A New Climate for Peace: Taking Action on Climate and Fragility Risks (Report Launch) | Wilson Center
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A New Climate for Peace: Taking Action on Climate and Fragility Risks (Report Launch)

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As momentum builds towards the negotiation of the Sustainable Development Goals and UN climate change summit later this year, the G7 countries – France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Canada, the UK, and the United States – have made a strong statement about the importance of climate security risks. A New Climate for Peace: Taking Action on Climate and Fragility Risksan independent report commissioned by G7 foreign ministers and authored by a consortium of international organizations including the Wilson Center, analyzes the security and stability risks posed by climate change and offers concrete policy options for addressing them.

“We don’t think this is something on the horizon,” said David Yang, deputy assistant administrator in USAID’s Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance at the U.S. launch of the report on June 22 at the Wilson Center. “We think it’s practical right now, this integration and fusion of national security and climate change.”

Yang was joined by representatives from the USAID’s Bureau for Economic Growth, Education, and Environment, U.S. Department of State, U.S. Navy, and the White House to discuss the report and what the U.S. government is doing to address climate stability risks.

Seven Compound Risks

The report identifies seven compound risks: local resource competition; livelihood insecurity and migration; extreme weather events and disasters; volatile food prices and provision; transboundary water management; sea-level rise and coastal degradation; and the unintended effects of climate policies. “It’s not just climate change,” said Alexander Carius, a contributing author to the report and co-founder of adelphi, “but also the question of population dynamics and population growth, urbanization, pressure on resource availability, and resource demand.”

These risks can be so interwoven that even well-intentioned adaptation or mitigation strategies can cause further harm, as reflected in the report’s seventh compound risk. In the case of biofuel expansion over the last decade, the replacement of food crops led to price spikes for many staple goods in developing countries, riots in some places, and land grabs that displaced thousands. “We often have good purposes in designing and promoting the expansion and diffusion of renewable energies but with negative side effects,” said Carius.

“We don’t think this is something on the horizon. We think it’s practical right now, this integration and fusion of national security and climate change.”

The report offers four broad recommendations. G7 members should: make climate-fragility risks a central foreign policy priority, enhance cooperation with one another around these risks, set the global resilience agenda by informing multilateral processes and structures, and engage with other governments and non-government organizations to ensure global actions produce local results.

There are also specific recommendations – like keep markets operating during food price crises and improve access to timely and accurate food data – broken down into five “action areas,” including global risk assessment, food security, disaster risk reduction, transboundary water disputes settlement, and local resilience.

State and USAID Efforts

Recognizing that “integration begins at home,” A New Climate for Peace calls on G7 member governments to cease single-sector interventions around climate change, development, humanitarian aid, and peacebuilding and instead create “cross-sectoral and inter-agency working groups and policy processes.” Such integration of programs, from early warning and assessment to planning, financing, and implementation, improves efficiency and returns, said Carius, but is not the norm. “We know that our administrations are siloed,” he said. “In most cases, both domestically and internationally, we are a little bit far away [from] breaking down these sectoral barriers.”

Christian Holmes, USAID’s global water coordinator and deputy assistant administrator in the Bureau for Economic Growth, Education, and Environment, agreed. “Right now, our water programs are pretty basic,” he said. They tend to focus on supply, sanitation, or hygiene without consideration of water’s central role in climate issues or the food-water-energy nexus. “This is a very complex system that we’re all dealing with,” said Holmes. “Understanding the linchpins in the system is what’s really key.”

The majority of places where USAID invests are fragile or conflict affected

Calling water the common denominator for climate risk, Holmes suggested that asking the question, is there enough water?, will soon be protocol before the start ofany development project. “As the world faces more and more dire challenges, the water programs are going to have to adjust and become much more linked to that whole array of risks,” he said.

USAID has begun to move in this direction, developing a Water and Conflict Toolkit with the Wilson Center and adding a conflict annex to its Climate Resilience Development Framework, which provides guidance on incorporating climate change adaptation and mitigation into development initiatives. This type of integration is critically important to field officers, many of whom have technical expertise in topics like water resource management but not in peacebuilding. The vast majority of places where USAID invests in water programs are fragile or conflict affected. Climate change will impact the availability of water in these places and may create new “winners” and “losers” that exacerbate existing tensions or even inspire new conflicts.

The Department of State has also recognized the report’s recommendation to “make climate-fragility risks a central foreign policy priority,” said Melanie Nakagawa, a member of the policy planning staff in Secretary Kerry’s office. Alongside conflict and violent extremism, climate change is one of four major focal areas in the 2015Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, the second-ever major strategy document for U.S. foreign policy. “Climate change is already exacerbating and complicating our very mission in many ways,” said Nakagawa.

Much like Secretary Clinton’s addition of gender to how the State Department does business, Secretary Kerry has moved to raise awareness about climate change. “The Secretary of State is really excited about how we can advance climate security and climate change more broadly,” said Nakagawa. “Whether its water security or food security, the connection between those and climate is evident, and the areas of the world that are projected to become more food insecure and water insecure are also key areas where we are focused on from a foreign policy perspective.”

Homeland Security and the Military

At the Department of Homeland Security, a 2009 executive order requiring all federal agencies to conduct sustainability and adaptation planning prompted an internal review process to see how climate change related to their mission, said Alice Hill, former senior counselor to the Secretary of Homeland Security and now senior director for resilience policy at the National Security Council. “We did not have a definitive consensus view within the department and so we had the hard work of answering that question and looking at all of our mission spaces to determine that, in fact, we should care deeply,” she said.

All new U.S. development projects will be screened for climate risks by October 1

These and other recent efforts by the Obama administration to mainstream climate change have led to real shifts in policy. Hill said, for example, that all new U.S. government development projects will be screened for climate risks by October 1, 2015.

From the U.S. military’s perspective, fragility and instability means the potential for more deployments, from emergency relief to warfighting. Rear Admiral Jonathan White, oceanographer and navigator for the U.S. Navy and director of its Task Force Climate Change, said the Pentagon is very interested in helping to determine what countries are most vulnerable climate-fragility risks and participating in resilience-building partnerships with other branches of government.

White likened building resilience to moving the red line on the tachometer of a sports car, so a country can take more gas (climate change) before overheating (fragility or conflict). Determining where that red line is and what can be done to move it is the challenge. White said the military is ready to be part of a national and international team effort. The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, for example, which has extremely detailed satellite data, wants to become involved in determining climate vulnerability and anticipating challenges, he said.

Despite the possibility of unintended consequences, we can’t wait for “perfect science,” White said. “We need to start taking action and that’s why I really salute this report.” Finding partners that have a combination of high risks and political willingness to address them – like Bangladesh – will be key, he said. “That partnership is critically important.”

“The Ambition Is Clear”

U.S. leadership in this space is very important, said Carius – “It is a collaborative effort.” A task force created by G7 member states is now reviewing the report’s recommendations for further action. In the interim, NewClimateforPeace.org is as an information platform on the seven climate fragility risks for both policymakers and the public.

“We would like to extend the scope of the study a little bit and not exclusively look at those countries that either call themselves fragile or are labeled fragile but look into fragility itself,” said Carius. The focus should not be on labeling or pigeonholing countries, but engaging with these complex challenges that can affect any state and cross agency responsibilities.

“The ambition is clear,” he said. “We know where we need to go but I think it requires a lot of coordination but also bringing the existing knowledge in different institutions across the spectrum of foreign policy from environment, climate, development, peacebuilding, agriculture, to foreign policy and security policy into the picture.”

Event Resources:

Written by Carley Chavara, edited by Schuyler Null and Lauren Herzer.

Photo Credit: A village on the coast of Sumatra after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, courtesy of Philip A. McDaniel/U.S. Navy.


  • Alexander Carius

    Co-Founder and Managing Director, adelphi
  • Geoffrey D. Dabelko

    Senior Advisor, ECSP; Former Director, ECSP
    Professor and Associate Dean, George V. Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, Ohio University
  • Roger-Mark De Souza

    Global Fellow and Advisor
    Former Director of Population, Environmental Security, and Resilience
  • Alice Hill

    Senior Director for Resilience Policy, National Security Council, White House
  • Christian Holmes

    Deputy Assistant Administrator, Bureau for Economic Growth, Education and Environment, and Global Water Coordinator, U.S. Agency for International Development
  • Melanie Nakagawa

    Policy Planning Staff, Office of the U.S. Secretary of State
  • Andrew Selee

    Former Executive Vice President and Senior Advisor to the Mexico Institute
    President, Migration Policy Institute
  • Jonathan White

    Rear Admiral, Oceanographer and Navigator of the Navy, Director of Task Force Climate Change, U.S. Navy
  • David Yang

    Deputy Assistant Administrator, Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance, U.S. Agency for International Development