Since the mid-2000’s, a wide range of reports and research articles have discussed the emergence of climate change as a security issue, including in 2010 the UK Ministry of Defence Green Paper and the US Department of Defense Quadrennia lDefense Review (QDR).
Describing climate change as a ‘threat multiplier’, militaries have argued that shifting conditions can heighten tensions as food, energy and related systems are strained.
Other narratives have been more direct in their claims of a link between climate and security, arguing that resource scarcity will lead to violent conflict, either through direct competition or as a result of migrants prompted by climate change crossing international borders.
Popular media and policy journals have carried both claims and counter-claims to the climate security arguments, while a sizeable number of academic researchers have attempted to model empirical evidence to the concept. Yet despite the common use of the term ‘climate security’, there remains uncertainty over what the concept really means, and disputes over whether climate change is a legitimate security concern. Use of the term ‘climate change’ in policy documents does not mean that associated risk assessments have been mainstreamed into military planning.
The urgency of current climate change discussions stands in marked contrast to the tone set in earlier decades, reflecting both mounting scientific data on environmental hazards, and at least a perception that increasingly severe weather is linked to such changes. From the 2003 heat-wave in Europe t0 Hurricanes Katrina, Wilma and Rita in the United States in 2005, and the floods in Pakistan and wildfires in Russia of 2010, environmental impacts are increasingly visible.
Environmental security research in the 1990s was generally dismissive of climate change as an important factor, following predictions by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that global warming would amount to marginal changes in air temperature by the end of the twenty-first century. The environmental security focus at the time was much more on local resource scarcity.
The effort to tie together environment and security is not a new endeavour. The Epic of Gilgamesh spoke of floods, possibly referring to actual changes in the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, resulting in clashes over water access and land use.
Stories from the Third Punic War (albeit of disputed veracity) spoke of the Romans sowing the fields of Carthaginians with salt in order to prevent the communities from rebuilding. Environmental factors have been crucial in warfare throughout history, from storms warding off the Spanish Armada in Elizabethan times to the decimation of European troops by disease during the Crusades.
Later colonial powers, recognizing that the conquest of land overseas required also the conquest of nature, established schools of tropical hygiene and medicine to provide adaptation strategies for new environmental conditions. Dr Chad Briggs, Strategy Director of GlobalINT