Thursday, February 26, 2009

Summary of the Launch Event

On Wednesday 25th February 2009, the IISS successfully launched its new programme, the Transatlantic Dialogue on Climate Change and Security, with an event at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel in Washington, DC.

This event, featuring a four-member panel, was moderated by former Under Secretary of State Tom Pickering, an IISS-US board member. The four panelists were: Ambassador Angelos Pangratis, the Deputy Head of the European Commission’s Delegation to the United States; Nigel Inkster, IISS Director of Transnational Threats and Political Risk; Michael Cain, Director of the Army Environmental Policy Institute; and Major General Richard Engel (Ret.), Director of the Climate Change and State Stability Program in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Ambassador Pangratis began the panel discussion by saying that he believes that global climate change will prove to be the most important challenge facing humanity today; and its effects will be much longer lasting than today’s economic uncertainty. He said that meeting the challenge of global climate change will require an “unprecedented level of global governance and multilateralism.” Importantly, because of today’s increased global interdependence, global climate change presents real national security threats to both the U.S. and Europe.

Nigel Inkster began his remarks by briefly explaining the purpose for this new programme, saying that the IISS intends to pursue research into the impacts of climate change relevant to the intelligence and military communities, because there is no issue more salient in political debate than international security. While noting that it may appear that the Obama Administration will bring a consensus on climate issues among the Transatlantic Community, Inkster noted that there still remains significant differences. He noted that while Europeans view climate change as a “top-down” problem requiring government regulation, most Americans see it as a “bottom-up” search for solutions led by “enlightened self-interest.” He concluded by stating that part of the research for this programme will be to “look into the abyss” at worst-case scenarios, and find ways to manage them.

Michael Cain, the Director of the Army Environmental Policy Institute, began by commending the IISS for this new dialogue, and stated the commitment of the US Army to it. He explained how the Army has turned “180 degrees” in its sustainability initiatives over the past decade. He offered the Army as an example of how stability and sustainability can benefit national security.

General Engel began his remarks by explaining how the National Intelligence Council came to define Climate Change as a national security threat in their recent National Intelligence Assessment. He explained that his program is called “Climate Change and State Stability” because the effects of climate change on national security will mostly be seen as damage to already weak and unstable states. For example, changes in rainfall patterns alone are not likely to severely harm the U.S. homeland, but severe droughts could weaken our allies and bring about the collapse of already weak states.

Following their opening statements, the panel took questions from both Ambassador Pickering and from the audience. Ambassador Pickering asked what, specifically, were the most significant, early security threats of climate change. The panel agreed that the most noticeable threats over the coming years would be changes in precipitation, particularly as it affects glaciers, and changes in food supplies. Prompted by a question from the audience, the panel concluded that it would be unlikely that climate change or carbon emissions could be used as a weapon, but that geoengineering does raise some particularly difficult geopolitical problems. The panel closed with a discussion about the importance of involving developing countries – particularly China and India – in any talk about climate change.

Over the course of the next year, the IISS Transatlantic Dialogue on Climate Change and Security will host a series of conferences, workshops, and discussions to more closely examine the issues brought up in the launch event. Particular areas of focus will be: the effects of a warming climate on weak and distressed states; the shifting balance of power in the Arctic; the implications of reduced food and water supplies; and the potential adaptations of global security organizations to best respond to the challenges of a warming climate. The IISS anticipates that the next conference in this series will take place in Washington in early May.

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