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Shank & Clarke – Our defense agencies should respond quickly to the climate crisis

Shank & Clarke – Our defense agencies should respond quickly to the climate crisis


This commentary is by U.S. Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-N.Y., vice chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Michael Shank of Montpelier, communications director for the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance and an adjunct faculty member at NYU’s Center for Global Affairs. 

This past month, rich countries made it very clear that least developed and under-resourced nations — the ones most vulnerable to extreme climate impacts but the least responsible for the global warming that generated them — are on their own. 

At the United Nations-brokered Climate Talks in Glasgow, both the United States of America and the European Union were represented Blockade of efforts to boost climate disaster funding and “create a facility providing financial support to victims of climate disasters”.

Maldives’ environment minister, in response, whose country faces SubmersionRightly, we have cried foul about the sea-level rise this century. Noting that the Glasgow climate pact was not only “not in line with the urgency and scale required,” but that the pact’s promises “will be too late for the Maldives.”

The U.S. and EU are failing to recognize the climate disasters that are threatening our least developed countries. Tens of millions across the globe — if not more — in immediate and increased peril. 

A majority of those seeking refuge in wealthier countries like the U.S. are now climate refugees or climate displaced people. Ninety percent of refugees under the mandate of the United Nations’ refugee agency are from countries on the frontlines of the climate crisis. Seventy percent are from the same area, with climate-related catastrophes displacing threefold as many people than conflict. Last year.

But here’s the paradox. As the U.S. and EU refuse to fully cover their responsibilities for what’s called “loss and damage” in these least developed countries, they simultaneously name climate-related “threat multipliers” in their well-funded defense policies. 

The U.S., the UKThe EU have been very explicit in their defense strategies — and their respective departments’ climate planning — that climate change is a “destabilizer” and that the impacts to national and regional security are clear and present. 

All three defense agencies recognize that climate-related disasters and displacement pose increasing security risks. And all three defense agencies are readying the resilience of their missions and installations, while committing to decarbonizing their fleets — with the EU even going further to look at the military’s Circular economyYou can be sure that no product goes to waste. 

What’s missing in these military rethinks and climate adaptation planning, however, is a redesign of the mission entirely. Currently, for the most part, it’s business as usual. There has been no major overhaul of the military’s operational model, which is a missed opportunity. 

Instead of recognizing the danger multiplier of climate change and preparing troops for a traditional response to it, why not use the existing capabilities, knowledge, and infrastructure within these defense agencies to prevent it? 

Here’s an example. When Syria’s Ministry of Agriculture asked the world for assistance when farmers began migrating into cities due to extreme, record-breaking drought, which killed off livestock and livelihoods, that’s when a climate-centric defense apparatus should’ve taken notice. 

But we didn’t. Few did. Few did. Cable sent from Syria underscored the dire situation as early as 2008, when Syria’s agriculture minister stated publicly that the economic and social fallout from the drought was beyond the country’s capacity to cope. Even the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s representative in Damascus made a Direct appealFor assistance, reach out to rich countries. Yet, the global response was slow. Only donor countries gave up $5 millionThis is just a quarter of what was requested. 

We missed an opportunity to stop this threat multiplier eroding the situation on the ground. The rest is history. 

Syria’s story is not unique. This is happening around the globe. Countries are destabilizing due to climate disasters, and rich countries are waiting until a response — usually in the form of military assistance or deployment — becomes the default imperative. Beyond the moral implications of preventing loss of life, it is also a wasteful and inefficient way to use resources. 

It’s time for our defense departments — the U.S. Department of Defense, the UK Ministry of Defence, and the EU’s Common Security and Defense Policy office — to truly prioritize human security. 

This means that environments must be protected from destabilization, increased disasters, and displacement in advance. This means that infrastructure and livelihoods must be addressed before any disaster strikes. And yes, that means rethinking the mission, so that when another call comes in from an agricultural ministry saying that a drought or flood has destabilized an entire region, and it’s beyond the country’s capacity to cope, that our most heavily resourced government agencies — our defense departments — can mobilize resources immediately. 

This is possible. We’ve done it before. Our defense departments were mobilized effectively to respond to the Covid crisis; why not similarly mobilize them to respond to the climate crisis in a way that securitizes communities before they’re destabilized and before they’re displaced? 

If we do it right, we can save significant resources while saving lives. We can slow mass migration while reducing violence and conflict. The time is now for a global security overhaul. 

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