Climate Change and Security

The recently released Sixth Assessment Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), stated that climate change is rapid and intensifying in every region in the world. This has been seen in the Asian which is widely known as the region most exposed to natural hazards with climate change causing more frequent and intense occurrences of extreme weather events like typhoons and cyclones. In Southeast Asia, six ASEAN members are among the world’s 20 countries most vulnerable to climate (Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam). The 2021 ASEAN State of Climate Change Report noted that ASEAN’s high vulnerability to climate change is due to ‘growing intensity and magnitude of extreme weather events, and increasing economic, environmental, and social damage.’

The challenges faced by countries in the region are not limited to the geophysical effects of climate change. Other challenges include a low adaptation capacity, lower economic development, and governance. Against these risks, there are compelling reasons to elevate climate security to the highest priority in the political and security agendas of states from the national to the international levels.

Linking climate change with security often brings concerns about the unintended consequences such as being a military-driven agenda, justifying an increased role of the military in ‘non-military’ matters and potentially causing more competition rather than cooperation. But the severe human security challenges brought on by climate change are more than enough to allay concerns about military’s involvement in traditional military threats. These challenges can be seen particularly in times of extreme weather events. In 2021, 174 natural disasters were reported in the Asian region, with around 66.68 million people affected, including over 12 million displaced in East Asia and the Pacific region—all significant increases from previous years.

The economic loss of these disasters had been staggering with current estimates of annual losses at USD780 billion and projected to increase to between 1.4 trillion and 4.7 trillion by 2050. With the projected impact of climate change on food security, the undernourished in Asia which make up more than half of the world’s undernourished (424.5 of 725 million who are undernourished globally), will only increase causing more human sufferings. There are also the increasing threats to human health considering that environmental changes contribute to emerging infectious diseases.

The magnitude of the climate emergency extends well beyond the economy, food, and health. The multiplicity of risks
associated with climate change– like resources scarcity including water are also well-established drivers of conflict. Climate-induced forced displacement of vulnerable groups and communities could also compound existing fragilities, which in turn, destabilise already vulnerable regions in Southeast Asia. There is therefore the urgency for the region to proactively engage on climate security.

For a region where ideas of comprehensive security, human security and non-traditional security are deeply ingrained and seen in states’ practices, advancing the agenda of climate security goes a long way in helping states address climate-related security risks while promoting regional cooperation. ASEAN should therefore be at the forefront of climate security engagement and urge its member states to integrate climate security in their national policies. At the same time, existing regional mechanisms like the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief, the ASEAN Plus Three Rice Emergency Reserve and the ASEAN Centre for Public Health Emergencies and Emerging Diseases should be strengthened. More attention should be given to building regional capacity in adaptation, including climate financing. More investments are also needed to support energy transition, such as building sustainable infrastructure particularly in renewables. With the complex and cross-cutting challenges of climate change, it would do well for countries in ASEAN and beyond to think about what needs to be done today to protect and ensure the security of peoples and states a climate change world.