Mogherini Post-EU Defence Meeting: Militaries should help address climate change

On August 29, EU defence ministers met to discuss “the effect of climate change on defence and security,” as part of a two-day meeting covering a range of critical security issues. The meeting, hosted in Helsinki by Finland, who currently holds the rotating Presidency of the Council of the European Union, was chaired by the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini.  In her remarks following the meeting, Mogherini had this to say about the robust climate and defence conversation that occurred.

This morning we discussed two other issues that are particularly important from a strategic point of view for the European Union and that are also in nature global issues that require global and European responses. First of all, the issue of climate change. I think the European Union has been among the first to identify climate change as a security threat, a security challenge, as a security threat multiplier. And we have gone through the different connections – direct and indirect links – between climate change and defence and security issues. Also this we have discussed together with the UN and NATO, because we are looking for synergies in this field and we want to avoid duplication of thinking and reflections in this field. We can put together many of the work strands we, the EU, NATO and the UN, are developing on the links between security and defence and climate change.

In particular, we discussed with the Ministers two issues related to climate change and defence: one is how to make sure that the militaries contribute to address climate change issues, in particular reducing the energy dependency and its carbon footprint and in this way contributing to address climate change effects. That can also be helpful in terms of effectiveness and efficiency of operations on the ground. We also discussed the effect of climate change on conflicts, or on crisis areas that can affect the ways in which militaries could be deployed in these theatres. How can we foresee to adapt our capabilities, our way of working on the ground, in theatres where climate change creates situations that are different from the ones we have today. You can already see the connection present in some areas, in the Sahel for instance or other areas, where the militaries deployed – be they UN, NATO or EU or national militaries – have to face a situation on the ground that is evolving in terms of climate change conditions. We need to adapt our capacity to operate in these theatres.

Read Mogherini’s full remarks here.

Former Supreme Allied Commander: Burning Brazil Threatens Security

In a recent article published by Bloomberg News, Admiral James Stavridis, USN (Ret), former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO and former commander of U.S. Southern Command – the Area of Responsibility (or AOR) that includes Brazil – makes a compelling case for how the fires in the Brazilian rainforest, and its implications for climate change, are a security issue not just for the country and its neighbors, but for the U.S. as well. He includes a quote from Center for Climate and Security Advisory Board member, Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn, USN (Ret), stating: ‘As my good friend Denny Ginn, formerly the admiral in charge of all Navy installations, has said, “it’s not a matter of if, only a matter of time” before we have a catastrophic event.’ Read the full article here.

African Union Highlights Security Risks of Climate Change

In a press statement after the 864th meeting of the Peace and Security Council (PSC) of the African Union (which is the organization’s decision-making entity on conflict “prevention, management and resolution”), the PSC highlighted climate change and its effects on security as a significant issue for its member states. The statement focuses on climate change impacts on infrastructure, access to vital resources and the most vulnerable, as well as its exacerbating effects on forced displacement and existing tensions among communities, and called on its member states to advance “adaptation measures with a view to building resilience in the communities facing climate change.” Click here for the full statement.

New Report: Canada’s Top Climate Change Risks

In a new report released by the Council of Canadian Academies’ Expert Panel on Climate Change Risks and Adaptation Potential (with the refreshingly prosaic title “Canada’s Top Climate Change Risks,”) the authors highlight twelve major climate change risks affecting Canada. While all twelve of the identified risks have a relationship with Canada’s national security in one form or another, two stand out in that context: Geopolitical Dynamics and Physical Infrastructure. From Page 11 of the report:

Geopolitical Dynamics: Risks related to geopolitical dynamics affecting Canada, including increased international migration and associated political, social, and economic stresses; increasing political and social conflict over climate-affected resources; heightened geopolitical tensions over Arctic sovereignty and resources; and increasing need for humanitarian assistance and foreign aid due to climate-related crises.

Physical Infrastructure: Risks to physical infrastructure in Canada (e.g., homes, buildings, roads, bridges), including damage from extreme weather events such as heavy precipitation, high winds, and flooding; increased probability of power outages and grid failures; and an increasing risk of cascading infrastructure failures.

Read the full report here.

Climate Change and Megacities: A Dialogue Session

By Dr. Michael Thomas

As the Center for Climate and Security’s Senior Fellow for the Indo-Pacific, I recently participated in a three-day conference hosted by the Hollings Center for International Dialogue that delved into the challenges and opportunities of the world’s megacities. Held in Jakarta, one of the largest megacities in the world, the conference brought together more than 20 experts from around the globe to explore key thematic issues of sustainability, climate and energy resiliency, the food-water nexus, social and governance issues, as well as concepts of rejuvenation and heritage preservation.

As defined by the UN, megacities are urban agglomerations exceeding 10 million inhabitants; currently there are 47 megacities, of which more than 30 are in Asia alone. Since 2007, more people now live in cities than in rural areas, with projections that this will increase to almost 70% by 2050.

An important discussion thread was the janus-faced nature of megacities with regard to climate change.

On the one hand, megacities are possibly one of the largest—if not the largest—‘single’ contributor to global emissions. Case in point, more than 70% of global CO2 emissions are emitted from cities; with NASA describing megacities as the largest human contribution to climate change.

On the other hand, they also serve as global economic engine rooms and centres of innovation that actually drive climate solutions (see Janani Vivekananda and Neil Bhatiya’s 2017 Epicenters Report).

Notwithstanding, the conference brought into sharp relief the specific challenge climate change poses for megacities.

Foremost is the risk to infrastructure due to sea-level rise, inundation, and coastal flooding. In broad terms, a combination of these factors could amount to $1 trillion in infrastructure damages by mid-century under a 0.5m rise scenario.

As is the case, climate change is one of a myriad of issues facing megacities. Using Jakarta as an example, the over-extraction of groundwater combined with sheer weight of that cities built infrastructure is seeing parts of northern Jakarta  sink at up to 15cm per year. Some estimates have 95% of north Jakarta underwater by 2050. In combination with sea-level rise and other factors, there is even talk of relocating the capital. A USD $40 Billion sea-wall known as the National Capital Integrated Coastal Development is also being seriously considered.

Sea-level rise can have a disproportionate impact on megacities located around the equatorial region—not just because of contributions from melting ice and glacial run-off—but also due to the thermal expansion properties of water. Asian megacities are especially at risk in this respect.

Climate change is also disrupting major global climatic systems such as El Nino, Indian Ocean Dipole and Southern Annular Mode; altering rainfall patterns, glacial formation and melt, and monsoon patterns (to name a few). Changes to rainfall patterns in combination with historical drought, heat waves, coastal erosion, flooding, poor land-use practice, salinity, crop failure, and natural disasters are all key factors driving rural to urban migration and contributing to the unimpeded growth of megacities.

A 2018 World Bank report noted that by 2050 more than 140 million people could be forced to migrate as a result of the slow onset of climate change. In megacities, people often locate to slum areas where, despite economic opportunity, life can be fraught with extreme poverty, public health hazards, and human security risks such as trafficking, exploitation, and lack of access to basic water and sanitation services. Mass movement (either internal or transboundary) can also disrupt existing social orders, leading to instability, violence, and (in extremis) warfare and regional chaos.

Syria continues to serve as an unimaginably devastating example of the destruction and misery that can be unleashed once societal breaking points are crossed. Like a climate tipping point, there can often be no return.

The Hollings Center Dialogue Conference shone a much-needed light on some of these issues. It also established a foothold for future dialogue sessions, particularly with regard to advancing our collective understanding of how climate change will impact megacities from a human-security perspective.

General Middendorp: Don’t leave climate to the environment ministers

In a new Op-ed in Politico, General Tom Middendorp, Chief of Defence of the Netherlands(Ret) and Chair of the International Military Council on Climate and Security (IMCCS), puts a twist on Georges Clemenceau’s famous saying that “war is too important to be left to the generals,” with “don’t leave climate to the environment ministers.” In it, he encourages the European Commission’s President-elect, Ursula von der Leyen (who will take office on November 1), to continue her track record of taking climate security risks seriously during her tenure. To explain, he states:

Climate change will affect every aspect of our lives and every portfolio of every government — from economic performance to managing borders. The issue has to be the top item on every ministerial brief — including, importantly, those responsible for defense and security.

And:

Climate change is not just an environmental problem. It is an existential challenge. To fight it also means dealing with its secondary effects — displacement, conflict and violence — and making it a focus of our security policy.

General Middendorp has become an international leader on climate and security. Hopefully his voice will help spur security, defense and foreign affairs leaders across the world to step up the scale and urgency of their response to the rising security consequences of a changing climate.

Click here to read the full article.

EU Defense Ministers to Address Climate Change in Helsinki

Watch this Space: From August 28-29, EU defence ministers (the ministers of defence from each of the EU nations), will meet to discuss “new technologies and the changing world,” and “the effect of climate change on defence and security” will be a major part of the agenda, along with other rapid changes affecting the operational landscape of EU militaries, such as artificial intelligence. The meeting is being hosted in Helsinki by Finland, who currently holds the rotating Presidency of the Council of the European Union (the EU governing body made up of government ministers of the EU’s member states), and will be chaired by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini. Climate change will be discussed at the meeting’s first working session on Thursday, August 29. Click here for the announcement, and stay tuned for a readout of the meeting!