Climate action as a matter of national security
National interest is sometimes used as an argument against climate action. National economic interests are opposed to the interests of the planet. Such an approach is fundamentally flawed. Climate change is today a matter of national interest and national security. It is already destabilising entire countries and regions, with serious security consequences for all of us, at all corners of the world.
Global warming is not only an existential threat for our friends living on small islands. Extreme weather events have become much more common all around the world, at all latitudes. Other natural disasters – such as desertification – attract much less attention, but their consequences are devastating for millions of people. The most unstable regions in our world are all suffering from so-called “slow onset” natural disasters. And this is happening right at our doorstep, not far from Europe.
In the Middle East, water scarcity is fostering tensions and adding up to long-standing conflicts – from Gaza and the Jordan valley to Iraq. In the Sahel, thousands of jobs are being lost because traditional farming is not sustainable any longer, and people who lose their jobs are more easily recruited by all sorts of militias, criminal organisations or terrorist groups. In the Arctic, new tensions arise as the melting ice opens new trade routes.
Climate change is changing radically our security environment. In today’s conflicts, controlling a dam can be even more strategic than controlling an oil well. Natural disasters have in recent years displaced more people than war. Global warming is not just a concern for the next generation: its impact is already with us, and must be tackled here and now.
Three years ago I presented a new Global Strategy for the European Unionʼs foreign and security policy, which recognised the new link between climate and security. With the Strategy we have tried to look beyond the emergencies of our time, focusing on how to make peace and security sustainable in time. This also requires decent access to natural resources, food security and sustainable development. In short, sustainable peace and sustainable security require climate action. As a consequence, our action on the climate-security nexus has four main components.
First, we have worked to address the causes of man-made climate change. Not only did we contribute to building the global coalition that led to the Paris agreement. We are also leading by example in its implementation and supporting our partners to follow suit – financing the green economy and energy transitions all around the world. We are out-performing the goal we set of a 20 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, and we have proposed that 25 per cent of the new EU budget for 2021-2027 shall be spent on climate-related actions. Climate diplomacy is now an integral part of our foreign policy.
Second, we have worked to build climate resilience, particularly in the regions where the impact of climate change is greater. We Europeans are together the biggest contributor of public climate finance to developing countries. We have invested in climate change adaptation and food security from Africa to the Arctic. For instance, together with the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the United Nations, we are working on a Great Green Wall around the Sahara: we are helping local communities in their fight against the desert, bringing water and feeding the land so it can be fertile again. This is also a way to prevent the destabilising effects of climate change.
Third, we have improved our reaction to extreme weather events. One example above all: in Somalia, four consecutive years of drought were followed by devastating floods in 2018. A major humanitarian catastrophe seemed inevitable, but the international community took action, and even though the situation in the country remains very difficult, we managed to avoid an even greater tragedy. When Hurricane Irma hit the Caribbean in 2017, we mobilised our Copernicus satellite system – which is a global excellence – to map the damage in real time and assist rescue operations. We did it in a matter of hours, and we did it for free. We are also working to make better use of our militaries in response to natural disasters: Member States are cooperating – in the framework of our new Permanent Structured Cooperation on defence – to set up an EU Disaster Relief Training Centre of Excellence and a Disaster Relief Deployable Headquarters.
Finally, we have always tried to create new opportunities for international cooperation on climate change. Climate action is perhaps the most indisputable case for multilateralism and regional cooperation, even among countries that do not cooperate on anything else. Take the broader Mediterranean region. It is one of the most conflictual and less integrated regions in the world, yet all Mediterranean countries understand the need to work together against water scarcity and pollution. So in these years we have worked in the framework of the Union for the Mediterranean to create new trans-national cooperation projects on climate in our region.
No country can tackle the security implications of climate change alone: it is simply not an option. Climate change is a national security issue that can only be tackled through international cooperation. The European Union is a cooperative power by definition: we will continue to be a global point of reference for all those who believe in collective climate action as the only answer to a common security challenge.
About the author
Federica Mogherini is the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy / Vice-President of the Commission.