The pandemic of Covid-19 has tremendous and largely unknown implications for global health, security, and economic prosperity, but as we work diligently to steer the future toward positive outcomes, we must not lose track of the growing challenges and opportunities that continually unfold with another well-known but not well-understood global phenomenon — the ocean.
The ocean and its resources are inextricably tied to human health, the economy, and security. The link between the environment, particularly the ocean, and human health, is an area of increasing global importance as climate change increases the incidence of toxin release from harmful algal blooms, damage from catastrophic weather events, and potential for contagion from waterborne viruses and bacteria. These threats are not just related to health but also to security. Climate change is a core systemic risk to the 21st century world, and we must specifically address the ocean in this discussion.
Climate change has and will continue to have both direct and indirect effects around the world. Changes in water will be one of the most visible direct effects, whether it is too little water, such as during prolonged droughts; too much, such as flooding caused by sea-level rise or tropical storms; or misaligned timing, such as when seasonal rains are early or late. Across numerous societies, the climate change-water interaction will be disruptive, but through mitigation and adaptation actions, this interaction can at least be ameliorated. However, these disruptions will also have significant security implications locally, regionally, and globally depending on their intensity, spatial extent, and longevity, and due to their disproportionate effects on different segments of societies. This deteriorating security environment is very likely to increase the vulnerability of affected populations, enhance inequities, and interfere with mitigation and adaptation actions, which will prolong instability. Thus, any security analysis must integrate the effects of climate change on water, and its attendant effects on the vulnerability of populations, to capture a true picture of the security environment. Resources like the newly-released World Water Development Report (WWDR), titled “Water and Climate Change,” should therefore be taken very seriously by the security community.