International Institute for Sustainable Development

Institut international du développement durable

Weather of Mass Destruction? The rise of climate change as the "new" security issue.

Oli Brown
"The extent to which the climate change debate is becoming a debate about security (and in so doing displacing focus on its developmental or environmental consequences) presents both risks and opportunities," writes Oli Brown in this IISD Commentary. "First, the more dire predictions border on scaremongering (climate change campaigners regularly default to worst case scenarios). These risk spreading ‘climate change fatigue' among the public—a sense of hopelessness and resignation in the face of an unbeatable challenge. Second, dire predictions about coming ‘climate wars' imply that climate change requires military solutions; to secure by force one's resources or erect barriers to large-scale migration. But focusing on military response both raises the stakes and draws attention (and donor dollars) away from the very real, and current, development problems that already pose immediate threats to vulnerable societies; extreme poverty, access to education, HIV/AIDS and so on. Third, the international community needs to ensure that this does not become a northern, donor-driven agenda, perceived as yet another way for northern interests to interfere in southern affairs.

"On the positive side, a 'securitized' climate debate might just be able to marshal sufficiently compelling arguments to encourage the politicians to do something about reducing emissions and investing (carefully) in adaptation. These are the sort of things that the international community should be doing anyway. So, if hanging the climate change debate on the security hook speeds their implementation, it may yet serve a useful purpose."


  • Publication type: Commentary
  • Publication date: December 10, 2007
  • Publisher: IISD
  • © Copyright 2007 IISD
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