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Action on Climate and Security Risks: Review of Progress 2017

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This report looks at progress made on policy and practical responses to climate-security risks for 2016-2017. Using the independent G7 commissioned report A New Climate for Peace as a basis, and building on last year’s report, Towards A Global Resilience Agenda, this year’s report sets out the key achievements, pitfalls and new challenges facing the foreign policy community working to reduce climate-fragility risks.

2017 saw ongoing and worsening political conflict and humanitarian crises. At the same time, we have witnessed a year of climate extremes. Devastating hurricanes, floods and tropical storms buffeted the Caribbean, North America and South Asia, whilst drought and desertification push thousands more towards extreme hunger in the Sahel and the Middle East. Arctic ice is at its thinnest level ever and a vast iceberg, twice the size of Luxembourg, broke off an ice shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula.

As climate extremes and conflicts are increasing, so too are geopolitical and socioeconomic extremes. The world is currently and simultaneously facing high levels of uncertainty around the fragile new world order, the highest levels of displaced people in decades, and a peak in global hunger - affecting 11 per cent of the world’s population.
These trends all affect each other, and are projected to worsen.

The global political and economic context has been a major stumbling block for political progress on tackling climate and security risks. The global economy has still yet to recover from the 2008 crash. And efforts to put economic recalibration onto an environmentally sustainable track have been hindered by a shift to nationalist populism across Europe and the US, Brexit, the Trump administration and the rise of right-wing parties such as Alternative für Deutschland in Germany have made it difficult for political leaders and officials to push this agenda.

Nevertheless, there has been political progress and opportunities. Positive developments in the climate and security space in the past year include steps taken towards new and deeper partnerships for resilience, for example, between the EU and China, across 14 US states following Trump’s threatened withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, and between municipal authorities around the world through alliances such as the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group. There has also been greater acknowledgement of climate-fragility risks in national and global fora, policies and strategies, for example in the EU’s Global Resilience Strategy, UN Security Council Resolution 2349 on Lake Chad, and the Australian Senate Inquiry into climate and security. Various global frameworks such as the Sustainable Development Goals, the New Urban Agenda - the global agreement for promoting sustainable urban development, and the Global Compact for Migration - the first ever global level agreement on migration and displacement are now being implemented, presenting opportunities for promoting long-term and sustainable solutions to the root causes of climate-security risks. And there have been steps to operationalise action to address climate-fragility risks, for example, the G7 and partner states are supporting a comprehensive risk assessment of Lake Chad. But these practical steps towards implementation - which are few and far between – need to be scaled up, driven deeper and multiplied to have lasting impact.
Against this context, our review of progress presents a mixed bag. US President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement has not yet been nearly as damaging as commentators had feared. Yet other steps which appeared positive, such as the UNSC Resolution on Lake Chad including an entire, unprecedented paragraph on the role of climate change on the crisis, failed to live up to expectations, with the ensuing Report by UN Secretary General Guterres failing to make any reference to climate change at all.
Added to this are new issues which remain largely unaddressed in policy and practice and require further attention, such as the implications of climate change on urban security, the risks to security of transitions to low carbon energy, and the links between climate change and radicalisation.

These circumstances present three key tests for addressing climate-fragility risks:

  1. Shifting dynamics in international cooperation and leadership opens new space to address climate-security risks at the international level through new mechanisms and within new alliances.

  2. More people than ever before are at risk. Urgent and growing humanitarian needs underscore the critical importance of better preventative action, even as most resources continue to be channelled into dealing with crises ex post.

  3. As efforts to operationalise commitments under global frameworks such as Agenda 2030 roll out, the need for enhanced cooperation and coordination between policies, actors and their actions under various frameworks becomes more apparent than ever - if they are ever to effectively address climate-security risks.

But on balance, the policy progress, emerging partnerships and tentative steps towards action on building resilience to climate-security risks offer more grounds for optimism than for pessimism.

Notwithstanding this cautious optimism, the urgent challenge to move from analysis to action on addressing climate-fragility risks remains. To this end, we set out three, cumulative steps to help catalyse the much needed transition from analysis to action to build global resilience:

  1. Partner for resilience: The complex nature of climate-fragility risks requires many actors – international and regional institutions, civil society, and the private sector – to work more closely together. An institutional home for climate change and security within the UN system would provide much needed a locus for leadership, cooperation and joint-action. Greater cooperation between the G20 Development Working Group and G7 Climate Fragility Working Groups would also enable better coordination and stronger global leadership on the issue.

  2. Prioritise prevention: This means a move towards a new funding and programming paradigm which puts prevention first. Steps would include:

    • Moving from post-crisis response, with prevention focused on only the most immediate risks, to early and urgent action to directly tackle and manage the full range of risks that could lead to climate related conflict.

    • Strengthening national institutions’ capacity to focus on prevention, enhancing governance legitimacy and expanding the scope of and calibre of government actions.

    • Combining short and long-term approaches. Shorter-term results increase the buy-in for investment in sustained and strategic approaches to prevention.

  3. Move from analysis to action: Successfully addressing climate-related security challenges requires knowledge sharing, partnerships, and getting out of separate silos. It requires the emergence of a new community of practice, a road-map to consolidate, strengthen and catalyse action to address climate-fragility risks, and a joint commitment towards a set of shared goals. To advance this goal, the Planetary Security Consortium have set out an Agenda for Action in The Hague Declaration.
    It contains practical commitments governments, institutions and organisations can take on specific thematic and geographic areas. The Hague Declaration is an example of the kind of efforts required to move from analysis to action, by contextualising the recommendations of the G7 commissioned report A New Climate for Peace in specific regions and sectors.