There was potential for Chris Huhne to make a mess of a
speech to the military think-tank Royal United Service Institute on
the linkages between climate change and global security last week.
But he did pretty well.
Mapping the complex effects of climate change - uncertainties
included - onto complicated social processes like conflict and
security is an area where it's easy to miss subtleties and overplay
things. Because of this, it's perhaps unsurprising that there have
been a lot of 'climate change causes war' headlines over the years
which are neither helpful nor accurate.
But Huhne's speech was a notable exception to this. Although he
didn't shy away from the very significant potential impacts that a
changing climate could have on international security, the speech
demonstrated a grasp of the detail, providing a carefully
referenced run-through of the links between climate change and
security which is
well worth reading in full.
It's difficult enough to work out what the impacts of climate
change will be on societal processes that are more obviously linked
to the climate - like agriculture. Geopolitics, wars and conflict
are labels for incredibly complicated social processes, and mapping
the likely impact of climate change on them is a formidable
Military planners however have been doing so - for example in
the MOD's 'Global Strategic Trends' report published last year -
and drawing on this work, Huhne frames the issue well, discussing
risk and climate change as 'a systemic threat', rather than using a
reductionist 'climate war' approach:
"For many people, climate change remains
an indistinct threat. It is seen as something that is far-off - and
far away. We hear something about polar bears, and long-term
temperature trends, and subconsciously discount the threat. Like
car crashes or alcoholism, it does not happen to us. Wrongly, we
conclude that if we stop using plastic bags and unplug our phone
chargers we'll be fine.