This report looks at progress made on policy developments and practical responses to climate-fragility risks for 2016-2017. Taking the 2015 report A New Climate for Peace as its starting, and building on last year’s progress report, Towards A Global Resilience Agenda, this report sets out the key achievements, setbacks and new challenges in international policy on climate-fragility risks. The report also sets out recommendations and some priority areas for action.
On the whole, progress on the recommendations and action areas set out in A New Climate for Peace has been limited, in large part due to a tumultuous year of climatic and political extremes. Progress has been made, but largely on policy and rhetoric, less so on implementation. However, on balance, the policy progress, emerging partnerships and tentative steps towards action on building resilience to climate and security risks offer more grounds for optimism than for pessimism.
Indeed, this year saw an historic peace agreement signed in Colombia and a UN agreement on a draft treaty to ban nuclear weapons. However the year also saw escalating crises, fractures in leadership and in institutions. Fighting continued unabated in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya, tensions between Israel and Palestine flared up and violence has been renewed, and the blockade of Qatar and the inter-power rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia also put tension on stability in the Middle East. The human rights and violence situation in the Ukraine, Venezuela, Nigeria, South Sudan and Afghanistan have worsened. So too have relations between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and the rest of the world as the DPRK pushes forward with the development and testing of ballistic missiles and the ratcheting up of rhetoric and threats between the White House and Pyongyang.
At the same time, we have witnessed a year of climate extremes. Hurricanes, floods and tropical storms have buffeted the Caribbean, North America and South Asia, whilst drought and desertification push thousands more towards extreme hunger in the Sahel. Arctic ice is at its thinnest level ever and a vast piece of the Antarctic ice shelf broke off.
The global political and economic context has been a major stumbling block for political progress. The global economy has still yet to recover from the 2008 crash. And efforts to put economic recalibration onto an environmentally sustainable track have been hampered by a shift to nationalist populism across Europe and the US.
Nevertheless, there have been political progress and -opportunities. On entering into office, the new UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres pledged to make 2017 the “Year of Peace”, setting out an agenda for conflict prevention and sustaining peace, and stating that ‘prevention is not merely a priority, but the priority’. And despite the indications from President Trump of a US withdrawal, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change is set to go on. It will be implemented, and indeed this year has seen a ground swell of activism and sub-national support for the goals set by Paris. Progress is also being made by the private sector, for example in the field of renewable energy and within the car industry, and there are some glimmers of hope that what was considered alternative energy is becoming mainstream energy.
Notwithstanding these steps, the challenge to move from analysis to action remains an urgent priority. This is true in the conflict and in the climate arena, and certainly in the arena where both meet, particularly in addressing climate-related security risks to development and humanitarian programmes.
This report is structured in four sections. It begins with a review of the current climate change, security and geopolitical context, highlighting the key trends and occurrences of 2017 (Chapter 1). Next comes an analysis of the main climate-fragility risks of the year, based on the risk analysis approach set out in A New Climate for Peace (Chapter 2). Chapter 3 gives an overview of the most pertinent policy processes and developments of 2017 and takes stock of progress made towards achieving a global resilience agenda. Finally, the last section offers some summary conclusions and recommendations.
2017 was the year of climate extremes. The multiple, extreme and protracted weather events experienced around the world have had profound consequences for people’s lives, livelihoods, peace and security. At the same time, there has been a surge in compelling research studies about climate change and its impacts. Despite some resistance to climate-security risks by a small set of political players and academics, overwhelmingly across policy, practise, research and the public, the case for acknowledging climate-fragility risks is more compelling than ever.
In 2017 NASA’s State of the Climate report informed us that 2016 was the hottest year on record, with C02 levels exceeding 400 parts per million for the first time in over 800,000 years. In 2016 several other climate change related records were broken, including global averages for sea surface temperature, lower atmospheric temperature and sea levels. Academics argued that such records, which have been consistently broken since 2014, would be extremely unlikely without anthropogenic human activity.
Sea level rise is a particular concern, with new research showing that it is happening at a faster rate than previously thought – 50% faster than in 1993, in fact. The annual rate of sea level rise has increased since 1993 – from 2.2 millimetres per year to 3.3 millimetres in 2014. According to Chen et al (2017) a thaw in Greenland’s ice sheets as well as the melting of other glaciers has accelerated this rise which is expected to continue in future. Shephard et al (2017) concur that all the Polar Regions except for East Antarctica are losing ice. This sets the world on course for up to 76cm of sea level rise by the end of the century, which would have massive impacts for the security of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and coastal megacities.
Research also highlighted the increasing unpredictability of weather patterns including rainfall, drought, wind and tropical storms. The latter parts of 2017 saw almost back-to-back extreme weather events including Hurricanes Irma, Harvey and Maria in August and September in North America and the Caribbean. Hurricanes are not necessarily driven by climate change, and these were forecasted to occur. However, scientists point out the likelihood that Harvey, Irma and Maria were exacerbated by climate change. They also warn that such hurricanes will become more intense in future, in part due to the warming of the ocean and atmosphere.
Even more severe impacts (in terms of human lives lost) occurred in the South Asian monsoon season. In late August, extreme levels of precipitation led to floods in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and India. This affected at least 45 million people, a large proportion of which were displaced from their homes. Despite monsoons being an annual occurrence, this year’s rainfall was extreme. Combined with little or no flood early warning systems, destruction was widespread. Over 1 million homes in India and Nepal were damaged, critical infrastructure such as schools, hospitals and transport were destroyed, and a devastating 1300 lives were lost, an estimated 30-40% of which were children. In Southern China’s Jiangxi province, floods in July led to an approximate 430 million USD in damages and economic losses.
Heavy rainfall is set to increase by at least 20% across South Asia before 2050, and more intense and extreme weather storms predicted to become the ‘new normal’ for the Caribbean and North America. Climate change is already reversing development gains in the affected countries, many of which are located in the most vulnerable regions of the world. In order to strengthen the resilience of the population, we cannot exclusively rely on the implementation of the Paris Agreement, which at best will have long term benefits. Better disaster prevention and an integrated approach towards climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction is necessary now.
In 2017, the world was “facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the UN” according to UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien, in large part due to conflict. In Yemen, about two-thirds of the population (more than 18 million people) were in need of humanitarian assistance, including seven million facing severe food shortages. In mid-2016 South Sudan experienced a new outbreak of fighting, leading to the deaths of over 300 people while 40,000 were displaced. In addition, South Sudan’s economy suffered from the highest inflation rate in the world. This resulted in an enormous deterioration of living conditions. In early 2017 a famine was declared in parts of South Sudan, with up to 100,000 people affected. While famine eased later, the number of people facing severe food shortages in the country rose from 4.9 million in early 2017 to six million in summer 2017.
Due to the conflict linked to Boko Haram, along with other factors, almost five million people in north-east Nigeria and 8.5 million people in the Lake Chad basin region are at risk of severe food insecurity. The food crisis is currently “Africa’s largest humanitarian emergency”. The high number of displacement and casualties among the population, destruction of economic infrastructure, and a decrease in trade led to an enormous decline in food production.
After six years of war, Syria is still experiencing conflict, instability and one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. While reliable statistics on the war’s casualties are unavailable, one estimate is that over 450,000 people have been killed, 6.3 million are internally displaced, and 13.5 million people are in need of assistance in Syria. Involvement of foreign actors in the conflict has significantly increased over the last years. Several rounds of peace talks could not reach a lasting ceasefire.
In Iraq, fighting between government forces and the Islamic State (ISIS) intensified throughout 2016 and 2017, leading to over 9000 casualties. Attacks claimed by ISIS killed more than 200 people in over a dozen suicide and car bombings. Iraqi forces with the support of a US-led coalition have taken back several cities held by ISIS, including Iraq’s second city Mosul. In October, the US-supported Syrian Democratic Forces also regained the control of al-Raqqa, the Syrian city that ISIS appointed to be the capital city of its Caliphate. Although large-scale fighting in reclaimed areas is over, the security threats for civilians are even more diverse – including hunger, disease and sexual violence.
Hostilities between Taliban and government forces continued in Afghanistan in 2016 with no significant progress with regard to the peace process. According to the UN, 2016 saw a “record number” of almost 11,500 civilian casualties in Afghanistan. Besides Taliban insurgency, Islamic State affiliated groups assumed responsibility for several severe attacks. This overall deteriorating security situation continued in 2017, resulting in various serious attacks.
In Myanmar, inter-communal violence and human rights violations by Myanmar’s security forces against the Muslim Rohingya minority have caused increased refugee flows to neighbouring countries in 2017. In August, the most recent peak of violence erupted in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, resulting in approximately 480,000 additional Rohingya refugees moving to already climate-stressed Bangladesh. In an address to the UN Security Council UN Secretary-General António Guterres called the Rohingya crisis “the world’s fastest developing refugee emergency” providing a “breeding ground” for radicalization..
In sum, 2017 saw a continuation of the longer global trend – since 2010 – of an increase in number and intensity of post-Cold War conflicts. Many of these conflicts take place in areas profoundly affected by climate change. And indeed, taking account of climate-related risks to conflict will be a critical challenge for stabilisation, peacebuilding and post-conflict reconstruction efforts.
The UNHCR reports that 2016 saw the highest level of displacement on record with 65.6 million people uprooted worldwide. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, 31.1 million were new displacements caused by conflict, violence and disasters. Syrians are still the biggest group of internally displaced persons and refugees (12 million), followed by Colombians (7.7 million) and Afghans (4.7 million). Iraqis are the fourth largest group of refugees and IDPs (4.2 million). The fastest growing displacement occurred in South Sudan, with a total of about 3.3 million South Sudanese who have fled during 2016. Developing or middle-income countries received 84 per cent of refugees and one third of refugees were hosted by a least developed country.
There were 24.2 million new displacements by disasters in 2016. As in previous years, South and East Asia were the regions most affected by disaster displacement. While China, India and the Philippines have the highest absolute numbers, small island states suffer disproportionately once population size is taken into account. Weather-related hazards, in particular storms, brought on the majority of all new disaster displacements in 2016.
While migration is influenced by many political, social, economic and environmental factors, the main drivers of displacement include conflicts, environmental stress and natural disasters. The current and future impacts of climate change – most visibly, sudden onset disasters such as Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, but also slow burning impacts like the droughts in Nigeria, Yemen and South Sudan, will only continue to shape the numbers and patterns of human mobility. Whether or not it can be managed without violence will be shaped by the policies in place to support those that feel they need to move, and their hosts.
On 1 June 2017, US President Trump stated that the United States planned to officially withdraw from the Paris climate agreement by 2020. Whilst the move sparked a sharp backlash from the rest of the world, it seems unlikely to be a major setback for international efforts to minimise dangerous climate change. Despite the ceremony around the announcement, the US federal government’s position on the Paris Agreement remains ambiguous, with Secretary of State Tillerson stating that [President Trump is] considering staying in the Paris agreement to fight climate change “under the right conditions.” In light of the shifts in US engagement with the UNFCCC process, it is worth noting the new dynamics emerging nationally and globally.
What seems most clear is that while the U.S. Administration will not likely advance domestic actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, other actors, including the US Congress and political leaders at the state level, are taking some steps forward on climate change. In response to the United States federal government’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, a bi-partisan coalition of 14 states called The United States Climate Alliance was formed, led by Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo, Governor of Washington Jay Inslee and Governor of California Jerry Brown. Alliance members have committed to supporting the Paris agreement, and are pursuing state-level climate action to make progress toward its goals. Within the US Congress, a bipartisan majority in the U.S. House of Representatives affirmed climate change as a “direct threat to the national security of the United States” in recent legislation, and called for a study on the matter from the Department of Defense (2018 National Defense Authorization Act). This movement illustrates a trend of growing bi-partisan support for addressing climate change risks. As of September 2017, for example, states that are part of the United States Climate Alliance were on track to meet their share of the U.S. pledge under the Paris accord, thanks in part to local mandates on renewable energy and electric vehicles. In short, recent dramatic shifts in U.S. national climate policy may not be sufficient to overcome the political, governmental and economic inertia on the issue built across U.S. administrations over the last two decades.
There is also cause for some optimism at the global level. In what is emerging as a significant shift in climate geopolitics, key developing countries appear determined to continue steps to curb carbon emissions, despite a shift in leadership from the United States. That is true not just of China, the world’s top emitter, and India, by most accounts the fourth-largest emitter, but also of fast-growing nations in Latin America and Africa. These countries’ main environmental motives may not be to fight climate change, but rather to clean up dirty air and add domestic jobs in burgeoning low-carbon industries. Achieving those ends would indirectly help constrain carbon emissions. There is also ample room for additional global leadership on advancing investments in climate adaptation.
Whilst a US pull-out from Paris may reflect a broader shift in the US role in the world, the Paris Agreement is likely to survive. That said, it is clear that the Nationally Determined Contributions are not in themselves enough to achieve the 2°C goal, let alone the “well below 2°C” aspirations of the Paris Agreement. Much depends on efforts to increase ambition within the Paris process, and with Washington playing a less active role, generating the political will, technological innovation and economic discipline to step up the world's response to climate change is likely to prove more challenging.
Indications of new and serious partnerships are also emerging. China and the EU declared an alliance with the aim of taking a leading role in tackling climate change, as was documented in the “Elements for a new EU strategy on China”, adopted by the EU Council in 2016. After failed previous attempts at better cooperation, this new agenda has been bolstered by China’s leadership of the G20. At their 19th Bilateral Summit in early June, the parties discussed how to work together to “speed up the implementation of the Paris agreement wherever possible”, through climate finance, evidence based decarbonisation pathways and joint action in support of carbon markets. It must be emphasised that the Paris Agreement is only one element of a broader international governance architecture that must be strengthened to make sure countries are better prepared for climate risks. As such, other forums like the G7, the United Nations Security Council, and regional institutions, should play a larger role in buffering changes in international climate leadership, and continuing to support actions to address climate risks at the sub-national scale in ways that are resilient to domestic political change.
According to the American Security Project’s Global Security Defense Index on Climate Change, most national security, defence and intelligence communities acknowledge the security dimensions of climate change. Some are actively implementing policies to build their resilience to the effects of climate change, both in terms of infrastructure and the global operating environment. Many militaries have programs on defence adaptation to maintain and enhance their capabilities in operating environments shaped by climate change; one aspect of this is diversifying their energy portfolios and transitioning away from dependence on fossil fuels, undertaken in part in response to the risks of transporting fuel in-theatre.
The security establishments of small island states and nations and territories with significant low-lying coastal zones, such as in the Marshall Islands and Bangladesh, are acutely aware of climate change risks to national security - in some instances, existential risks. Aspects of climate security may be incorporated into other planning areas such as Disaster Risk Reduction, particularly in Asia-Pacific, and water security, particularly in Africa and the Middle East.
Otherwise, the degree to which other defence establishments are implementing plans to address climate change-related risks in a way that is commensurate with the threat is not wholly clear as such a comprehensive survey has not been conducted. It seems that attention to the issue varies considerably between the security communities of different countries and regions, and between successive elected governments within countries.
Nevertheless, the ongoing mix of intensifying natural disasters and humanitarian crises seem to be depoliticising the issue, raising appreciation of how climate change impacts may shape the security environment in coming decades. In the United States, this depoliticised concern has manifested with senior defence leaders under the Trump Administration, including Secretary of Defense James Mattis and four other defence leaders, continuing to publicly raise concerns about climate change, and a bipartisan majority in the U.S. House of Representatives that affirmed climate change as a “direct threat to the national security of the United States” in recent legislation (2018 National Defense Authorization Act).  Major U.S. defence policy initiatives continue to be implemented, including the 2016 Department of Defense Directive on Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience, and the Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap.
Elsewhere, such as in Australia, France, the Netherlands and NATO, the concern about climate risks to security has grown over the past few years, as evidenced by a number of relevant statements and meetings. For instance the Dutch Chief of Defence General Middendorp expressed his concern over climate change as a threat to peace at the second Planetary Security conference in The Hague in December 2016.
That said, concerns primarily revolve around infrastructure and a potentially increased tempo and scale of military operations in response to natural disasters. While there is widespread recognition among militaries of the increased demand for humanitarian assistance and disaster response that near-term climate change-related impacts may drive, many national security communities, including those most likely to be affected by the fragility and instability risks of climate change, typically have not incorporated the more diffuse, longer-term “strategic” dimensions of climate change impacts into their planning. Further, knowledge and appreciation of how climate change might interact with other traditional priorities of security establishments (such as nuclear threats and terrorism) remains low.
For example, in some disaster-prone areas of Asia-Pacific, an increase in frequency and intensity of extreme weather events are seen as a priority for military equipment and capabilities, but there is little acknowledgment from the defence and intelligence communities, at least in the public domain, of how issues such as migrating fish stocks, or sea level rise impacts on maritime boundary delimitations, might fall within their purview. Efforts are underway to incorporate climate-security curricula into defence sector education, including in Australia, the United States and Pakistan. This may be a fruitful path to raising awareness amongst the next generation of military leaders, as well as with partner nations who participate in joint training and education activities.
Ultimately, as observable climate change impacts manifest, this issue gains attention amongst security establishments. On the international stage, leadership in advancing resources and planning for addressing the security dimensions of climate change has ebbed and flowed between countries, subject to changing political and economic circumstances and priorities. This suggests that climate change concerns have not yet been widely or deeply institutionalized within security establishments, with the exception of a few nations that either have a wide regional or global reach, or whose existence/ stability is clearly threatened by climate change.