Oliver Scanlan

28 June 2018

Read the Paper

This research paper is based on ORG’s presentation at the side event ‘After the Flood: Environment and Security in the Spotlight[1]’ organised by the United Nations Environment Programme’s Geneva Science-Policy Platform at the 2018 Munich Security Conference, with the support of UNEP and Climate Policy Initiative (CPI).

Executive Summary

  • Different risks stemming from a changing climate are quantifiable to different degrees. A holistic assessment would appropriately view the potential impact of climate change as being of a similar order of magnitude to a major war.
  • Global expenditures on mitigating and adapting to climate change are, however, far lower than military spending, by a ratio of nearly 12 to 1 in 2016. However, this overall picture masks significant variation in climate expenditures on the part of different states. As all states are operating from essentially the same evidence base, this is difficult to explain.
  • The aggregate global imbalance is likely due to an over-reliance on a scientific frame of analysis, to which non-quantifiable risk is illegible. This kind of risk characterises most conventional security concerns and is the primary focus of defence planners, who adopt the “1% principle” in their analysis, i.e. the impacts of certain risks are so catastrophic, that even a 1% chance of their occurring necessitates a comprehensive response. This is for all practical purposes identical with the “precautionary principle” employed by environmentalists.
  • Integrating climate change as a core policy area for defence planners, allowing their analytical viewpoint and the additional diverse tools they commonly employ to assess non-quantifiable security threats, should therefore be a priority for policy-makers, as part of the “Responsibility to Prepare” agenda.
  • Explaining the variation in climate expenditures is more difficult. It may be attributable to the integration of different analytical viewpoints (1% / precautionary principle) into the policy-making process. It may also be related to different instruments used by states to assess public investment decisions as well as differing mechanisms for financing that investment. More research is required in this area.
  • A crucial first step is to agree a common international definition of climate finance, as well as an intergovernmental agreement to regularly report their commitments according to this definition. It will be impossible to gauge accurately whether the level of international investment is sufficient to achieve the targets set by the Paris Agreement unless these basic measures are implemented.

[1] UNEP, ‘Before the flood: environment and security in the spotlight,’ United Nations Environment Programme (20th February 2018) https://www.unenvironment.org/news-and-stories/story/flood-environment-and-security-spotlight.

Image credit: Vattenfall/Flickr. 

About the Author

Dr Oliver Scanlan has been a Fellow of the Sustainable Security Programme since May 2018. Between June 2017 and May 2018, Oliver was Senior Programme Officer with the programme, focusing on climate security. He has a PhD in politics and international relations from Dublin City University, focusing on forestry and land use in South Asia, and implications for climate change mitigation and the rights of ethnic minorities. He has worked, studied and researched in China, India and Bangladesh. He has previously worked for Save the Children International and Oxfam. He has a BA in Modern Chinese Studies from the University of Durham and an MSc in Contemporary Asian Studies from the University of Amsterdam, and is currently a member of the United Nations Environment Programme’s Geneva Science-Policy Platform.