A few months ago the Center for Climate and Security published a report titled Epicenters of Climate and Security: The New Geostrategic Landscape of the Anthropocene, where security experts have identified 12 key climatic risks to international security that may shape the geostrategic landscape of the 21st century.
The risks associated with unmitigated climate change are substantial. According to the IPCC, “unmitigated climate change would, in the long term, be likely to exceed the capacity of natural, managed and human systems to adapt.” The report explores the nature of epicenters of risk that already exist, and all are likely to continue to intensify in the absence of adequate ameliorative solutions, and highlight examples of how climate impacts can intersect and ripple across countries in unexpected ways. The risks perceived are often interconnected and contribute to the erosion of the social contract between citizens and their governments in a number of states across the world.
Until recently, climate change was primarily the domain of scientists, environmental ministers and specialized negotiators. However, this has begun to change. Climate change is already recognised as a threat multiplier and a growing number of nations have become increasingly concerned.
The complexity of climate change, due to the multitude of political, economic, and other challenges to consider, make it an especially difficult problem to solve. This report demonstrates the kind of cross-sectorial thinking needed to anticipate and mitigate climate-related systemic risk and the interconnected categories of risk that are increasingly likely in the new geological and geopolitical age.
These 12 epicentres, covered by authors with a broad range of expertise and also presented in a video animation, are as follows.
- Eroding State Sovereignty: Climate change, by compromising a state’s ability to provide basic resources to its population, can significantly erode its output legitimacy. This erosion can contribute to state fragility and state failure, which, in turn, has implications for regional and international insecurity.
- Disappearing Nations: Many low-lying nations are in danger of being completely submerged by rising seas/
- Conflict Over Melting Water Towers: Climate change can increase tensions and conflict among the 4 billion people dependent on mountain “water towers”. Two billion people depend on water originating on the Tibetan Plateau and hundreds of millions more drink from global water towers, including the massive Andes, Rockies, Tien Shan, Caucasus and Alpes.
- Conflict Over Fisheries: Today fisheries have become ever more contested as nations have increasingly sought both food and economic security in the face of rising demand (population growth) and reduced supply (exhausted stocks, pollution, and species loss). A warming ocean is driving critical fish stocks into contested waters, contributing to conflict between states;
- Tensions in a Melting Arctic: The scientists said that the Arctic is now definitively trending toward an ice-free state with wide-ranging ramifications for the stability of the global climate system and ecosystems. It also raises new security and geopolitical risks.
- Weaponized Water: As climate change exacerbates water stress, non-state actors, including international terrorist organizations, are increasingly using water as a weapon.
- Disrupted Strategic Trade Routes: Climate change will place strains on maritime straits that are critical for global trade and security.
- Compromised Coffee Trade: Climate change may also disrupt critical global trading networks, like the coffee trade which currently supports 125 million people of the world’s poorest people who rely on the coffee supply chain for their livelihoods.
- More (and Worse) Pandemics: Climate change may increase the likelihood and range of pandemics, which could threaten global security.
- Flooded Coastal Megacities: Rapidly expanding coastal megacities are threatened by climate impacts like sea level rise. The West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS), comprising more than two million cubic kilometres of ice, is under pressure from a warming climate. The global implications of Antarctic tipping-point mechanisms can indeed destabilize nations.
- Increased Displacement and Migration: Climate change may increase competition for scarce water resources, complicating peace agreements and be a factor in national instability, becoming therefore a more significant driver of migration and displacement.
- Enhanced Nuclear Risks: Climate change, nuclear security, and policies that are not sensitive to both simultaneously, can increase regional and global security threats.
The report and the links to PDFs of each individual chapter can be found here.