Mon, May 27, 2019 - Page 7 News List

The myth of climate wars

Rather than resisting the securitization of climate, advocates and policymakers should be using security to increase the salience of climate action

By Alaa Murabit and Luca Bucken

Illustration: Yusha

In the years leading up to Syria’s civil war, the country endured three consecutive record-breaking droughts. By forcing internal displacement, the droughts arguably contributed to the social tensions that erupted in popular protests in 2011. However, that does not mean that the Syrian conflict is a “climate war.”

As extreme weather events proliferate, it is becoming increasingly easy to find a link between climate change and violent confrontations. In Sudan, the ethnic cleansing carried out by former Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir has been tied to the Sahara Desert’s southward expansion, which fueled social unrest by exacerbating food insecurity. Territorial disputes in the South China Sea have also been connected to food-security concerns, rooted in competition over access to fishing areas. Some now warn of a “brewing water war” between Egypt and Ethiopia triggered by the latter’s construction of a dam on the Nile River.

However, the “climate war” narrative is deeply flawed. From Syria to Sudan, today’s conflicts are the result of multiple complicated and interrelated factors, from ethno-religious tensions to protracted political repression. While the effects of climate change can exacerbate social and political instability, climate change did not cause these wars. This nuance is important, not least for the sake of accountability. Climate change must not be used to duck responsibility for resolving or averting violent confrontations.

Still, military and climate experts argue that climate change is a “threat multiplier” and thus remains an important national security issue.

However, climate advocates and academics have long avoided or rejected discussions of “climate security” — not to diminish the risks that climate change poses, but because they fear that framing climate change as a security issue will undermine efforts to mitigate those risks, by enabling the incremental securitization of climate action.

Securitization is often a political tactic in which leaders construct a security threat to justify deploying extraordinary, even illegal measures, that infringe on people’s rights. If the fight against climate change is securitized, it could, for example, be used to rationalize new restrictions on the movement of people, enabled by and reinforcing anti-migrant sentiment.

Framing climate as a security issue can also challenge already-strained international cooperation on climate governance, while driving investment away from necessary interventions — such as the shift to a low-carbon economy — toward advancing military preparedness. Moreover, the accompanying apocalyptic discourse could well lead to public disengagement, further weakening democratic accountability.

Yet, even as some UN member states express concern about linking climate change more closely to security, most countries are moving in precisely that direction. In 2013, the American Security Project reported that 70 percent of countries view climate change as a threat to their security and at least 70 national militaries already have clear plans in place to address this threat.

The UN Security Council is also becoming more active in the climate security field. After recognizing the role of climate change in the Lake Chad conflict, the council held its first debates on the relationship between climate change and security, with the participation of a large and diverse group of member states.

This story has been viewed 2197 times.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top