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Climate Change: Threat Multiplier

Climate Change: Threat Multiplier

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Over the last decade, Leon Fuerth, former National Security Advisor to Vice President Al Gore, has been advocating for a radical shift in governance in a world of accelerating change and complex challenges – most notably in the context of Climate Change.

The increasing speed, fluidity, and diversity of ideas, goods, and people have fostered dynamic networks of relationships around the globe with unpredictable consequences. Much of this is due to the introduction of information/communication technologies (ICTs), the explosion of population growth, and growing urbanization.

Leon Fuerth/ World Affairs Council 2006

Leon Fuerth/ World Affairs Council 2006

Fuerth points out that a consequence of complex and emergent systems is that a relatively small event can have a global impact – and importantly – the impact of the event is not domain-specific. That means it does not only affect the political, but often the economic, financial and social as well. Because the resources have to be spread across sectors and not concentrated in one area, this weakens the ability of governments to respond to crises. Recent examples of this include Hurricane Katrina, Fukushima, and the Arab Spring.

Trends of technological connectivity, population growth, and urbanization present complex challenges. But when these trends interact with rapidly shifting weather-patterns, agricultural disruptions such as drought and flooding, and sea-level rise, the frequency and impact of disruptive events will not only increase, but become ungovernable. In that way, already existing threats are accelerated and multiplied.

This phenomenon of proliferating threats is known as a ‘threat multiplier’ and has become closely associated with global climate change.

Fuerth explains the existing governance-model has been catered towards solving complicated problems, but not complex ones. According to Fuerth’s, ‘Anticipatory Governance in the United States: Systems for Foresight, Networking, and Feedback in the Policy Process’:

Complicated Problems:

  • Originate from isolated causes that are clearly identifiable and fall within distinct bureaucratic categories
  • Can be dissected into isolated chunks addressed, and pieced back together
  • Consequences are generally proportionate to their causes
  • Fixtures can be put in place for permanent solutions

Complex Problems:

  • Result from concurrent interactions among multiple systems of events, and they erode the customary boundaries that differentiate bureaucratic concepts and missions
  • Cannot be broken apart and solved piece-by-piece. They must be addressed as a system
  • Do not automatically stabilize, but intractably unravel into chaos if not systematically managed
  • Cannot be permanently solved. Instead, they morph into new problems as the result of interventions to deal with them.

Fuerth therefore suggests a structural change at the policy and organizational level for governments. The integral functions that Fuerth recommends are:

  • A system for integrating foresight into the creation and execution of policy
  • A networked system for orchestrating whole-of-governance management and budgeting to mission, including intensive coordination of our strategies and assets applied over time
  • A feedback system to constantly measure consequence against expectations as a way to learn from experience and fresh policy

As Fuerth states, “In combination, these systems should enable governance to deal more effectively with today’s class of high-stakes, high-speed, complex issues on a more systematic basis, where we typically find ourselves acting short term, even though we are aware of the need to shape events over the long term.”

The 21st century will be characterized as an epoch of uncertainty – an uncertainty that lies in when, where and how climate change will take place. If governments are going to respond effectively to this uncertainty, adopting this framework is the logical step in a mitigation and adaption governing ethic.

In 2012, ASP’s CEO, Brigadier General Stephen A. Cheney, USMC (Ret.), and Leon Fuerth, alongside Emad Adly, General Coordinator for Arab Network for Environment and Development (RAED), and Dr. Eugene Cordero, Professor, Department of Meteorology and Climate Science at San Jose State University, discussed the impacts of climate change on national security in the Middle East.

To view the discussion, click here: Climate Reality: Hour 16 Middle East