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Wednesday May 23rd, 2018

“Climate change is a risk multiplier”


Meeting of the Sustainable Future Dialogues platform held in Rio de Janeiro addresses the relationship between climate and security

The effects of climate change and extreme events on the security of countries was the main topic and starting point of the International Workshop on Climate and Security, held on May 18 by Institute for Climate and Society (iCS) and the German Embassy in Brasília, with support from the General Consulate of the Federal Republic of Germany in Rio de Janeiro and from the Institute of International Relations of PUC-Rio. The third event organized by the Sustainable Future Dialogues platform demonstrated the plurality of possible definitions of the word security, with special attention given to the need to improve governance and interconnection between different social players.

German ambassador to Brazil, Georg Witschel opened the event and, before the first panel, went straight to the crux of the forthcoming discussions: “A preventive security policy needs to act broadly against all the risks and potential conflicts that may jeopardize security. Climate change is a multiplier of risks, such as water and food shortages, extreme weather events and migration. The goal of the German government is to understand these risks and, if it is not possible to eliminate them, we aim to, at least, mitigate them”, he said.

The road to security, according to the speakers, must bring together the efforts of players with different perspectives on the same subject. These efforts are directly connected to the notion that talking about climate is, first and foremost, a discussion about a development model – which includes commodity pricing, the ability of civil defense authorities to deal with natural disasters, intensifying migratory cycles and trade balance.

“Human action is intensively and rapidly accelerating climate change trends, and what is at stake is our survival, not the planet’s. We are getting on a plane that has a high probability of crashing. We are living amid a power dispute due to the consequences of climate changes, new navigation routes due to the melting of the Arctic cap and wars to secure access to water. In iCS, we live by the premise that it is better to prevent than to cure. That’s why we all need to act together”, said Ana Toni, executive director of Instituto Clima e Sociedade.

A Professor of the Institute of International Relations (IRI), of PUC-Rio – one of the co-promoters of the event – Monica Herz reinforced the controversial nature of the concept of security. For her, what is essential today is to discuss the extent to which climate issues lead to situations of conflict, that is, those that nonviolent rules and democratic debate cannot solve.

Panel I: international scenario

In the morning, international experiences in climate and security were highlighted in presentations by Alexander Carius (founder and general director of adelphi, in Germany), John Coger (director of the Center for Climate & Security, in the U.S.), Marianela Curi (executive director of Fundación Futuro Latinoamericano, in Ecuador) and Yves Sassenrath (deputy representative of the United Nations Population Fund – Brazil, UNFPA Brazil).

Carius started the first panel by noting that of the five global risks listed by the Global Risks Landscape 2018, four are directly related to climate. According to him, the struggle for natural resources is on an upward trend. The cases of Syria, where a terrible drought from 2006 to 2011 has caused families to go hungry and devasted the economy because of its impact on agriculture, and the environmental crisis of Lake Chad, in Africa, which may dry up in 20 years and has already affected more of 7 million people, were other real examples to illustrate the intrinsic relationship between climate change and security.

In fact, the Amazon region was another fundamental point discussed by the speakers. Marianela Curi defended the importance of the forest to the world, due to its capacity to guarantee water, energy, food and health security. “They are all interdependent matters. There are direct security threats in the Amazon region, which cannot be regarded only as matters of border defense and violence. Deforestation, loss of ecosystem services, inequality and conflict, as well as contamination are some of the examples”.

The United States, one of the countries with the largest number of climate skeptics (including President Donald Trump himself), also suffers from the effects of climate change. Coger said that the country’s largest naval base is located in Virginia, and that it is accessed by Navy officials through a road that floods frequently – it is expected that in 20 years, the flood will last for two hours, every day. Reflecting on infrastructures and how to adapt them is, therefore, a crucial measure.

Panel II: national scenario

In the second part of the event, the perception about the security issue according Itamaraty, represented by Patrícia Soares Leite, deputy head of the Division of Climate Change (DCLIMA) of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, differed from the standing adopted by other speakers. “It may be that the climate creates conflict, but the tools to deal with the initial problem are to seek social and economic integrality, to reduce emissions and to improve adaptability.” The climate, she said, should not be a matter dealt with by the UN Security Council, a thesis that is advocated by the German ambassador, Georg Witschel.

Infrastructure is a central aspect of the study presented by Sérgio Margulis, a senior research fellow at the International Institute for Sustainability (IIS). According to Mr. Margulis, who analyzes the most critical infrastructure aspects of the country from the point of view of their economic importance and climate vulnerability, the perception that prevention is often costly and with long-term results is still prevalent in many cases, which creates risk for the business.

It is not possible to talk about security and climate, however, without taking into account human rights – both the rights of immigrants, for example, and the rights of people fighting for such rights and for preservation. For two consecutive years (going on to the third), Brazil was the country where the largest number of human-right defenders were murdered. For this reason, Juana Kweitel, executive director of Conectas Human Rights, took to the floor to request that human-right matters be absorbed and transmitted by the climate community.

But, if we are talking about security, where do defense agencies come in? The closing speech of the Meeting was given by Rear Admiral Carlos Eduardo Horta Arentz, of the Policy and Strategy Sub-Department. If necessary, the military are called upon to collaborate with other agencies in supporting civilian entities, providing humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, among others, which involves improved training. But their involvement only takes place when they are called upon to do so, he reinforced.

Want to re-watch a talk? Click here and access the live recording of the event! The next Sustainable Future Dialogues meeting has been scheduled for June 19. During the next meeting the discussions will target carbon pricing, and the meeting will take place at the Tomie Ohtake Institute (SP). Don’t miss it!

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