Briefings

A Transatlantic Agenda on Climate Security

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A Transatlantic Agenda on Climate Security

In February 2009, E3G’s CEO Nick Mabey spoke at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars exploring a possible Transatlantic Agenda for addressing climate security threats.

Issue of National Security

There is a growing consensus that climate change is a serious national security threat. This threat has been brought to light by a steady drumbeat of reports, analyses, and high-level meetings among government security analysts and military and foreign think tanks in the US and EU. They report that rising resource scarcity and environmental degradation due to climate change will be a threat multiplier, particularly in the most fragile regions of the world, will cause migrations that will lead to additional conflict, and will add tensions even in stable regions.

"At the moment most of the discussions around climate change think about it as basically an economic problem … but essentially life will continue as we expect it. But if you look at the science, and particularly the most recent science, you see that that’s a very unlikely scenario unless we make quite radical changes.”

Last year saw the first US National Intelligence Estimate to consider the impacts of climate change on security, the inclusion of climate change in the National Intelligence Council’s forward trends studies for the first time and major investments by the CIA, DOE and others into analysis of climate change impacts. At the same time, the European Council has made climate security a top priority in its Security Strategy. The December 2008 report from the EU High Representative stated that climate change should be in the mainstream of EU foreign and security policies and institutions, and the European Council agreed a route map of actions to begin this process.

"So, what’s the role of security people in this debate? They need 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”

Despite this growing consensus, current climate change politics and policy do not adequately reflect credible worst case scenarios. The failure to acknowledge and prepare for the worst case scenarios, the probability of which is not small, is as dangerous in the case of climate change as it is for terrorism and WMD proliferation. Without a strategy to avoid worst case scenarios, security actors can give no credible guarantee of current security levels.

"…unless we have the authority of the security and the foreign policy establishments at the table saying what the national interest is, and what risks we need to avoid, there is no chance of delivering the billions, in fact, trillions, of dollars needed to create a new clean energy and economy…”

The following are some of the key elements of the Transatlantic Agenda:

  • Develop a common position on what Copenhagen needs to do to deliver climate security;
  • Develop common risk management strategy including on role of strategic technology development;
  • Agree broad strategic approach to cooperation with China on technology, IPR and low carbon investment; and
  • Preliminary agreement on where to handle critical climate security issues in the international system and stronger collaboration on risk assessment issues.

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