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New Threats Arising from Climate Change and Energy Scarcity – What Role for International Governance?

New Threats Arising from Climate Change and Energy Scarcity – What Role for International Governance?

24 April 2008

At an Ecologic Dinner Dialogue in Brussels on 24 April 2008, Jamie Shea and Helga Schmid discussed the role for the EU and NATO in responding to threats arising from climate change. Jamie Shea is Head of Policy Planning at NATO. Helga Schmid is Policy Unit Director at the EU Council Secretariat. Both agreed on the importance of the issue. While it is already on the agenda and reflected in various EU documents, Jamie Shea laid out reasons why it is not yet at NATO’s agenda and made recommendations that could help change the current situation.

In her initial remarks, Helga Schmid noted that the issue of climate change and security has already been raised at some occasions in the past. For example, Great Britain brought the issue to the UN Security Council. As a consequence, the first-ever open debate exploring the relationship between energy, security and climate change took place. Also, a recent policy paper by Javier Solana and the European Commission on climate change and international security highlighted why climate change is a strategic issue for security policy.

Helga Schmid argued that the threats seem to be clear, mentioning Darfur as an example for a climate-induced conflict over water and food with the consequence of migration caused by environmental change. Potential other future examples include Bangladesh, located barely above sea level, and the Arctic, where melting ice caps lead to open water ways, triggering conflicts over shipping routes and the riches beneath.

Helga Schmid suggested including climate change as a risk item in an early warning system. In addition, she identified public diplomacy and awareness raising as key to deal with security threats arising from climate change.

Agreeing with Helga Schmid’s comments, Jamie Shea acknowledged that while at least on paper already on EU level, the issue of climate change and security did not find its way on NATO’s formal agenda yet. By naming several reasons for this condition, he also explained why a shift would be important:

Climate change is no "visible enemy". In the past, NATO became involved in conflicts after conflicts arose, as the examples of the Balkans or Afghanistan show. However, climate change – although happening – is not something NATO can easily react on. Preventing on the other hand, is – by definition – not part of NATO’s mission. Also, climate change appears on the NATO horizon when an ally already has a problem, because only then can it be made an issue for NATO.

As a consequence, pressure on NATO to adapt to upcoming challenges increases. Jamie Shea did not rule out an "Art. 5 on Climate Change" in the future. Art. 5 of the NATO treaty provides that if a NATO ally is the victim of an armed attack, each member of the Alliance will consider this act of violence as an attack against all members and will take actions to assist the ally.

A fundamental argument for pushing the issue consists in the fact that future cases will affect politics, not just the economy. Therefore, NATO needs to realize these challenges, develop a new strategic concept and put global security networks in place to address the issue. Eventually, establishing a "Rapid Response Force" may be considered.

In the subsequent discussion, speakers and audience concluded that the link between climate change and security deserves a higher place on the agenda of the EU and also finds its way into NATO’s strategic planning – ideally before a major catastrophe occurs.

Further Links:

Sponsor: European Commission

Jamie Shea
Helga Schmid
24 April 2008
Brussels, Belgium