Feb 10 2011
Degrees of Risk: Defining a Risk Management Framework for Climate Security
By Nick Mabey and Katherine Silverthorne
Degrees of Risk: Defining a Risk Management Framework for Climate Security_Executive Summary.pdfDegrees of Risk: Defining a Risk Management Framework for Climate Security_Full Report.pdfE3G_Degrees of Risk Presentation_Nick Mabey.pdfE3G_Degrees of Risk Presentation_Jay Gulledge.pdf
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Current responses to climate change are failing to manage effectively the full range of climate security risks. There is a mismatch between the analysis of the severity of climate security threats and the political, diplomatic, policy and financial investment countries expend to avoid the attendant risks.
E3G’s latest report, Degrees of Risk: Defining a Risk Management Framework for Climate Security, proposes taking some hard won lessons from the security community and adopting a rigorous risk management approach.
Risk management considers variables both known and unknown, analyzes threats and vulnerabilities, and puts strategies in place to manage risk. It is a methodology the national security community has long used when decisions must be made, but information about threats is incomplete, and the future is uncertain.
Absolutes are a rarity in national security and decisions are generally a matter of managing and balancing various forms of risk. Security specialists must balance long-term versus short-term risks. They must make decisions with incomplete information and models that predict divergent outcomes. This approach has underpinned the management of other global security threats, from the Cold War, to nuclear proliferation, to international terrorism.
In managing conventional security risks both policy makers and the general public accept that uncertainty is no excuse for inaction. Indeed, it is hard to imagine a politician trying to argue that counter-terrorism measures were unnecessary because the threat of attack was uncertain. But, precisely this argument is often used by opponents of action on climate change to argue against even small measures to mitigate the threat, or build resilience to impacts.
Despite long-standing global commitments to limit the most severe impacts of global climate change there is increasing uncertainty about whether and how these goals will be reached and whether governments are truly preparing to manage the security risks of a changing climate. Dealing with this range of uncertainty will require thoughtful and frank discussions that are out of step with the current politically polarized atmosphere surrounding climate change issues in key countries.
A risk management approach provides a basis for protecting national interests under uncertain conditions,” said E3G chief executive Nick Mabey. “While it does not solve the politics of climate change, it can help frame the political debate on the centre ground,” continued Mabey.
There is a need to move away from unhelpful partisan choices between climate “belief” and “scepticism”, and towards a pragmatic public debate about how much climate risk we are willing to take,” he added.
The recommendations in Degrees of Risk are based on a series of closed-door meetings with U.S. and European security, intelligence and defense officials over two years.
The report proposes a Three-Tier “ABC” Framework for developing a risk management strategy, built on:
Aim to stay below 2°C (3.6°F) of warming.
Build and budget assuming 3-4°C (5.4-7.2°F) of warming.
Contingency plan for 5-7°C (9-12.6°F) of warming.
The report makes 10 recommendations for priority actions governments should take to begin implementing the ABC framework. These recommendations include:
The need to carry out comprehensive National Climate Risk Assessments as a vital underpinning for agreement on global action.
The need to develop more sophisticated approaches to adaptation policies which address “perfect storm” events and impacts on social stability.
The need to prepare robust contingency plans to govern the implementation of “crash programmes” of rapid mitigation and/or geoengineering which may be needed in the event of the most extreme climate change scenarios.
The full report and a separate Executive Summary are available for download above. The report was launched in Washington on February 11, 2011 by the Energy and National Security Program at Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). Nick’s and Jay’s presentations are both also available to download. The recording of the event is below. The subject (and in part the report) has also elicited intense debate on various media sources including NY Times’ DOT Earth blog, Huffington Post, Climate Central and Climate Progress. For more information, comments and feedback, please contact the authors here.