Blog

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!

U.S. Congressional Research Service: Military Installations and Sea-Level Rise

By Marc Kodack

The U.S. Congressional Research Service recently released a two page In Focus report on sea level rise and military installations. The U.S. Department of Defense has over 1,700 installations that could be affected by sea level rise, with the potential to affect readiness and operations. The authors suggest that Congress might consider using their fiscal and national security authorities to determine how these installations are preparing to address sea level rise.

The report summarizes information from the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Global Change Research Program on the effects that rising ocean water temperature and melting terrestrial ice have had on global mean sea level. For example, overall changes in mean sea level of 7-8 inches have occurred since 1900, with 3 inches of that rise occurring since 1993. These changes can affect installations and their surrounding communities differently. For example, clear weather flooding may occur during high tides. During severe storms and hurricanes, storm surges and high wind have damaged and destroyed infrastructure, both on and off an installation. These storms can significantly disrupt operations and the ability of an installation to function, e.g., Tyndall Air Force Base’s estimated $4.7 billion in damage from Hurricane Michael.

While the Department of Defense (DoD) has previously identified climate change and sea level rise as risks to operations through guidance and research, Congress required DoD to revise military construction policies and procedures so that they explicitly address sea level rise. The report ends with possible issues that Congress may want DoD to address including (1) creating a standard definition of extreme weather; (2) creating a process on how to incorporate climate change projections, not just sea level rise, into infrastructure planning; and (3) if all installations, not just larger installations, should address extreme weather, e.g., storm surge, into their master plans.

To learn more on this issue, also see the Center for Climate and Security’s Military Expert Panel Report: Sea Level Rise and the U.S. Military’s Mission, 2nd Edition.

Dr. Marc Kodak Dr. is a Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Center for Climate and Security. Before retiring from federal service in 2018 with over 31 years of experience, Marc served as the Water Program Manager in the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Energy and Sustainability within the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and Environment. 

Briefer: Climate Change Implications for Military Aircraft

By Mariah Furtek

Climate change is radically altering the physical environment in the theater of conflict, making future military successes dependent on adaptation today. New research shows that climate change is reducing performance of U.S. military aircraft. As the environment grows hotter and more humid, military aircraft will not be able to carry as much payload or travel long distances without refueling. More missions will be cancelled or modified due to decreased aircraft performance on hot and humid days, which diminishes the U.S. military’s ability to project power and respond effectively to conflicts.

Changes in the operational environment require corresponding changes in infrastructure, logistics, and acquisitions. To be effective long-term, these modifications must be informed by data-driven analysis of climate projections.

The adverse impacts of climate change on military-readiness are especially evident in aircraft and airbases. As heat and humidity rise, aircraft struggle to perform: meaning today’s inventory might not be fit to operate in tomorrow’s conflict. Anticipating the strain that climate change places on current inventory will help make current operations and infrastructure more resilient to climate threats. To this end, U.S. military and military stakeholders would benefit from a vulnerability assessment model that predicts the frequency and severity of climate-related performance impacts for both airbases and aircraft.

This Center for Climate and Security Briefer explores one such model developed by Air Force Colonel Mary McRae (ret.). McRae’s model translates future climate projections from Global Climate Models into Density Altitude (DA) measurements that communicate specific changes in aircraft performance influenced by heat and humidity. Using this DA approach, McRae maps the vulnerability of various airbases and aircraft to DA conditions that limit the viability of future operations.[1] This vulnerability assessment tool will help military, policy and industry constituents determine the most critical threats to aircraft and airbase operations; effectively mitigate climate threats through more informed military acquisitions, infrastructure and mission planning.

More accurate and detailed climate threat assessments like McRae’s make critical threats to military-readiness more visible. In doing so, updated vulnerability assessments enable current acquisitions processes to take climate change into account. These assessments also help the acquisitions community inform industry stakeholders about climate threats and ensure that infrastructure in development today is being designed in a climate-conscious manner. The information these assessments provide also encourages research into innovative design solutions that can adapt existing infrastructure to fit more challenging environments.

[1] “PhD Candidate Develops Novel Method for Assessing Impact of Climate Change on Aircraft Performance.” Villanova University.

To read the full Briefer, click here.

Mariah Furtek is Research Assistant with the Center for Climate and Security