Climate change, human rights and security

The UN’s Climate Action Summit is an effort to raise the global level of ambition to address the deepening climate crisis by encouraging governments to go further in reducing carbon emissions and in providing finance to meet the challenges. It is altogether welcome. But it is striking that the preparation for the summit and the key messages going into and coming out of it have maintained a steadfast silence about the issue of security.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, has called climate change a threat to human rights of unprecedented scope. She is not wrong because with climate change, it is all change.

The ground underneath our feet is shifting. Lacking crystal balls, we cannot be sure exactly what form the changes will take. But evidence and common sense combine to tell us that food, urban construction, agriculture, the economy, you name it, everything is being and increasingly will be affected. As individuals, communities, societies, as countries, we have taken nature for granted for way too long, wasting it. The consequences of that are now unfolding and among the results are the challenge to human rights that the UN High Commissioner sees.

By the same logic, climate change is a security challenge of unprecedented scope.

Arguments about whether it has directly caused armed conflicts or will are beside the point. The connections are indirect, the knock-on effects of climate change, the consequences of consequences, undermining social togetherness and political stability, putting pressure on natural resources and provoking or exacerbating competition and conflict over them. The evidence is clear that climate change has already had a significant and negative impact on security and the prospects for peace in the Middle East, the Horn of Africa and the Sahel, in Central, South and Southeast Asia, in the “dry corridor” in Central America.

I explore the issues in this latest short film in SIPRI’s Peace Points series.

Security was the silent issue going into the UN summit because there are those in the UN system and those among the member states who do not like the connection to be made too obvious or even referenced. The strategic calculation was made that it is important not to alienate them altogether from action to combat climate change.

That sounds fair enough and in some parts of the world, recognition of climate reality is so fragile that some degree of wariness in how the case is made seems strategically appealing. But actually in several agencies and in the UN HQ in New York itself, action is starting to address the links between climate change and insecurity. That work needs support, not side-lining, because those  links pose major risks to human security and well-being.

Further, they are one of the big reasons why climate action is urgent.

I share the hope that the UN Climate Action Summit has generated. I admire the way it is raising awareness of the climate crisis. I hope it succeeds in its goals.

But it is getting quite strange that advocates of climate action want to leave key arguments for action to one side – a bit like anti-smoking advice tactfully leaving out the part about cancer, heart disease and emphysema.

Instead of a polite silence, the case for recognizing climate-related security risks and addressing them needs to be made stronger and more than compelling than ever.











2 thoughts on “Climate change, human rights and security

  1. Dan, Just in case you read these, my name is John Draper, I am on the XR Science Group and Center for Global Nonkilling’s Nonkilling Economics and Business Committee, and I am looking for your feedback on two draft ‘Urgent Action’ Calls. The first Call follows, the second will be in a separate post:

    Call for a High-Level Global Commission on Urgent Action for Afforestation, Forest Conservation, and Reforestation by the End of 2020
    (Draft, V. 1.7 XR)

    (This Call is for an independent global commission along the lines of the newly established global high-level Commission for Urgent Action on Energy Efficiency, due to deliver new global policies by mid-2020 (

    1. This Call recognizes the importance of forests to life on this planet, including in the form of providing habitats for biodiversity, homes for humans, carbon capture for mitigating the climate crisis, and oxygen for the planet. It further notes that the Anthropocene Extinction, the sixth mass extinction event on this planet, is under way and that 25% of animal and plant species, as well as human life, are at risk.
    2. This Call acknowledges the complexity of human interactions with forests on issues like exploitation of forests and community forestry as practised by forest peoples as part of their human rights, and notes their origin in cultural practices. It endorses the need for forest policy to recognize these socio-economic and socio-ecological interactions and to be based on unbiased and policy-relevant scientifically sound forest research. This research should promote both carbon capture and biodiversity, with special regard to prioritising the conservation and plantation of diverse, native forests over the plantation of monocultures and to avoiding forest plantation at the expense of other, similar carbon capturing ecosystems, such as grasslands.
    3. This Call notes the present actions under way to combat this threat, including the United Nations designating 2011–2020 as the United Nations Decade on Biodiversity and 2021-2030 as the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. This Call notes that these actions are rooted in the Rio Conventions:
    i) The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
    ii) The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
    iii) The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).
    4. This Call urges governments to support the present commitments, specifically, the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Paris Agreement (UNFCCC), the Aichi Biodiversity Targets as implemented in the National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (CBD), and the 2018-2030 Strategic Framework on achieving Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) and combating Desertification, Land Degradation and Drought (DLDD) (UNCCD).
    5. This Call notes the 2050 UN vision of “Living in harmony with nature”, which envisages that “By 2050, biodiversity is valued, conserved, restored and wisely used, maintaining ecosystem services, sustaining a healthy planet and delivering benefits essential for all people” (CBD) and the UN commitment to “combat desertification and mitigate the effects of drought in countries experiencing serious drought and/or desertification, particularly in Africa, through effective action at all levels, supported by international cooperation and partnership arrangements, in the framework of an integrated approach which is consistent with Agenda 21, with a view to contributing to the achievement of sustainable development in affected areas” (UNCCD).
    6. This Call urges action in accelerating the 2050 UN vision to an earlier deadline and endorses an independent, high-level, global Commission tasked with this objective.
    7. This Call notes the importance of the Global South to this vision, through mechanisms such as “Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation and the Role of Conservation, Sustainable Management of Forests and Enhancement of Forest Carbon Stocks in Developing Countries” (REDD+) (UNFCCC) and Bio-energy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS).
    8. This Call notes the importance of national government policies to support mechanisms like REDD+, but also the importance of funding, via mechanisms like the Green Climate Fund, the cornerstone of ‘climate finance’, to which only USD $5.2 billion has been committed of the approximately USD 100 billion required per year to finance the Paris Agreement.
    9. This Call notes the existence of other, interrelated ‘urgent action’ actions and calls, including the newly established global high-level Commission for Urgent Action on Energy Efficiency and the Call for Urgent Action on Accelerating Fusion Energy, the latter of which could partially fund the Green Climate Fund through Global South co-development and co-ownership of patents and corporate social responsibility (CSR) on the part of successful fusion energy projects.
    10. Working towards the goals outlined in this Call has already started. Support for a Commission by UN member nations, and especially by the permanent members of the UN Security Council and the Group of 77, as well as by international, regional, and national NGOs working on afforestation, forestry, and deforestation, such as NASA, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services and the European Forest Institute, should be encouraged.

  2. Call for a High-Level IAEA Global Commission on Urgent Action for Fusion Energy by the End of 2020 (Draft, V. 1.7 XR)
    (This Call is for an independent IAEA global commission along the lines of the newly established global high-level Commission for Urgent Action on Energy Efficiency, due to deliver recommendations by mid-2020 –
    It should be noted that any one UN member state could trigger the mandate necessary for the IAEA to implement the Commission approach, presumably after consulting its contacts in, for example, the Gulf Cooperation Council and OPEC. One way for the proposed Commission on Urgent Action for Fusion Energy to act would be to seek to develop a ‘Montreal Protocol’-style convention for global co-development of nuclear fusion energy through accelerating public and private-sector ‘DEMO’ projects.

    1. Multiple converging public and private-sector timelines (e.g., the Chinese CFETR, TAE Technologies, Commonwealth Systems and Tokamak Energy ) suggest that a ten-year timetable to a prototype ‘burning plasma’ ‘hot’ fusion energy reactor appears feasible–but only if fully funded such that continuous development engineering operations are possible. Because of fusion’s implications for lower greenhouse gas emissions, less air pollution in cities, and less dependence on energy imports, there is now an overarching need to create an independent global commission to accelerate the development and commercialization of nuclear fusion, in terms of policy recommendations in areas such as funding regime, global regulation, socioeconomic development, and geopolitical management, through interfacing with the United Nations.
    2. Establishing such a Commission is a natural role for the IAEA. In particular, the IAEA, as an autonomous agency reporting to the UN, has a present dire need to conduct detailed socioeconomic analysis of how much is being spent on fusion, which pathways may be most feasible, how much additional expenditure may be needed, and what form(s) of innovation ecosystems may be required globally to fund nuclear fusion development and commercialization to benefit the UN’s existing mandates to manage climate change, provide energy for all, and maintain global peace and order.
    3. The development and rapid commercialization of fusion has the potential to be disruptive in terms of existing primary energy supplies. The commercialization of fusion will have immediate socioeconomic impacts on coal-producing nations, such as China, India, the United States, Australia, Indonesia, and Russia, as well as less severe effects on oil-producing countries. The Commission would create policies to manage these issues in line with basic market principles, development economics and aspirational goals for humanity.
    4. Fusion can meet the aims of development of ‘Energy for All’ (UN Sustainable Development Goal 7) and ‘reducing inequality by nation’ (UN Sustainable Development Goal 10), both required for growing a future market for fusion and in accordance with UN mandates. Basic market principles for an innovative industry require the development of the demand side, i.e., growing a customer base, including education in the nature of the product. When viewed through the lens of innovation economics, this requires raising appreciation of the merits of fusion in academia, the public sector, the private sector, civil society and the media, and the Global South (represented at the UN by the G77 bloc of 134 nations, and China).
    5. Conditional or even unconditional aid to the Global South via mechanisms such as the Green Climate Fund of the Paris Agreement are not ideal from a business or development perspective and can be viewed as neo-colonial in nature. Unless carefully tailored, aid tends to be temporary, unsuited or disruptive to local market conditions, and in any case can create a dependency that could be viewed by the Global South as ‘neo-colonial’ in nature. Furthermore, the Green Climate Fund is massively underfunded and does not have the money to fund the transition to fusion. The Commission therefore must develop concrete policies and recommendations for funding regimes, involving existing mechanisms like the World Bank or Asian Development Bank, or new mechanisms such as special purpose vehicles; it cannot rely on aid or the ‘goodwill’ of the Paris Agreement.
    6. Instead of aid, the Commission should emphasize the development of an awareness and understanding of nuclear fusion by the Global South funding itself, followed by innovative Global South co-development of fusion. The Global South, defined as the G77, includes extremely wealthy oil producing nations (‘banker nations’) who have a vested interest in diversifying their economies and maintaining internal stability and international relations with the global East, West, and other members of the Global South while transitioning to a fusion and renewables energy mix. Many of these countries, like Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, possess large sovereign wealth funds. Thus, the Global South could invest in the co-development of nuclear fusion. This could occur via the investment of several billions of dollars per year (on average) over a decade, in exchange for financial rewards such as bonds or shares in companies, realizable via the Green Climate Fund (which would therefore fund the Green Climate Fund), with banker nations receiving special incentives.
    7. Investment by G77 banker nations in fusion would first require knowledge sharing. Realistic scenario planning should be employed, with costings based on full LCA and socioeconomic modelling linked with transparent timelines with milestones. One model that the Commission could investigate is a) the IAEA provides oversight and ensures independent assessment of public sector fusion programmes and private sector fusion companies (henceforth ‘projects’); b) the nation states which are home to the projects’ public sectors, which in the US would be the DOE, DOD, and the DOS, vet projects, protect strategic interests, and green light projects for G77 investment, with equivalent public sector structures performing the same missions in other nations with fusion projects; c) the projects themselves provide as much information as possible while compartmentalizing knowledge and fire walling core Intellectual Property (IP) as appropriate; and d) on the Global South side, a G77 scientific appraisal consortium (an existing mechanism for technology employed by the G77) in the form of a ‘Fusion Task Force’ is set up to monitor progress and publicly disseminate technical progress reports.
    8. The membership of the G77 Fusion Task Force would likely be merit based, i.e., some representatives would already be highly innovative countries with national fusion labs. However, it should also represent regional and developmental interests. For instance, on these bases, the Fusion Task Force could consist of Brazil, South Africa, the UAE, Singapore, and Kazakhstan, as well as representatives of less developed nations, the emphasis being on the reporting of technological progress to other G77 nation states on a bloc basis in an accurate and timely fashion so as to minimize geopolitical issues. These regionaal representatives would then become home to regional bloc-based fusion laboratories.
    9. The ultimate objectives of the Commission are accelerating the arrival of fusion energy and rapidly deploying it while building global peace and stability through growing global prosperity. Injecting fusion into the energy mix provides a ubiquitous energy source which will be mass produced and co-manufactured in different countries, preserving or revitalizing manufacturing bases, the IPR for which will be more likely to be respected because it will be guaranteed by the participation of the Global South in co-development and overseen by the IAEA and the UN, including with the participation of relevant agencies, such as the World Trade Organization and the World Intellectual Property Organization. In geopolitical terms, such a course of action would avoid ‘New Cold War’ or ‘Hot War’ ‘traps’, i.e., the ‘Churchill Trap’ (new Iron curtain falling across the world) or ‘Thucydides Trap’ (war between declining and rising hegemonies). The Commission would seek to ensure complex geopolitical tensions over energy security may be reduced.
    10. Working towards these goals has already started. Support for a Commission by the IAEA and UN member nations, and especially by the permanent members of the UN Security Council and the Group of 77, should be encouraged.

    Short Bibliography
    Clery, Daniel. 2013. A Piece of the Sun: The Quest for Fusion Energy. London: Overlook Duckworth.
    Department of Energy. 2018. Transformative Enabling Capabilities for Efficient Advance toward Fusion Energy, 2018. Washington: Office of Science, Department of Energy,
    Draper, John. 2019. “Accelerating the Arrival of Fusion Energy within a Quintuple Helix Innovation Ecosystem to Address Climate Change”. SocArXiv.
    Draper, John. 2019. “Fusion Energy for Peace Building – A Trinity Test-level Critical Juncture.” SocArXiv. https://doi:10.31235/
    National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. Final Report of the Committee on a Strategic Plan for U.S. Burning Plasma Research, 2018. Washington: The National Academies Press,

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