Shank / Clarke: Defense resources and climate impact | Perspective


Rich countries made it clear last month that the least developed and underfunded nations – the most vulnerable to extreme climate impacts but least responsible for the global warming that generated them – are on their own.

During the United Nations climate talks in Glasgow, the United States and the European Union blocked efforts to increase funding for climate disasters and “create a mechanism to provide financial support to victims of climate disasters. “.

The Maldives’ Environment Minister, in response, whose country faces submersion from rising sea levels this century, rightly shouted scandal, noting that the Glasgow Climate Pact does not was not only “not in accordance with the urgency and scale required”, but the promises of the pact “will be too late for the Maldives.”

By ignoring the growing needs of our least developed countries for climate disasters, the US and EU are leaving tens of millions of people around the world – if not more – in immediate and heightened danger.

Climate refugees and climate-displaced populations now make up the majority of those seeking refuge in richer countries like the United States. Ninety percent of refugees under the UN refugee agency’s mandate come from countries on the front lines of the climate crisis. Seventy percent of displaced populations come from the same environment, with climate-related disasters displacing three times as many people as conflicts last year.

But here is the paradox. While the US and EU refuse to fully cover their responsibilities for so-called “loss and damage” in these least developed countries, they simultaneously name climate-related “threat multipliers” in their policies. well-funded defense.

The US, UK and EU have been very explicit in their defense strategies – and the climate planning of their respective departments – that climate change is a “destabilizer” and that the impacts on national security and regional are clear and present.

The three defense agencies recognize the need to respond to the growing security risks and threats associated with climate-related disasters and displacement. And the three defense agencies are preparing the resilience of their missions and facilities, while also committing to decarbonize their fleets – the EU going even further to examine the military’s circular economy, ensuring that no product is wasted.

What is missing in these military rethinking and climate adaptation planning, however, is a complete mission redesign. Currently, for the most part, it’s business as usual. No major overhaul of the military modus operandi, which is a huge missed opportunity.

Rather than simply recognizing that climate change is a threat multiplier and preparing troops for a traditional response, why not take the existing capacities, knowledge and infrastructure within these defense agencies and reorient them towards prevention? ?

Here is an example. When the Syrian Ministry of Agriculture asked the world for help when farmers began to migrate to cities due to extreme and record drought, which killed livestock and livelihoods, it was at that point a climate-focused defense apparatus should have taken this into account.

But we didn’t. Few have. A diplomatic cable sent from Syria highlighted the dire situation as early as 2008, when the Syrian agriculture minister publicly declared that the economic and social fallout from the drought was beyond the country’s ability to cope. Even the representative of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in Damascus made a direct appeal for help from rich countries. And yet the global response has been weak. Donor countries only disbursed $ 5 million, barely a quarter of the total requested.

There was an opportunity to step in and prevent this threat multiplier from worsening the situation on the ground, but we ignored it. You know the sequel: Cue the Civil War.

The history of Syria is not unique. It is happening all over the world. Countries are destabilized by climate disasters, and rich countries are waiting for a response – usually in the form of assistance or military deployment – to become the imperative by default. Beyond the moral implications here of preventable loss of life, what an inefficient status quo and what a waste of resources.

It is time for our defense departments – the US Department of Defense, the UK Department of Defense and the EU’s Office for Common Security and Defense Policy – to really put human security first.

This means securing environments, in advance, against increasing disasters, destabilization and displacement. This means focusing upstream on infrastructure and livelihoods. And yes, that means rethinking the mission, so that when another call comes in from a ministry of agriculture saying that a drought or a flood has destabilized an entire region, and it’s beyond capacity. country to face, that our most resource-rich government agencies – our defense departments – can mobilize resources immediately.

We can do it. We already have. Our defense services have been mobilized effectively to respond to the COVID crisis. Why not mobilize them in the same way to respond to the climate crisis in a way that helps communities before they are destabilized and before they are displaced.

If we do this right, we can conserve important resources while saving lives, and we can slow mass migration while mitigating conflict and violence. The climate is ripe for rethinking global security.

Montpellier resident Michael Shank and US Representative Yvette D. Clarke teach at NYU’s Center for Global Affairs.

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