Since you co-edited the book, The Secure and the Dispossessed, in 2015, which studied the militarisation of climate change, what has changed?
In the last seven years, the trends we identified in the book of promoting military and security solutions to the climate crisis have sadly become more entrenched. In 2021, NATO made military preparations for climate change one of its key priorities, President Biden is integrating military perspectives on climate change into all areas of government, and the EU is well on its way to full-scale militarisation, particularly in the wake of the war on Ukraine. On the surface, the military taking climate change seriously sounds like a positive thing, but when you look deeper at their strategies it’s clear that it is mainly about strengthening military power rather than stopping worsening climate change.
Spending on the military and other coercive forces by the richest countries have increased dramatically in the last decade, even while the richest countries are failing to deliver their promised climate finance to developing countries that would help countries cope with climate change. A recent report by TNI, the Global Climate Wall, showed that the richest countries are spending more than twice as much on borders and immigration enforcement as they do on providing climate finance. In some cases it is worse: US spends 11 times as much.
This diversion of resources to securitising the climate crisis does nothing to address its root causes or to prevent it getting worse. Rather it ends up turning its victims into ‘threats’ that must be dealt with militarily. It is an irrational and deeply inhumane way of responding to the climate crisis.
On the positive side, there is more awareness of the dangers of militarising the climate crisis. At the UN climate talks in Glasgow, COP26, a major coalition of peace and environmental organisations came together to oppose militarisation and demand cuts in military emissions. The global movement to demand justice as the main response to climate change continues to grow in numbers and impact.
2. Military strategies on climate change emphasis the potential conflicts and violence that will result from climate change, despite academic investigations showing no such link. Who benefits from these narratives? Is it a way of introducing militarism into our imaginaries?
I think the belief that climate change will necessarily lead to conflict has become hegemonic. It is a narrative that is clearly strongly promoted by both military planners and the arms industry who by nature of their political and economic power have made it feel like ‘common sense’. NATO’s strategy in 2021 for example says that climate change will ‘exacerbate state fragility, fuel conflicts, and lead to displacement, migration, and human mobility, creating conditions that can be exploited by state and non-state actors that threaten or challenge the Alliance’.
Yet as you say when you look at the evidence for this, there is very little. The IPCC’s recent WGII report for example, which represents the best current consensus of the scientific community, says "Compared to other socioeconomic factors the influence of climate on conflict is assessed as relatively weak (high confidence)’.
This is not to say that climate isn’t a factor, but that what ultimately matters is the structures of society and government and how they respond to climate impacts. Moreover, the IPCC goes on to say that the real drivers of conflict are ‘patterns of intersecting socio-economic development, unsustainable ocean and land use, inequity, marginalization, historical and ongoing patterns of inequity such as colonialism, and governance (high confidence)’. Of course these patterns are inherent in our current unjust global economy, which powerful interests have little interest in fundamentally changing, so it is perhaps no surprise that the richest countries’ governments prefer to focus their attention on responding to rather than tackling the underlying causes of the climate crisis.
3. The notion of scarcity is also presented as a given, while at the same time there is a growing privatisation and securisation of access to water, food and energy. Is there a connection?
The concepts of scarcity and security are closely linked. All the security narratives are based on the ideas of scarcity, including the ideas about conflict I mentioned before. The narrative is that climate change will cause scarcity which will therefore prompt conflict that needs a security response. It supports and entrenches the role of the military and security industry.
The focus on scarcity also tends to strengthen a win-lose proposition, where we need to compete and fight for the same scarce resources, rather than think through how to ensure everyone’s right to basic human needs is fulfilled. It strengthens the position of corporations who argue that the solution is to increase production and profits – in the case of food, for example, to intensify industrial agriculture as well as to invest in technofixes such as ‘climate smart agriculture’. Again, the assumptions elide bigger structural questions, such as who faces scarcity and who doesn’t, what systems exacerbate that scarcity and what alternatives could be found. We know for example that there is plenty of food in the world for everyone, but maldistribution means that there is obesity in some countries and famine in others, or sometimes both phenomena in the same country. We also know that up to a third of food is wasted due to the practices of industrialised farming, supermarkets and globalised supply chains.
At this conjunction, we should not be looking for solutions from a corporatised industrial agriculture that have caused the climate crisis (industrial food systems are estimated to make up between 21% and 37% of emissions) and fuelled massive inequality in access to land and food. Instead we should be building solutions based on land reform, food sovereignty, and international collaboration.