Climate change could tip the scales for states already at risk of failing, ultimately threatening global stability and security, finds a new report funded by the European Commission.

Pakistan and other areas facing the dual threats of precarious governance and adverse impacts of climate change, such as Afghanistan, Iraq and central and western Africa, may be more vulnerable to conflicts over decreased water supplies, food shortages and energy infrastructure weakness, the report says.

The work fleshes out a host of climate-linked threats that were laid out almost a year ago in the Pentagon's 20-year security strategy, which recognized climate change as an "accelerant of instability" (E&E Daily, Feb. 2, 2010). This new report, which was written by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), calls for military and intelligence personnel to have a prominent role in crafting climate policy, since that process involves a complex calculus of weighing uncertainties.

"Military and intelligence organizations have the most experience in strategic planning under conditions of uncertainty. They understand that waiting for certainty often means that you have waited too long," it concludes.

In last year's Defense Department security blueprint, DOD pointed out that climate change may directly affect its mission, since it will have to prepare for operations in a more navigable Arctic, adapt to rising sea levels and be called upon for more humanitarian disaster assistance.

This new IISS report finds that climate change is unlikely to spark interstate wars between major military powers in the next three or four decades, but it simultaneously cautions that climate change will boost the chances of scrambles for limited resources, mass migrations and civil conflict.

Greater coordination needed
To help stave off such situations, this report urges policymakers to make water and food infrastructure the central planks of climate change response plans.

"Changes to freshwater systems will be the most visible impact of climate change. It is extraordinarily important," said study author Andrew Holland, the program manager of the IISS's Transatlantic Dialogue on Climate Change and Security, a project funded by the European Commission.

With a global population that is expected to blossom in the coming years, and risks to food yields from climate change, it will be essential to shore up food infrastructure and keep global food markets open in food-exporting nations, he said.

The far-reaching recommendations of this report, which stem from two years of IISS workshops and conferences, urge nations to adopt a "whole of government" approach and marshal involvement from throughout the public sector to address these problems. Nations must also approach this issue from multiple angles -- moving beyond investing in renewable energy to also build up efficiency and electrification efforts domestically and finance adaptation efforts for developing nations.

It calls for greater coordination to adapt to climate change from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean and urges Europe to lead by example, striving to meet the European Union's own ambitious climate and energy goals for 2020.

A strategic burden for every community
Addressing these issues will be a balancing act, the report says. Simply pouring money into water infrastructure or sending bushels of food to needy communities on an ad hoc basis won't be enough, the report cautions. At the same time, bringing food to people in crisis appears more cost-effective and less destabilizing than expecting people to migrate to access it.

What is lacking, the report says, is a comprehensive strategy about how to mitigate climate change and adapt to its impacts.

That leadership must come from the United Nations to give it legitimacy, said Holland, who added that it does not necessarily need to come through the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change's formal climate negotiating process.

Sherri Goodman, a former deputy undersecretary of Defense for environmental security, and current executive director of the CNA Military Advisory Board, said that the United Nations is part of the process but that individual countries, private investors or even individual cities or states could be an important part of the solution.

"There is an increasingly a role at what people call the subnational level," Goodman said. "I think that's what we will need more of, more cooperation city to city or state to state, supported robustly by businesses and the local community ... they already know what problems need to be addressed," she said.

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC., 202-628-6500