subject.
Deeper Dive on Defining Climate Security
Definitions of the term 'climate security' differ, some referring specifically to climate-related risks to peace, security, and stability, and others referring to specific practices that address those risks. Likewise, phraseology differs, with some organizations using climate fragility, climate security, or climate-related risks to peace and security. Here is a summary of definitions offered at this event, plus our own proposed definition:
Taking the above definitions into account, we propose the following working definition of climate security: The interactions between change in global, regional, or local climate patterns and political, military, economic, and social risks/stresses to peace, security, and stability. Operationalizing this concept is captured well in the recent report on climate security practices from Clingendael’s Planetary Security Initiative.
Key Reference Documents
- UNDP - Climate Security Nexus and Prevention of Violent Extremism
- UNEP, EU, adelphi -
- Climate Security Mechanism (UNDP, UNDPPA, UNEP) -
- Overview of Climate Security Practices
- Towards a Better Understanding of Climate Security Practices
- Climate Security: Making it #Doable
- Climate-related Peace and Security Risks
- Climate-related Security Risks and Peacebuilding in Somalia
- Climate-related Security Risks and Peacebuilding in Mali
Climate-fragility Risk Briefs -
- The Caribbean
- Latin America
- North Africa & Sahel
- Pacific Islands
- South Asia
Policy Papers -
- Spreading Disease, Spreading Conflict? COVID-19, Climate Change and Security Risks
- Climate Change in the UN Peacebuilding Commission and Fund
- How Can UN Organs Respond to Climate-Security Risks?
- What Can the UN Security Council Do on Climate Change and Security?
- Europe and Climate Security: Is Europe Delivering on its Rhetoric?
- Climate Change and Security in the Horn Of Africa: Can Europe Help to Reduce the Risks?
- Linking Adaptation and Peacebuilding: Lessons Learned and the Way Forward
- The Climate Change-Conflict Connection: The Current State of Knowledge