The Collaborative Institute

Building Connections

February 28, 2011
by The Collaborative Institute for Oceans, Climate and Security (CIOCS)
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Managing the Risks Associated with Climate Change

Recently, UN Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres linked current unrest in areas like the Middle East and North Africa to the effects of climate change, such as drought, short water supplies and decreased crop yields. Ms. Figueres stated, “It is alarming to admit that if the community of nations is unable to fully stabilize climate change, it will threaten where we can live, where and how we grow food and where we can find water. In other words, it will threaten the basic foundation – the very stability on which humanity has built its existence.” Ms. Figueres emphasized the need for the global community to take urgent action on climate change. Factors such as more frequent and severe natural disasters, heat waves and drought, widespread disease and rising sea levels, among others, will mean that “climate change, especially if left unabated, threatens to increase poverty and overwhelm the capacity of governments to meet the basic needs of their people, which could well contribute to the emergency, spread and longevity of conflict.”

Research supports Ms. Figueres’ argument regarding the increased risks associated with climate change. For instance, cholera was believed to be a human-driven disease but was recently linked to environmental changes as well. By examining this deadly disease from a new angle, it may be possible to “help minimize cholera’s damage,” even potentially leading to an early warning system for cholera.

Climate change also has consequences on food supply- driving at the very nature of human survival. In Guyana, the government and rice farmers are preparing themselves for the future by examining the food security issues. By cultivating different varieties of rice and moving rice fields, Guyana is trying to stay ahead of the climate change curve.

Given the complex effects of climate change, and large amount of uncertainty regarding the future challenges, there is wisdown in planning ahead. The PEW Research Center released a new report that makes this very argument. In Degrees of Risk: Defining Risk Management Framework for Climate Security, the report recommends using “a risk management approach to break logjams and tackle climate change.” This risk management approach has been valuable for national security and the military and easily applies to the effects of climate change. “Risk management provides a systematic way to consider threats and vulnerabilities, ‘knowns and unknowns’ and to take steps to minimize risk.”

Although we may not know the exact effects that will be coming as a result of changing climate, we can prepare for the worst, as well as work to reverse the changes. Jay Gulledge and Nick Mabey put it this way:

“When it comes to climate change, uncertainty must not be a barrier to action. Uncertainty doesn’t mean we know nothing; just that we do not know precisely what the future may hold in a given place at a given time. But we have a good handle on what the risks of climate change look like. Will the oceans rise by two feet or six? Will global average temperatures rise by two degrees, or five? Other weighty public policy decisions– from military procurement to interest rates to financial system regulation – are taken under far higher uncertainty than exists when it comes to climate change science.”

Preparation is a necessary and vital response to changing climate. Human security may prove to depend upon the plans and actions that societies take now.

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