What should be discussed about climate-security at MSC2021?
Tom Middendorp, former Netherlands Chief of Defence and Clingendael's Senior Research Associate, presented a column during the Webinar 'Climate Interventions & Peace in the Age of Covid-19'.
What do I think should be discussed during the Munich Security Conference 2021 when it comes to the climate-security nexus?
Let me first stress that I am not a politician, nor a climate activist. I am here as a security expert associated to the Clingendael Institute and as the Chairman of the International Military Council on Climate and Security; A council consisting of a fast-growing group of concerned senior security experts and research institutes from all continents. And we all believe that the warning signs are flashing red; that climate change is an immediate and existential threat to humanity; to our very own existence.
I don’t have to tell you why. We only need to think of all the heat waves; The Floods. The Storms. Food shortages. Water shortages.
Or the rising sea levels that threaten the lives of millions of people… from farmers to coastal communities to whole island nations…. It is with good reason many people say we are now at a critical juncture, a tipping point, where the threat of climate change is leading to growing instability, fear, crisis and potential conflict. That is also why I was very glad to be able to participate in the Munich Security Conference last year. Where I had the opportunity to share the work and experiences of our International Military Council on climate and Security, where we presented our first global Climate and Security Report, depicting the security impact of our changing climate in the different regions of the world.
"For the first time in their history, climate-security featured at the main stage at the Munich Security Conference 2020."
For the first time in their history, climate-security featured at the main stage at the Munich Security Conference. Climate Change was discussed as one of the most important threats of our time. And that turned this conference into a wake-up call for the security community, realising that they have a responsibility to act.
Now, what does that mean for the next Munich Security Conference? How can this conference move beyond recognizing the existential danger of climate change and beyond adding another call for action? ….. To take the climate-security discussions to a next level, we need to shift our efforts from calling for action to designing and initiating action.
Let me therefore give you five options for the agenda in Munich or any other appropriate security platform:
First there is the element of foresight. The Military understands the importance of being ahead of the game since lives of soldiers will need to be put at risk if we fail to do so. How can the Military contribute to more comprehensive forecasting of the climate security effects that allows us to act preventively and pro-active?
A second question would be how to adapt at the strategic level? What should be the role of the security sector in addressing climate change and how should security institutions adapt to the geopolitical impact of climate change?
A third line of questioning could be about building local and regional resilience. How can we mitigate or prevent the security effects of climate change? Here the conference could discuss the adaptation of plans and policies towards climate vulnerable and conflict-prone regions and exchange best practices in helping improve local resilience.
And a final element could be about force adaptation. How can we ‘Climate proof’ our forces; enable them to act in extreme circumstances, protect vital infrastructure and materiel against climate influences and reduce their ecological footprint. Green technologies are an important part of the solution and can help security forces to become more self-supporting. Why not use Defense as a platform for green innovation?
Ladies and gentlemen, we need to move beyond calling for action. Never in our history did we have so much strategic foresight, so much knowledge and so much collective power at our disposal. The Covid crisis shows us how important it is to be prepared, to not let time slip through our fingers until it’s too late. It also confronted us with the vulnerability of the global village we live in. We can’t hide behind our dikes and national borders. We have a responsibility to act, to adapt and to build resilience. Collectively. And the Military needs to be part of that solution.
"We need everybody to act and to rise above political and national agendas."
Or, perhaps I should paraphrase the former French statesman Georges Clemenceau, who once famously said: 'War is too important to be left to the generals'. I would say we can’t leave climate change just to environment ministries. It is a whole-of-society problem, requiring whole-of-society answers. We need everybody to act, to rise above political and national agendas, and to look further ahead than the next quarterly journal or the next election period. Because our success lies in our collective ability to act.