Senior military officials warn climate change a global security threat

Intro

Climate change and extreme weather represent huge threats to countries’ national security, senior military officials have warned. In the wake of recent flooding in the UK, Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti has warned that governments across the world can no longer afford to ignore climate threats and that no country can “pull up the drawbridge” against the global threat of rising temperatures. He joins a growing chorus of senior military officials warning that climate change poses a very real international security threat. US Secretary of State John Kerry and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon have also underlined the risks of climate change to global security. As world leaders work towards a new global climate treaty in 2015, and Europe debates its climate and energy policies for the next 15 years, governments are under increasing pressure to heed such warnings and take climate action.

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Key Points

  • Senior military figures have warned that climate change and extreme weather represent huge threats to national security. As the UK military assesses potential threats to its own bases, both at home and abroad, Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti has warned UK leaders they can no longer afford to ignore the risks posed by climate change. Risk experts in Germany’s army have echoed his words, warning that climate change should be treated as a foreign policy issue rather than an environmental one.
  • Climate change transcends borders and countries cannot “pull up the drawbridge” to stop the impacts of extreme weather, according to Morisetti. Recent flooding in the UK washed away train lines, partially submerged over 5,800 homes and knocked out  power lines. These offered the country timely reminders about the impacts of climate change close to home, but as a significant importer of food and gas, the country is also vulnerable to the impacts of climate change on global supply chains. Rising emissions threaten the “destabilisation of entire regions of the world” and such threats won’t stop at borders.
  • Leading figures are waking up to the security risks of climate change. Last week, US Secretary of State John Kerry labelled climate change the “world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction” while last month UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon likened it to “an armed group bent on plunder”. Now is the time for ambitious climate action. European governments debating their climate and energy policies for the next 15 years and world governments working towards a new global climate treaty in 2015 face increasing pressure to support tough climate targets. Failure to do so would leave the world without the “necessary resilience” to tackle climate risk.

Background

When Ed Miliband, leader of the UK opposition Labour party claimed earlier this month that climate change was an issue of national security, he was mocked by some for political opportunism. But leading military experts are increasingly in agreement about the risks of  climate change and its potential to destabilise and cause conflict between regions of the world, and to destroy the homes, livelihoods and businesses of millions of people closer to home.

Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti, a former Royal Navy aircraft carrier commander and chief UK climate envoy in 2013, reiterated his belief this weekend that climate change is a  national security issue. No country can afford to ignore the risks linked to rising temperatures, he warns. “We live in a globalised world where you can’t pull up the drawbridge in Dover, or in the Med. The reality is that what we’ve seen…the impacts of events being felt thousands of miles away,” he said. Hartmund Behrend, a climate risks expert in the Bundeswehr, the German army, believes that climate change and land degradation is so important it should be treated as a foreign policy rather than environmental issue. NATO also regards the issue as a priority, he highlights.

In the US, the American Security Project – made up of former high-level members of the military, former US Senators and business leaders – is examining the risks of climate change for politics and security around the world. Leo Cruz, a former gunnery officer in the US Navy, drew attention to climate change as “a global security threat that cannot be confined to national borders” in a recent blog. Admiral Samuel J. Locklear, combatant commander of US Pacific Command, has also publicly identified climate change as a major security threat. And while the Australian Coalition Government continues to play down climate impacts, the country’s Chief of Army says the impacts associated with climate change need to be factored into future military plans.

The risks voiced by military commanders are echoed clearly by political leaders. UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon has warned that “climate change is every much a security threat as an armed group bent on plunder.” Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), says that changes to the environment represent a “systemic risk” to security because of the population displacement it can cause.  US Secretary of State John Kerry has also invoked the risks of climate change for national security, touting it as “perhaps the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction”.

This is a clear call for climate action. EU leaders have to agree a stronger 2030 energy and climate package when they meet in March that addresses the real risks associated with climate change. This is important for the EU and its citizens. The EU must also  send the necessary signals to the international community, adding much needed momentum to the international climate negotiations for a global treaty in 2015. The climate summit being convened in New York in September by UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon is likewise a key event for world leaders to show they are serious about tackling the long-term risks of climate change.

 

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Key Quotes

  • “Climate change is every much a security threat as an armed group bent on plunder.” – Ban Ki-moon , UN Secretary General
  • “We live in a globalised world where you can’t pull up the drawbridge in Dover, or in the Med. The reality is that what we’ve seen…the impacts of events being felt thousands of miles away.” –  Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti
  • “The issue of addressing climate change is a risk management exercise. The judgement today based on evidence is that at 2C we can manage the risks posed, and develop a society that is resilient enough to manage those risks and exploit the opportunities through low carbon clean tech.” – Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti
  • “[Climate change is] a global security threat that cannot be confined to national borders.” – Leo Cruz, a former gunnery officer in the US Navy

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