Climate and security

21.04.2015 - Article

Climate change can exacerbate existing conflicts, for example over access to resources. Extreme weather events have the potential to destabilise entire regions. Rising sea levels and the resulting loss of territory also harbour potential for conflict.

Retirement of the Pasterze, the glacier beyond the Großglockner
Retirement of the Pasterze, the glacier beyond the Großglockner© picture alliance/APA/picturedesk.com
In this context, three questions should guide our thinking and action:

  • What new security-policy challenges can we expect as a result of the impact of climate change? Will climate change lead to more conflicts between countries, for example, due to scarcity of resources and migration flows?
  • Which of these challenges could be overcome by preventive action, and in which cases will it only be possible to limit their impact?
  • What can we do generally and in specific individual cases to respond to these climate change challenges?

Solutions to the problems of drinking‑water shortages, dangers to food safety and threats to coastal regions may take the form of specialist technical approaches. New disaster prevention and humanitarian assistance measures may also be required. Last but not least, institution‑based solutions should also be explored. These could involve creating new conflict-resolution mechanisms or strengthening existing regional cooperation structures.

German initiatives in the United Nations and the EU

The Federal Foreign Office raises these questions in important international forums. For example, in a debate launched by Germany on 20 July 2011, the United Nations Security Council unanimously acknowledged that climate change can pose a threat to international peace and stability. On 15 February 2013, the UN Security Council once again discussed the security implications of climate change in the more informal context of an Arria Formula Meeting. UN Secretary‑General Ban Ki‑moon and other speakers underlined the manifold effects of climate change on international security and called upon the international community to take rapid preventive action.

Sea levels are rising faster than ever before
Sea levels are rising faster than ever before© picture-alliance/dpa

In June 2013, at Germany’s behest, the EU Foreign Affairs Council returned to the issue of climate diplomacy, which it had first discussed in July 2011 at the instigation of Germany and Britain. In 2011, the EU Foreign Affairs Council first set down the climate-diplomacy concept in writing in its Council conclusions, in which the EU Foreign Ministers also approved a mandate for the EU, specifically for the European External Action Service. Since then, the EU has been called upon to minimise systemic risks resulting from climate change before crises erupt.

It was also agreed that the transition to a low‑carbon economy should be perceived as a foreign policy task and that working to promote the establishment of carbon markets should be a priority. Likewise, the EU’s early‑warning mechanisms are to be used to monitor climate change and environmental degradation. In June 2013, the EU Foreign Ministers adopted Council conclusions building on their 2011 conclusions for the 2013 to 2015 period.

Climate diplomacy as part of the G7/G8 agenda

The Foreign Ministers of the G7/G8 countries have also incorporated the climate-diplomacy issues into their agenda at the instigation of Germany and France. An expert group formed in July 2013 to focus on climate and security proposed aiming to link foreign ministries more closely by means of an electronic platform on the political consequences of climate change and organising a study to examine what impact climate change will have on fragile states and regions. This proposal was adopted. The platform and study were compiled in 2014/2015 by a think‑tank consortium headed by the Berlin‑based institute adelphi and co‑financed by the Federal Foreign Office. The study formed part of the agenda of the G7 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Lübeck in April 2015 and was included in the ministers’ communiqué. A summary of the study is available at www.newclimateforpeace.org

Further information


Environmental policy priorities of the German G7 presidency

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