Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti is the former UK Foreign Secretary’s Special Representative for Climate Change and, prior to that, the Government’s Climate and Energy Security Envoy. He is currently the Director of Strategy at the Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy, University College, London. He is a founding member of the Global Military Advisory Council on Climate Change.
As the European Commission prepares its 2030 climate change White Paper, more than the environment is at stake. As well as health and social issues, a changing climate poses potential risks to global security, in particular to secure, sustainable and affordable supplies of key natural resources (food, water and energy) that are essential for economic prosperity and well being.
Whether as a result of extreme weather events - such as Super Storm Sandy or Typhoon Haiyan - or the early onset of long term trends, climate change poses a threat to EU supply chains, raw materials and markets. It is in all our interests to address the risks posed by climate change.
This is why the military in both Europe and around the world are working to gain a better understanding of the risks and how they will affect both global stability and individual nations interests; it has been stimulating in recent years to work on this issue with fellow members of the Global Advisory Council on Climate Change from 21 countries. As we learn more, it is clear that, as Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO’s Secretary General, has said, climate change presents ‘security challenges of a magnitude and a complexity we have never seen before’. His words have been echoed by leaders in the Indian Ocean, Australia and the Pacific.
We have found that while climate change is unlikely to be a direct cause of conflict, the origins of which are invariably complex, the impact of the second and third order consequences, such as loss of land or livelihood, are likely to increase the risks of global instability and conflict in parts of the world already experiencing stresses, such as food or water shortages, health or demographic challenges; parts of the world centred on the equatorial belt that have experienced conflict in the past (intra and inter state) and have reduced adaptive capacity. Climate change acts as a “threat multiplier”.
For many living outside these regions and facing other challenges, especially those brought on by the global economic downturn, it is tempting to see this as somebody else’s problem. However, in a globalised world events many miles away can affect the interests and security of our nations. For instance, the 2011 floods in Thailand impacted European and US companies. They disrupted supplies of vital auto parts and computer chips that are manufactured in Thailand but used on production lines in third countries.
The problem is compounded in a “just enough, just in time world” where factory warehouses are on the high seas, on global trade routes which pass through parts of the world where climate change will have the greatest impact and are therefore vulnerable to disruption. All nations are, to differing degrees, trading nations; and more than 90% of goods imported to the UK travel along these supply lines. But this is not just a European or American concern: 75% of China’s oil comes from the Middle East via the Malacca Straits. Disruption or price volatility, induced by the risks of conflict, will affect us all.
There is no security solution to climate change, rather there is an increased risk of instability if we do not act. Action is required not only to help us to adapt to the future changes in climate that are already locked into the system but also to mitigate the risks of further impact. Key to achieving that risk mitigation is a marked reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, achieved principally through a move away from the use of ‘unabated’ fossil fuels for power generation. Some scientists tell us that we need to reduce emissions by more than 50% by 2030 if we are to avoid the most extreme effects of climate change.
So far the EU has been a world leader in climate change mitigation, setting the tone for the international negotiations through which the world works to achieve agreement on how to manage the threat posed by greenhouse gas emissions. Clearly Europe should not be expected to act alone but a failure to set an ambitious greenhouse gas emissions reduction target for 2030 would mean a failure to achieve the necessary resilience to cope with the impact of a changing climate. It would be gambling with not just the environment but also global stability and prosperity today and for generations to come.