Tackling climate change risks must become a top foreign policy priority if the world is to combat the global security threat it poses in the 21st century, according to a new study commissioned by the G7 countries.
Multiple conflicts have taken the government systems for dealing with them “to their limits”, according to one of the authors of the report, which was launched at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) on Tuesday.
Written by an international consortium including peacebuilding NGO International Alert and the European Union Institute for Security Studies, it calls climate change “the ultimate threat multiplier” in fragile situations.
Citing conflicts in Syria and Mali and land grabs in Ethiopia, it warns that problems exacerbated by climate change – such as food insecurity, competition for water and land, migration and displacement – could leave fragile states unable to provide for their citizens.
Speaking at the launch, Baroness Anelay, the UK’s minister of state for the FCO, agreed that climate change should become a top foreign policy priority.
“Climate change is not only a threat to the environment but to global security and economic prosperity. That therefore makes it a top priority not only for environment ministers but foreign ministers too. It’s a cross government issue – and if it’s not, it should be,” she said.
“The scale of the security risks are potentially enormous,” said Dan Smith, secretary general of International Alert. “You can see the climate threat in the narrative strand that lead to Tahrir Square, you can see it in Nigeria leading to Boko Haram, you can see it in the Horn of Africa potentially unfolding much more seriously.”
But Smith was quick to criticise the concept of a “climate war”, which he said had emerged in recent years, such as around the conflict in Darfur.
“It leaves out everything else – the history of rivalries, the effects of Sudan’s civil war. It reduces the relationship between climate and security to being – at its worst – the relationship between last year’s weather and war … There is a link but the complexity of it must be faced up to. We have to think about this in terms of managing the risks, not solving the problem – because the problem is already unfolding,” Smith told the Guardian.
Lukas Ruttinger, co-author of the 150-page report, warned that global systems for dealing with conflicts are reaching breaking point.
“Multiple crises have taken the coping capacities of the systems we have to their limits. Take a look at the foreign office in Germany for example – half of the office is just busy with Ukraine – and then there is Syria.”
Smith also called for a more integrated response at local, national and international levels. “Government ministries need to come out of their silos and smell the coffee. Business as usual is not an option,” he said.
The report, called A New Climate for Peace, makes a number of recommendations and calls for leadership from the G7 countries – France, Germany, the UK, US, Japan, Italy and Canada – to bring together approaches to tackling climate change with development and peacebuilding efforts. Recommendations include the introduction of a global risk assessement, limits to food price fluctuations, increased reserves of food stocks, and greater management of water across borders.
The study also says there are significant benefits to be gained from taking action, such as improved health, increased employment, greater co-operation and equality.
The study was welcomed by G7 members at the summit in Germany last week, where ministers agreed to create a working group to respond to and implement the recommendations.