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19 Jul 2021


The record apocalyptic and deadly heat afflicting Western Canada is the harbinger of numerous nightmares to come.

Author: Professor Adrian Kendry

  • Former Senior Defence Economist and Adviser to the 
  • NATO Secretary General, NATO
  • Economic Adviser to the NATO Strategic Foresight Analysis Programme 2021 and 
  • Visiting Professor of Economics, Security and Peacebuilding, University of Winchester

Climate Security in the Decade of Pandemic

Famine and drought are gripping Ethiopia, other African states and the American West, illustrating the escalating frequency of global climate emergencies. In Germany, Netherlands and Belgium, torrential rain and cataclysmic flooding have caused more than 180 deaths, with many more people missing and buildings and other infrastructure swept away into the swirling waters. Climate catastrophes are global.

Caught in the glare of mounting concerns over existential catastrophe, the G7 Summit leaders in Cornwall, England failed in June 2021 to muster the energy, imagination, and commitment to agree upon effective measures to mitigate the suffering of millions of people and the loss of multiple habitats and species. Such measures transcend urgency in meeting the challenges and ravages of accelerating climate change.

In this harrowing decade of contagion, conflict and turbulence, Climate Security is the pre-eminent challenge confronting every country and the world. The strengthening of international climate cooperation and diplomacy are vital for building and sustaining international security and trust in responding to the existential consequences of global warming. 

Unprecedented global coordinated financial investment and action must be initiated to prepare not only for future pandemics but to minimise further global environmental destruction. This destruction is accelerating global warming and climate change, compounding feedback loops into global insecurity, and providing the conditions for new viral pandemics.

Acknowledging mounting global economic insecurity and growing inequality caused by climate change and magnified by the Covid-19 pandemic, it is imperative that a new paradigm for global climate governance is established urgently to meet the challenges of the remainder of the decade to 2030 and beyond.

Staring into the Global Abyss: Consequences of Climate Insecurity

The unending pandemic continues to overwhelm fragile health and healthcare systems in many countries and regions, adding to the challenges of implementing effective strategies to combat climate change. The symbiotic relationship between climate change, food, and water shortages, rising sea levels, flooding in some regions and aridity and desertification in others, will intensify conflict and migration in the coming decade. Furthermore, climate change is fuelling growing anxiety and mental insecurity, augmenting the huge public health challenges posed by the pandemic.

Climate Insecurity and Natural Resources

The increasing demand for, and use of, energy resources will continue to threaten vulnerable natural resources. Resource exploitation will drive further global pollution on land, water, and in the atmosphere, adding substantially to global warming and increasing climate insecurity. Every degree of global warming will significantly reduce economic growth and output in temperate zones and accelerate destabilising migration out of the hottest regions.

The UN Resolution Prohibiting Food Insecurity as a Weapon of War

In May 2018, The United Nations Security Council Resolution 2417 condemnedthe starvation of civilians as a method of warfare. The resolution recognised that armed conflicts were only one factor undermining food security with climate change, imbalances in the global distribution of food, fluctuations in food prices and the imposition of sanctions contributing to mounting grievances and the intensification of poverty and inequality

Climate Insecurity and the Perfect Storm

Climate insecurity is fuelled by environmental destruction that is exacerbated by the disruption and migration of species and people from fragile habitats (sowing the seeds of pandemics and violence).

Many developing and fragile economies are increasingly vulnerable to the pandemic with climate-induced migration intensifying global poverty, famine, disease, and social and economic deprivation that will underpin rising violent extremism

Countries with the highest disaster-driven internal displacement of a million or more people are Afghanistan India, and Pakistan. But many other countries are suffering from migrant crises driven directly and indirectly by climate insecurity.

These global ravages of climate change and global warming are unrelenting. Together with the despair and dislocation caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, theworld is remorselessly preoccupied with a myriad of extreme weather events. 

Such events are complicating and reinforcing the miseries of those countries and regions seeking to desperately suppress or contain the virulent contagion of SARS-CoV-2 in the face of the tragedy of unequal access to and take-up of vaccines. Winter in the southern hemisphere is bringing a further wave of infections with the epidemiological expectation that the northern hemisphere will also confront further pressures on public health systems in the coming months.

2021 Examples of Climate Insecurity

Since the beginning of 2021, climate insecurity has been conspicuously evident in the heavy snowfall that paralysed Madrid for the first time in more than a century; a cyclone inundating Mozambique for the 3rd time in three years; the Arctic polar vortex that delivered unprecedented devastation on the power and water infrastructure in Texas; and the extensive flooding of communities in the Amazon, Angola, Cambodia and elsewhere.

Global warming has also precipitated the severest sandstorms in Beijing for a decade while the western half of the United States is experiencing historic water shortages. India’s record heatwave has exacerbated the miseries of a second tsunami of Covid-19 and the fears of an impending 3rd wave. Climate instability is also responsible in Kenya for the invasion of desert locusts that threaten millions of lives through food and nutrition insecurity.

Studies of global risk have identified the 100 global cities most vulnerable to climate insecurity, of which 80% are in India (containing 13 of the world’s most vulnerable cities) or China. More than 1.5 billion people are considered at “high” or “extreme” risk.

Jakarta is identified as the most at-risk city

Prioritising the Paris Climate Agreement

The decision of President Biden in February 2021 for the USA to return to the Paris Climate Agreement[1] re-established the US commitment to join the international agreement on restricting greenhouse gas emissions to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees C[2]

In late April, a virtual Leaders’ Summit on Climate was convened by President Biden with crucial participation from 40 world leaders including President Xi Jingping, President Narendra Modi and President Vladimir Putin. This summit laid the foundations for the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) scheduled for Glasgow, Scotland in November 20201 which assumes even greater importance in the aftermath of the G7 Summit.

These discussions were followed appropriately by an urgent International Energy Agency (IEA) report on 18 May that concluded that the 2050 net zero carbon emissions target would be unachievable without the cancellation of existing oil, natural gas, and coal investment projects.

However, some countries cling to their commitment to fossil fuel investment notwithstanding the international clamour for cleaner Some countries are maintaining their commitment to fossil fuel investment notwithstanding the urgent clamour for cleaner non-renewable energy projects. The pursuit of such projects will generate rising prices of carbon, lithium, and copper, adding to strategic tensions and uncertainty in international supply chains. 

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has predicted that the global economy will demand at least 40% more energy by 2030, drawing substantially on freshwater resources. This will further critically exacerbate water scarcity in insecure regions such as the Middle East and North Africa. 

Climate Insecurity from Global Warming: Melting Sea Levels

The alarming rate of melting of the Greenland ice sheet has precipitated widespread flooding and rising sea levels in the Indo-Pacific region and coastal littorals of the Pacific Ocean.

The melting of Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets are consistent with the worst-case climate warming scenario outlined in reporting by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Climate change precipitates the opening up of maritime routes.  The retreat of ice in the Arctic will open up new trade routes and initiate growing competition for strategic resources. The vast Arctic geographic terrain with sparse coastlines will provoke additional tensions regarding the exploitation of maritime resources and raw materials. 

In this less frozen Arctic and High North landscape, the complex strategic interplay between China, the USA, Russia, Canada, and other members of the Arctic Council over energy and strategic mineral resources will reflect the region’s growing economic importance accompanied by the confluence of fragile international relations and accelerating global warming in the region. With such dangerous potential instability, it is imperative that the Arctic Council and Svalbard Treaty must be strictly upheld.

[1] Following the Trump Administration withdrawal in November 2020

[2] The earth's temperature in 2021 is projected to be 0.91C and 1.15C above 1850-1900 levels, a reduction on recent years due to the onset of the La Niña event in the Pacific Ocean. 






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