This past weekend the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released their fifth assessment report covering climate change. The report provided an overview of the current literature and statistics concerning the science of climate change, and the initial tone calls for immediate action on the part of larger nations. While the first portion of the report does cover existing knowledge and observed changes in the climate, the second portion reaffirms recent discussions concerning the nexus between national security and future climate changes.
Several reports, including the American Security Project’s Global Security Defense Index, have begun shifting the conversation of climate change to be viewed through a security lens as these changes have serious repercussions for a nation’s security. While this assessment does make the observation that human security is at risk from climate events (such as hurricanes and landslides), it asserts that the more serious concern is revolving around increased conflict. The report states “Climate change can indirectly increase risks of violent conflicts by amplifying well-documented drivers of these conflicts such as poverty and economic shocks.” The report outlines factors impacted by climate change and how these changes have the chance to drive conflict, particularly in weak and fragile states.
One of these important factors this assessment mentions is food security. Projected climate changes will challenge the sustained provision of fishery production and other food sources. For wheat, rice, and maize in tropical temperate regions, increasing temperatures combined with increasing food demand would pose a significant risk to the region’s ability to produce sufficient crop yields. As Maplecroft’s seventh annual “Climate change and Environmental Risk Atlas” observed, developing countries’ economies are disproportionately reliant on agriculture as a means for employment. Thus with a diminished capacity to produce an increasing yield of crops, developing nations will feel the most significant impact from climate change.
Another observation from the report is the increase displacement of people due to rising sea levels and severe weather events. The populations that lack proper infrastructure or resources for planned migration, the weak and developing nations, will experience higher exposure to these extreme weather events. These are the nations that already exhibit characteristics that might drive conflict. Thus as these characteristics are amplified from climate change, the risk for the state to encounter conflict will increase.
Secretary Kerry made remarks regarding the recent assessment, stating
“We can’t prevent a large scale disaster if we don’t heed this kind of hard science. The longer we are stuck in a debate over ideology and politics, the more the costs of inaction grow and grow. Those who choose to ignore or dispute the science so clearly laid out in this report do so at great risk for all of us and for our kids and grandkids.”
The window of opportunity for acting in a cost-effective way is closing fast, and the longer nations delay action the more significant the cost will be. “It’s not too late, but the longer you wait, the more expensive it gets,” said Gary Yohe, a Wesleyan University professor who also participated in the drafting of the report. Damage to the Earth’s ecosystems is “irreversible to the extent to which we have committed ourselves, but we will commit ourselves to higher and higher and higher damages and impacts.”