The 2021 Berlin Climate and Security Conference (BCSC) kicked off yesterday with a lively panel discussion on multilateral action for climate, peace, and stability, hosted by adelphi and the Munich Security Conference. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas opened the discussion with welcome remarks that emphasised the importance of not only analysing the climate-security nexus, but taking decisive, cooperative action to address the associated risks: “I am glad that we all share a strong consensus on the link between climate change, peace and security. Now we have to take the next step and operationalise this consensus,” Maas insisted. (His speech is available in full here.)
Raychelle Omamo, the Kenyan Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs, echoed his call to action: “From an East African perspective, the nexus between climate change and security are clear … we must now ask ourselves how we can best take holistic approaches to deal with the challenge of Climate Change.”
What does the international community need to do to tackle climate security risks?
This question guided the panel discussion. Rosemary A. DiCarlo, Under-Secretary General of the UN Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (UNDPPA), called on the G20 nations to lead the effort. The sooner they take on a leadership role in addressing climate impacts on peace and security the better: “Climate & environmental change is increasingly recognised as threat multiplier or conflict driver and there is improved understanding of how it affects livelihoods, poses existential risks, leads to food insecurity, water scarcity and natural resource competition. What is needed now is unprecedented, international cooperation to address these risks,” she urged. Especially wealthier countries need to show a tangible will to action.
Inger Andersen, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), agreed. “78 percent of all emissions are emitted by G20 countries,” Andersen reminded the panel. This means that these nations have the strongest responsibility, but also the largest lever to reduce emissions. “We have not seen the kind of solidarity that we need to see,” she said, pointing out that science was clear, but that current nationally determined contributions (NDCs) lacked ambition, even though the impacts of climate change were already visible. Andersen repeatedly urged for collaboration and multilateral action to address climate change and enhance resilience to its impacts.
From NATO, Benedetta Berti, Head of Policy Planning, Office of the Secretary General, added that climate change also impacted military planning – and that military organisations had just as much responsibility to lower emissions: “No one can be excluded from doing their part.” Berti discussed NATO’s action plan to reduce emissions across its members’ missions.
How can the interplay between climate, peace, and stability be integrated into peacebuilding and conflict prevention?
All panellists agreed on the urgency of accounting for current and future climate impacts in peacebuilding efforts. Berti reported that NATO was mapping the climate vulnerabilities of its bases as well as its areas of operation, in preparation for adaptation measures and better defence planning. In addition, she stressed that an effective response to climate security risks could not rely solely on defence: “We must build bridges between different communities of practice, working between diplomacy, defence, security and development.”
DiCarlo agreed that building these bridges was essential: “We need to develop a better shared understanding of climate security risks, we need stronger collaboration across policy areas and break silos to ensure that the political and technical solutions go hand in hand, and we need better partnerships to connect efforts across all levels.” She added that UNDPPA was working on bringing this perspective into all its areas of work, looking at early warning, peacebuilding, and prevention through a climate lens.
How can those most affected by climate security risks make themselves heard?
Climate security impacts often hit hardest in disadvantaged countries where stability may already be tenuous. Omamo urged the international community to listen to the Global South and to recognise the value of local perspectives and traditional knowledge: “We need acceptance to ensure that voices from the Global South – particularly those of women – are heard, so that issues pertaining to adaptation are understood, that financial and socio-cultural barriers are understood and so that the south is strengthened in their own capacities to adapt.” She sees environmental multilateralism and coordination among equals, guided by science, as keys to successfully building resilience.
In conclusion, the panellists agreed upon several key take-aways. First of all, the international community as well as individual governments need to listen to the science on climate change and the climate-security nexus. Climate security is a pressing issue and has to be recognised as such. Preventative measure should be taken sooner rather than later – both to mitigate climate change and to adapt to climate impacts in time.
Secondly, as DiCarlo put it, “Climate change is not distributed regularly.” Women and girls are especially vulnerable. At the same time, they bring valuable perspectives and knowledge to the table. Their active participation is essential to fighting climate change, countering climate security challenges and enabling peace.
Thirdly, knowledge sharing on all levels and across borders and policy areas is vital. This means not only bringing a climate perspective into other policy areas and collaborating across departments and agencies, but also listening to local experts and integrating traditional knowledge.
And lastly, as climate change is a global challenge, multilateralism has to be the foundation for all action. As Omamo eloquently put it: “There will be no collaboration, no sharing of data, no sharing of responsibility unless we build a global political system based on multilateralism, on fairness, justice and on the pursuit of human dignity and sanctity of human life.”
Find out more on the BSCS website.