Monday, November 10, 2014

IPCC Response Essay #5: Security Regained, Security Lost? The Climate Change Conundrum

Security: The state of being free from danger or threat. … Origin: late middle english: from Old French securite or Latin securitas from securus ‘free from care’

Oxford English Dictionary

We need another profound transition in thinking-from nuclear security to human security.

United Nations Development Programme, Human Development Report, 1994 (New York: United States, 1994)

All aspects of food security are potentially affected by climate change, including food access, utilization, and price stability (high confidence).

Climate change over the 21st century is projected to increase displacement of people (medium evidence, high agreement).

Climate change can indirectly increase risks of violent conflicts in the form of civil war and inter-group violence by amplifying well-documented drivers of these conflicts such as poverty and economic shocks (medium confidence).

The impacts of climate change on the critical infrastructure and territorial integrity of many states are expected to influence national security     policies (medium evidence, medium agreement).

WGII Summary for Policymakers at 8

In 1945, nations that came together to establish the United Nations had one clear goal—to remove the scourge of war, two of which had debilitated a significant portion of the world. The United Nations had a singular mission: to maintain peace and security.[1] The Security Council was established as the decision-making body to address security threats.[2] However, nations also realized the importance of international cooperation, the need to achieve economic growth, and the need to protect social and cultural structures while at the same time protecting human rights and ensuring justice. They vested in the United Nations the responsibility to foster good international relations among nations.[3] Implicit in this structure was a confidence that secure nations with sound socioeconomic and political structures would cater to the needs of their citizens.

In 1994, nations heralded the end of another “war,” the Cold War. The world, however, was a much different place. Security of nations in the traditional territorial sense no longer occupied the center stage. Rather, the state of people within nations gained focus—human security. The United Nations Development Programme, in its 1994 Human Development Report, introduced an endless list of human security concerns that warranted international attention—from energy to food to displacement of people to water scarcity to human rights abuses to any aspect of human integrity and well-being. Human security, however, did not gain the center stage in international law in the same way as national security, with the exception of international intervention in internal civil wars in some nations. After all, why should international law have a role in purely domestic matters? Instead, sub-national and non-government entities that began to mushroom in the 1990s, plus individuals, made an effort to fill the gap left by international law by creating networks to influence laws, create policies, and/or to implement solutions.[4]

Climate change triggers traditional national security and human security concerns. According to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, climate change can increase human security concerns, as well as national security concerns, including concerns about security in property. The establishment of climate security organizations comprised of retired military generals signals the gravity of the security threats that climate change presents. In the U.S., identified national security threats include everything from threats to military installations from sea level rise to international competition for natural resources in the Arctic region.[5] Human security threats also abound—loss of food resources, displacement of people, loss of livelihood, civil war, and loss of property, to name a few.

Yet, the security risks of climate change have failed to catalyze international legal response. Major GHG emitters are instead using arguments of human security to avoid international legal obligations. The United States has been arguing that it will suffer competition loss that could result in loss of livelihood if it enters into a treaty that does not bind China to similar obligations. Australia, Canada, Russia and Japan have joined in this viewpoint for the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. China and India have been arguing that the short-term needs of their citizens, from energy to food to other basic needs, require them to develop without emissions reduction obligations. For these nations, the short-term security needs of their peoples come before their long-term interests.

There are those nations, however, that face both short-term and long-term security risks. Small islands nations whose territorial integrity is challenged by rising sea levels face physical threat to their borders. However, despite acknowledgment of security threats by the United States and other nations, there is no international action on this issue. Neither the UNFCCC nor the Kyoto Protocol uses the word “security.” Instead, nations are focusing on building national resilience to climate change impacts.[6]  The implicit message appears to be that the United Nations mandate to maintain peace and security is limited to threats from traditional “war-like” aggression. Of course, even if the UN Security Council were to undertake this matter, what would a permanent membership composed of United States and China decide that might be different from their stance on climate change treaty obligations?

For some other nations, such as sub-Saharan African nations, climate change presents nearly insurmountable risks to human security—food insecurity, water scarcity, livelihood insecurity, and property insecurity. However, these insecurities already exist in these countries. The difference between some of these countries and emerging economies like China and India is that the sub-Saharan African nations are not in a place of economic development that apparently promises to address short-term human security needs. They are also not in a position to mitigate climate change.

Finally, there are a group of countries, oil-producing nations such as the Middle East nations, that face their own security issues. Climate change may disrupt their long-term security, but mitigation efforts could upend their short-term security, because of their limited economic portfolio, primarily in fossil fuels.

The world viewed from the lens of climate security is a mismatch of national interests and security concerns. It begs the question of whether economic growth or reversal of the current economic system can ensure security, especially in a world divided by physical boundaries but united by one atmosphere. Just as climate change itself poses different kinds of security risks in different nations, so, too, does actually dealing with climate change. As a result, it is time to re-think the international law framework, period, in order to deal with these very real security complexities.

Deepa Badrinarayana, Professor, Chapman University, Dale E. Fowler School of Law


[1] Charter of the United Nations, available at [hereinafter UN Charter]

[2] Id. Art. 7.

[4] Anne-Marie Slaughter, A New World Order 15-16 (2004); Kal Raustiala, The Architecture of International Cooperation: Transgovernmental Networks and the Future of International Law, 43 Va. J. Int’l. L. 1 (2002); Margaret E. Keck & Kathryn Sikkink, Transnational Advocacy Networks in International Politics, Activists Beyond Borders (1998)

[5] Center for Climate & Security, Secretary Hagel on Climate Change Affecting the Security Environment, Oct. 12, 2014

[6] Department of Defense, 2014 Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap (2014).

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