In March, I argued that the connections between climate change and security are complex, contingent, and not fully understood. Most of the academic literature has firmly focused on conflict onset with the broader security consequences largely understudied. For policy audiences, the nuance can be frustrating. It is difficult to know what to do with such complexity, other than talk broadly of climate change as a “threat multiplier.”
However, the policy community does not have the luxury of waiting for academics to reach some consensus on climate-conflict links that might never materialize. What’s more, they have other preoccupations other than conflict to worry about such as humanitarian emergencies, interstate jockeying over hydrocarbons freed up by melting Arctic ice, and people on the move for many reasons, climate among them. How can climate security academics who aspire for policy relevance seek to orient their work without compromising academic rigor?
Although most states and societies have managed to adapt to recent environmental changes, there is no guarantee that this will continue. This is the question I sought to address in remarks at a recent conference organized by the Peace Research Institute of Oslo (PRIO), which accompanied the public event at the Wilson Center I blogged about several weeks ago. Here are my thoughts on bridging the policy-academic divide on climate and security, which represents a distillation of the wider theme I explored in the latest issue of the Texas National Security Review.