The responsibility to prepare and prevent: the urgent need for a climate-security governance architecture

AsiaGlobal Online

By Rachel Fleishman

Today’s international security and governance architecture was born of the post-World War II period, when a conflict-weary world sought to prevent another clash of nation-state alliances drawn into battle by the expansionist actions of a few. Yet many modern security challenges do not fit neatly into postwar constructs, argues Rachel Fleishman of the Center for Climate and Security. Pandemics, mass migration and environmental degradation – and, most prominently, climate change – defy national borders and the world must prepare for concerted, coordinated action to prevent predictable cross-border threats.


Matching climate insecurity with growing predictive capacity

Yet as climate-security risks grow, so too does the ability to predict them. A review of climate models from the 1970s to the present reveals that overall they accurately predicted the rapid onset of human-induced climate change over the past 50 years. Today’s models are even more sophisticated. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on Ocean and the Cryosphere in a Changing Climate published in September 2019 added 10 percent to estimates of the projected sea level rise this century. We can now assess with greater certainty where people, assets and supply chains are at risk from climatic trends.


Framing a responsibility to prepare and prevent (R2P2)

The combination of unprecedented risk and unprecedented foresight creates a “responsibility to prepare” for a future that is increasingly already present, and to prevent potentially catastrophic futures. According to Caitlin E Werrell and Francesco Femia, proponents of the concept outlined in their report “The Responsibility to Prepare and Prevent (R2P2): A Climate Security Governance Framework for the 21st Century”, the goal is to “systematically address climate-security risks at a whole-of-international security landscape level (national, regional and international) in a way that decreases the probability of instability and conflict”.


Military and security institutions have a historic opportunity – indeed a responsibility – to act decisively. The world cannot afford to “learn from experience” with a real climate security disaster. Nor is it likely to redesign existing security institutions completely. The best strategy is to adopt a “responsibility to prepare and prevent” framework and make use of the unprecedented foresight that technology provides to upgrade the security and diplomatic institutions at our disposal. A systems approach, driven by data and informed by multivariate security analysis, is the best insurance against future threats to climate security.

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