Oliver Scanlan

28 February 2018

On 16 February Oxford Research Group (ORG) participated in a side event at the 2018 Munich Security Conference (MSC) dedicated to the security implications of a changing climate. Organised by the United Nations Environment Programme, the event “Before the Flood: Environment and Security in the Spotlight”, marked the first time that the relationship between the environment and security has been discussed at the MSC, the pre-eminent global forum to discuss security issues.

Representing ORG, Dr Oliver Scanlan of the Sustainable Security Programme gave a presentation highlighting the substantial discrepancies that generally exist between military expenditures and domestic and international climate financing, drawing on data and technical support from the Climate Policy Initiative. This represents a strikingly divergent approach taken by states to risks that share basically similar central characteristics: non-quantifiable, non-trivial and catastrophic. There needs to be more effective integration of the climate change policy area into security planning if this divergence is to be addressed.

Panellists Prof Vassiliki Koubi and Dr Tim Prior, both of ETH Zurich, discussed their recent cutting- edge research demonstrating increasingly close correlation between drought and conflict in certain specific contexts characterised by, inter alia, weak governance, high economic dependence on agriculture and ethnic division. Dr Leila Urekenova, UNEP Programme Analyst, discussed the current international legal frameworks concerning the environment and security, making the case for a new global legal regime.

UNEP Executive Director Erik Solheim opened the event with a wide-ranging speech that emphasised both the environmental costs of military conflict and the economic benefits of shifting to zero-carbon infrastructure. UNEP Regional Co-ordinator Mahir Aliyev chaired the discussion. Keynote addresses were made by Judge Alice Hill, former special adviser to Barack Obama on Climate Change, and Ambassador Patricia Espinosa Cantellano, Executive Secretary to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Ambassador Espinosa highlighted the importance of climate finance in her remarks, and the unsustainability of a roughly ten-to-one ratio of spending on defence compared with climate change. Judge Hill highlighted various steps taken by the Obama Whitehouse through executive order to more fully integrate climate change into defence planning and intelligence assessment, all of which have unfortunately been reversed under the present administration.

Other discussants included Jennifer Morgan, Executive Director of Greenpeace International, Henrik Urdal, Director of the Peace Research Institute Oslo, and Prof Roland Paris, Research Chair at the University of Ottawa and former Foreign Policy Adviser to the Prime Minister of Canada.

Image of Dr Oliver Scanlan of ORG and Dr Leila Urekenova of UNEP at the 2018 Munich Security Conference. Photo credit: MSC / Karl-Josef Hildenbrand.