Climate security is key to understanding instability and fragility in and outside Europe, and this agenda should be treated as the lens through which to redefine the continent's economic and political agency, Olivia Lazard writes.
A few weeks ago, the World Meteorological Organisation announced that the world stands a 66% chance to overshoot past the 1.5°C temperature threshold compared to the pre-industrial level for at least one year between 2023 and 2027.
At the same time, emissions are still rising, and the planet has re-entered the El Niño cycle.
The latter is usually associated with record-breaking temperatures, breadbasket failures and disasters of extreme intensity that have direct impacts on inflationary pressures and fiscal hollowing the world over.
Simultaneously, the safe and just Earth system boundaries study, published in June 2023, tells us that the planet is being sent into ecological overshoot, tearing away at global economic, political, fiscal, financial and societal fabrics from the local to the international level.
The disintegration of the ecological bases upon which global political economies rely spells security troubles for systems rivalry, resource scrambling, livelihood destitution, macroeconomic policy, conflict and war.
Systemic fragility at the heart of collective security
Against this background, the European Commission has just published its first Joint Communication on the Climate-Security Nexus.
In EU-speak, the communique holds no legislative or budget power. It is a narrative document created with the objective of establishing a set of working priorities around which various parts of the European Commission and the EEAS can rally and coordinate.
The good news is that the narrative is largely on point. It reflects the systemic fragility at the heart of collective security.
The document enumerates the ways in which climate change is leading to greater shocks and scarcity of food and water; how it acts as an overwhelming force that drives human displacement, impacts infrastructure, dampens budgets, and empowers autocrats and predatory elites.
It tacitly recognises that climate changes geography and natural resource distribution, opening up new frontiers for geopoliticised competition, such as the Arctic.
Competition takes on new forms, too. It doesn’t just involve state actors but also organised crime elements who prey on biodiversity and natural resources, making more and more revenue as resources grow scarcer.
Failure to take geostrategic behaviour into account
The document is also unique on one specific point: it recognises that the EU needs to anticipate the deployment of new forms of geoengineering technologies such as solar radiation management.
It's a form of planetary management that entails intervening in the bio-physics of our planet with the aim manage the greenhouse gas effect (without actually doing anything to reduce emissions).
Such technologies are not regulated. Their direct, second and thirdhand effects are poorly understood and pose risks to international security.
One analytical dimension is missing, though: the EU fails to account for the change of geostrategic behavioural patterns that already act on climate and transition instability.
Russia, for example, already harvests climate fragility faultlines. The Kremlin does not shy away from weaponising fragility and violence in a resource accumulation pursuit for critical minerals, food and water at the expense of global security.
This particular lack of geostrategic purview and an adequate task force to respond to the challenges at hand leave the EU vulnerable to gaping strategic and security risks.
A specific foreign policy and staff force are much needed
Short of this blindspot, what the joint communication tacitly expresses is that the world has irreversibly tipped into a new security regime because the climate regime has, too.
The not-so-good news is that while the EU frames the narrative relatively well, it is not actually gearing up for the world it depicts.
The EU needs to have a foreign policy that reflects interconnected challenges and the necessary staff force to conceptualise the stakes coherently within and between each part of the European house.
This is far from the case. Just to give an example: there are about two people who work on climate security as such standing within the EEAS' integrated strategy unit.
The work they focus on mostly directs efforts at contexts of pre-existing fragility related to conflict — not systemic fragility.
The lack of capacity and coordination for matters critical to the EU’s energy security is also concerning.
While the EU recognises the need to connect the dots between climate stresses and critical mineral sourcing, for example, there is no coordinating mechanism between DG Grow, EEAS, INTPA and other relevant European Commission staff specifically seeking to address the ways in which geopolitical competition, industrial extraction and expansion, climate security risks, maladaptation and conflict risks intersect.
Since no extra budget is allocated to the joint communication for climate security, it means only one thing.
The agenda can only be used in the next year as a launching pad for a complex multi-dimensional security assessment exercise that the next European Commission can pick up upon to hit the ground running.
Climate security is key to understanding instability
Different parts of the European Commission and the EEAS should come together with an analysis and a roadmap.
These should address what the union is up against today in terms of the geo-strategic security environment and whether its resources and institutional set-up match the challenges facing the EU — from supply chain security sabotage to failure of stabilisation and policy dialogue efforts, and partnerships that don’t deliver on adaptation — and how to reshape the EU’s foreign policy in the next European Commission.
Climate security is key to understanding instability and fragility from geostrategic to local levels in and outside Europe. It encompasses political-economic, societal, institutional, and defence security today.
If that much is clear, then the EU cannot afford to make this agenda a beggar. It should be treated as the lens through which to redefine the continent's economic and political agency instead.
Olivia Lazard is a fellow at Carnegie Europe and an environmental peacemaking and mediation practitioner and researcher with over twelve years of experience in the field.
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