Climate change to affect security dynamics in profound ways

The Bled Strategic Forum panel entitled Climate Change and Security Dynamics debated the far-reaching security implications of climate change, in particular with regards to water. The panelists agreed that change is already under way, but the climate will shape security policy in a multitude of new ways, in particular with regards to water.

Dr Adil Najam, Dean of Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University, said it was in fact necessary to stop talking about climate change as such, because it is already a fact as humanity has gone from the era of mitigation to the era of adaptation, which he labelled “the failure of mitigation” by a species that was supposed to be “half-serious.”


He argued climate has changed the very notion of security, naming as an example the need to possibly relocate military bases built on shores when sea levels rise. But a new paradigm is also required by the shift from carbon-based energy to renewable sources, which he said would “require the sort of cooperation that does not exist in the world.”


Water featured prominently in the debate, with the panelists agreeing that it was becoming one of the frontlines in security policy.


Dr Danilo Türk, Former President of the Republic of Slovenia, speaking about the nexus of energy and water, said water was not a new issue in security equations but was getting increasingly prominent.


He mentioned conflicts in Sudan and Mali as involving water resources, which should therefore be considered in attempts to find a solution, something that had not been done to a sufficient degree in the past. “That does not mean conflicts start because of water or that water is the main instrument or objective, but it must be understood,” he opined.

On the other hand, water should not only be seen as a problem, it should be understood as “an instrument of peace.” Nevertheless, it poses significant challenges. Dr Türk mentioned the growing need for desalination, which is energy intensive, coupled with growing need for energy, which is water-intensive.

Water and climate change more broadly are also a leading cause of migrations. Ms Aira Kalela, Senior Adviser at the Office of Finnish President Tarja Halonen, described it as “definitely a very serious security issue,” although she was also quick to point out that there is never just a single cause of war, there is a combination of causes.

The debate furthermore touched on the suitability of current legal instruments in addressing issues arising out of climate change, including migrations.

Ms Ana Stanič, Founder and Director of E&A Law Limited in the United Kingdom, argued that international law, including the convention on refugees, does not accommodate new needs due to climate change. “Other than a discussion that Europe is now mounting on dealing with migrations – in the sense of making them not come – we are in denial… “It is inevitable that people will come, we need to deal with what will happen when they come.”

Dr Türk meanwhile argued that legal instruments do exist, but there is a lack of policies. “We have formulae of cooperation that are not being used,” he said in reference to the underuse of instruments for the shared management of water resources.

Dr Najam, however, said that it was “a folly to think existing instruments can be applied directly.” “Climate is not going to be like war or earthquake, it creeps up on you, it’s more like economic migration.”

Ms Stanič meanwhile pointed to innovative use of existing instruments in the forms of claims brought against companies and governments in court by those affected by climate change.

For example, New York and several other cities are suing US energy giant Exxon for fraud and breach of securities law, which she said was “very inventive way of using existing law”. These are amazing claims, they are being resisted vigorously by the companies involved, but we have tools that we can use. This might be a very rare instance where we have lawyers and law with which to effect political change, she said.

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