Planning ahead

Disasters and climate risks can serve as positive spaces for partnership-building and advance agreements. If these activities are expanded to include larger risk assessment activities (beyond simply response), capabilities analyses can also be part of net assessment is evaluating what capabilities one possesses to respond to a risk/threat.

If co-operation and trust can be established among affected parties, then these capabilities include allies and partners, allowing division of responsibilities and possibly bolstering some capabilities. This would enable, for example, regional militaries to understand who has capabilities to respond immediately to disasters and who would be available to carry out initial assessments, and to set out frameworks for turning over responsibilities to civilian agencies and NGOs for humanitarian responsibilities beyond the initial response.

Since sending in US Marines to respond to humanitarian crises is highly political both to Americans and to those people on whose beaches they appear, understanding and planning for dual capabilities in regions may provide multiple benefits. Locally led responses and solutions are generally preferred to relying on Americans.

Advance assessment can also help identify critical uncertainties in our knowledge of environmental change and of its relationship to energy and other systems, and what research or monitoring would best address the problem in any particular case. Many climate risks will appear not as acute disasters, but rather as triggering mechanisms for slow-onset threats and pressures.

Communities that can help identify key vulnerabilities and critical nodes in advance, especially if this is done in an open, multinational and multi-disciplinary fashion, are also the communities that can begin work in advance to reduce risks and avoid imposing undue costs on others. As with the Multinational Planning Augmentation Team (MPAT) tradition of co-ordinating ideas and then letting others lead, the military role in climate security is ideally to provide tools and approaches so that others can ensure that climate security does not emerge as a primary military concern.

Selection of the appropriate response to possible future conditions, whether defined as mitigation or adaptation, is still highly political and must involve value choices and priorities. The hope is that with improved appreciation of how to approach uncertainties in climate-related environmental changes, adaptive capacities and critical vulnerabilities can be identified in advance, even if specific conditions and disasters continue to elude prediction.

In contrast to traditional security assessments that focused on likely responses of adversaries, with ‘climate change’ a key uncertainty remains as to what our own responses might or can be. Determining this requires not only deeper understanding of complex environmental changes, but appreciation of our own capacities and weaknesses, and what we most value trying to protect. The future will not be like the past, and such risk discussions need to be conducted well in advance. Dr Chad Briggs, Strategy Director, GloballNT

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