More and more nations and international security organisations are recognising the security risks that come with climate change.
As climate change is increasingly recognized as a security issue, a parallel understanding is also developing. Traditional categories and approaches may not be the optimal way to address the threats posed by climate impacts.
The nation states and international institutions at the center of security discussions now are shifting their approach. For instance, the U.S. has affirmed and moved to institutionalize its commitment to address the national security implications of climate change under the Biden Administration. In doing so, it is joining an increasing number of other nation-states (the UK, France, Sweden, Germany and New Zealand) that have also developed institutional arrangements and plans for their national response to climate insecurity.
The issue is also taking center stage at the international level. The General Assembly passed a resolution on this issue in 2009, and the UN Climate Security Mechanism was established in 2018. The Security Council has also given its sustained attention to the problem. Its September 2021 debate was the seventh public dialogue on the international security implications of climate change since 2007. This debate featured majority support for expanding the Security Council’s role in addressing climate change as an international security concern, even if Russia’s veto in December of that year prevented a resolution formalizing the UNSC’s role in providing climate security. (Ongoing informal discussions also have continued through the Arria Formula debates in the Security Council since 2013.)
While China and India joined Russia in outlining concerns about overreach or the replication of discussions that should take place elsewhere, it was telling even here that they did not question the potentially devastating impacts of climate change or the capacity for these manifestations to contribute to insecurity.
Beneath this growing consensus, however, are a series of differences. These are not just about the appropriateness of the UN Security Council as a forum for the discussion of climate change. Nor are they limited to differences of opinion about the specific pathways from climate stress to conflict, or the role of the military as an agent for achieving security.
They are often an attempt to grapple with a broader and more fundamental issue: Whose security matters?
The limits of present discourse
When considering the security implications of climate change, the answer to the question of “whose security matters?” is usually the nation-state. While climate change is clearly transnational, we live in a world of states. And it is states which are able to deploy their considerable resources to facilitate self-defense from (largely external) threats.
Yet climate change raises several important questions about the primacy of states as the “referent object” of security. For a start, climate change isn’t a discrete external threat from which states can be protected. Its origins are both internal and external, and they’re largely unintentional. Even significant unilateral action by even the most powerful state isn’t enough to address the problem. These things all sit uneasily with a traditional approach to national security.
Perhaps more importantly, though, there are deeper concerns about how states might attempt to insulate themselves from the effects of climate change. For instance, a state may emphasize exclusively adaptive responses to climate change that fail to address the threat posed to others – or even position those most affected by climate change (displaced people, for example) as threats to its own security. Those pointing to these dangers also often suggest that militaries may view the securitization of climate change as a means of securing their continued funding and relevance.
To a significant degree, these dangers are overstated. Most states developing explicit plans to address the national security implications of climate change are also at the forefront of attempts to reduce emissions and develop strong international cooperation to address it. And, by contrast, those states most likely to question the climate-security relationship (in UN Security Council debates, for example) often have the patchiest record on climate.
But there are still limits to any focus on the nation state – or even international bodies – when we think about whose security matters. These frameworks still encourage us to think about the preservation of particular institutions in the face of ongoing environmental change. They also don’t encourage us to think seriously enough about the obligations we have to the welfare – and, yes, even the security – of other living beings and future generations. This limit even applies to the human security approach, which emphasizes the importance of recognizing and prioritizing the particular vulnerability of people in the developing world.
In short, these frameworks or “discourses” of climate security don’t take us far enough in acknowledging and addressing the nature of the climate crisis. In particular, they don’t sufficiently orient towards the plight of the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, nor do they sufficiently recognize the Anthropocene context. It is this new geological reality which should encourage us to recognize humanity’s embeddedness in the ecological conditions of our own existence. In short, when it comes to responding to the security implications of climate change, we need to orient towards something else: ecological security.
Constructing a new kind of security
My new book – Ecological Security: Climate Change and the Construction of Security (Cambridge University Press) – makes a case for ecological security. It develops an account of why we need this approach; what it means in terms of designations of threat, referent object, and a means of addressing security and agents responsible for doing so. It also examines how we might get there.
Ecological security is concerned with the resilience of ecosystems themselves in the face of the direct and immediate effects of climate change. Orienting our attention towards ecosystems and their functionality encourages a focus on the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. It foregrounds those who are most exposed to its effects and least able to mobilize resources to address the threat itself or even influence decision-making about responses to it. In short, it encourages a focus on the most vulnerable across time (future generations), space (marginalized and impoverished human populations in the developing world), and species (other living beings).
Rather than try to insulate human collectives from the effects of climate change, ecological security asks us to urgently prioritize mitigation efforts to prevent the immediate harms caused by climate change to ecosystems themselves. It suggests that responsibility for advancing ecological security resides with a wide array of actors, whose obligations are determined by their capacity to both cause and address harms. And while clearly challenging existing ways of thinking about climate security, ecological security offers the possibility of seeing immanent possibilities to embrace the concept in existing principles (common but differentiated responsibility and even the precautionary principle), and practices (climate protests and movements, for example).
Clearly, such an approach to the security implications of climate change raises acutely complex questions: Which ecosystems deserve our attention or focus? How do know when these ecosystems are fundamentally compromised? How do we weigh up our obligations to future generations or other beings against the immediate concerns of current populations? How do we create support for such a change in orientation in corridors of power, when a shift towards human security has seemed challenging enough?
Ecological Security attempts to tackle these questions head on. And my conclusion as its author is that we cannot dismiss an approach to the relationship between climate and security that is more defensible on ethical grounds and encourages practices more directly oriented to addressing the climate emergency simply because it’s challenging. We need instead to turn our attention to how such an approach might come to inform the way that analysts, practitioners and political communities as a whole come to view the climate- security relationship
Clearly, the relationship between climate change and security is here, and is here to stay. The question is: Whose security are we talking about? My book suggests it’s time to focus our attention on ecosystems and their resilience in the face of the climate crisis.
Original source: https://www.newsecuritybeat.org