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Security and Crisis management

A very detailed overview on security implications of climate change has been presented by O’Brien et al. (2008) in the report: Disaster Risk Reduction, Climate Change Adaptation and Human Security. An extensive summary of this report is presented on the page for Norway. Most of the information below is from papers by the European Commission (2008) and the German Advisory Council on Global Change (2007).

Vulnerabilities - Switzerland

The cantons are in charge of civil protection, however the main responsibility for emergency planning and organisations lies with the municipalities. In addition, the Confederation may – with the agreement of the cantons – assume responsibility for the coordination or management of the response to major events (Federal Act on Civil Protection). Moreover, if the available civilian resources are insufficient to deal with an event, military resources may also be made available to the management organisations (subsidiary deployment of the army) (3).

The overall responsibility for the safety of the population lies, therefore, with the relevant executive bodies (municipal councils, cantonal governments, the Federal Council, i.e. the Swiss government). If several partner organisations are deployed simultaneously and for an extended period, as was the case in the flood of August 2005, the task of managing and coordinating the tasks that arose is assigned to technically qualified and politically legitimised bodies: i.e. the municipal management organisations and cantonal command staffs (3).

A greater involvement of the affected population is essential in order to assist the management organisations and intervention forces with local expert knowledge. This knowledge helps them to comprehensively assess the situation and make the right decisions (3).

The population’s low level of awareness in relation to flooding and other natural hazards is a general weakness in the hazard protection system. First, people lack broadly based knowledge about these hazards. Second, there is also a lack of awareness of the fact that individual and hazard-appropriate action can make a crucial contribution to the reduction of the damage caused (3).

The three Alpine countries (France, Switzerland and Austria) clearly have very high adaptive capacities with regard to dealing with natural hazards. Institutional structures and regulations for managing natural hazards are in place, as are insurance mechanisms to facilitate risk transfer. While early hazard mitigation efforts focused primarily on disaster recovery, there has been growing emphasis on integrated natural hazards management that includes all elements of the risk cycle (from prevention to recovery) (4).

Vulnerabilities - According to the European Commission

Since the EU’s neighbours include some of the most vulnerable regions to climate change, e.g. North Africa and the Middle East, migratory pressure at the European Union's borders and political instability and conflicts could increase in the future. The European Commission published a paper that enumerates all the threats driven by climate change and related in one way or another to security issues (1):

  • Conflicts over diminished resources: shortage of water, reduction of agricultural land, increased flooding and longer droughts may lead to economic losses and increased food prices. The overall effect is that climate change will fuel existing conflicts over depleting resources, especially where access to those resources is politicised.
  • Economic damage and risk to coastal cities and critical infrastructure: Mega-cities, with their supporting infrastructure, such as port facilities and oil refineries, are often located by the sea or in river deltas. Sea-level rise and the increase in the frequency and intensity of natural disasters pose a serious threat to these regions and their economic prospects. The East coasts of China and India as well as the Caribbean region and Central America would be particularly affected. An increase in disasters and humanitarian crises will lead to immense pressure on the resources of donor countries, including capacities for emergency relief operations.
  • Loss of territory and border disputes: Receding coastlines and submergence of large areas could result in loss of territory, including entire countries such as small island states. A further dimension of competition for energy resources lies in potential conflict over resources in Polar regions which will become exploitable as a consequence of global warming. Desertification could trigger a vicious circle of degradation, migration and conflicts over territory and borders that threatens the political stability of countries and regions.
  • Environmentally-induced migration: Europe must expect more migration from its neighbouring and more vulnerable countries.
  • Situations of fragility and radicalization: Climate change may significantly increase instability in weak or failing states by over-stretching the already limited capacity of governments to respond effectively to the challenges they face.
  • Tension over energy supply: Intensified competition over access to, and control over, energy resources is, and will continue to be, a cause of instability. There is a possibility of greater energy insecurity and greater competition for resources. As previously inaccessible regions open up due to the effects of climate change, the scramble for resources will intensify.
  • Pressure on international governance: Climate change impacts will fuel the politics of resentment between those most responsible for climate change and those most affected by it. Impacts of climate mitigation policies (or policy failures) will thus drive political tension nationally and internationally.

Vulnerabilities - According to the German Advisory Council on Global Change

Climate-induced conflict constellations

The German Advisory Council on Global Change (WGBU) made an assessment on global security risks of climate change (2). WBGU considers that climate-induced inter-state wars are unlikely to occur. However, climate change could well trigger national and international distributional conflicts and intensify problems already hard to manage such as state failure, the erosion of social order, and rising violence. WBGU identifies four conflict constellations in which critical developments can be anticipated as a result of climate change and which may occur with similar characteristics in different regions of the world. “Conflict constellations” are defined as typical causal linkages at the interface of environment and society, whose dynamic can lead to social destabilization and, in the end, to violence.

  1. Climate-induced degradation of freshwater resources.  1.1 billion people are currently without access to safe drinking water. The situation could worsen for hundreds of millions of people
  2. Climate-induced decline in food production.More than 850 million people worldwide are currently undernourished. This situation is likely to worsen in future as a result of climate change, due to a drop in agricultural productivity, desertification, soil salinization and water scarcity.
  3. Climate-induced increase in storm and flood disasters.The risk of natural disasters occurring in many cities and industrial regions in coastal zones will be further amplified by deforestation along the upper reaches of rivers, land subsidence in large urban areas and the ever greater spatial concentration of populations and assets.
  4. Environmentally-induced migration.It can be assumed that the number of environmental migrants will substantially rise in future due to the impacts of climate change. Most environmental migration is initially likely to occur within national borders. Transboundary environmental migration will mainly take the form of south-south migration, but Europe and North America must also expect substantially increased migratory pressure from regions most at risk from climate change.

Six threats to international stability and security

In light of current knowledge about the social impacts of climate change, the German Advisory Council on Global Change (WGBU) identifies the following six key threats to international security and stability which will arise if climate change mitigation fails (2):

  1. Possible increase in the number of weak and fragile states as a result of climate change.
  2. Risks for global economic development.Unabated climate change is likely to result in substantially reduced rates of growth. This will increasingly limit the economic scope, at national and international level.
  3. Risks of growing international distributional conflicts between the main drivers of climate change and those most affected.A key line of conflict in global politics in the 21st century would divide not only the industrialized and the developing countries, but also the rapidly growing newly industrializing countries and the poorer developing countries. The international community is ill-prepared at present for this type of distributional conflict.
  4. The risk to human rights and the industrialized countries’ legitimacy as global governance actors.Unabated climate change could plunge the industrialized countries in particular into crises of legitimacy and limit their international scope for action.
  5. Triggering and intensification of migration.The associated conflict potential is considerable, especially as “environmental migrants” are currently not provided for in international law.
  6. Overstretching of classic security policy.A climate-induced increase in the number of weak and fragile states or even the destabilization of entire sub regions would overstretch conventional security policy.

Definition of water security according to the UNDP

Water security is about ensuring that every person has reliable access to enough safe water at an affordable price so as to lead a healthy, dignified and productive life, while maintaining the ecological systems that provide water and which also depend on water. If these conditions are not met, or if access to water is disrupted, people face acute human security risks transmitted through poor health and the disruption of livelihoods. Sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic use are the five core attributes that represent the foundations for water security (5).

Adaptation strategies - Switzerland

There is therefore a need for more forward-looking approaches that also consider anticipated climate risks. One strategy might be to raise the precautionary standard for hazards management, as including more intense and extreme events into the planning process will enhance resilience to climate change. For example, in Switzerland hazards maps have been adjusted to include events with a 300 year return period instead of being limited to 100 year events (4).

Adaptation strategies - According to the European Commission

According to the European Commission (1), the EU should focus on:

  • Enhancing capacities at the EU level: build up knowledge and assess the EU's own capacities, followed by an improvement in the prevention of, and preparedness for early responses to, disasters and conflicts. Monitoring and early warning needs to include in particular situations of state fragility and political radicalisation, tensions over resources and energy supplies, environmental and socio-economic stresses, threats to critical infrastructures and economic assets, border disputes, impact on human rights and potential migratory movements.
  • EU multilateral leadership to promote global climate security: the EU needs to continue and strengthen its leadership towards an ambitious post-2012 agreement in 2009, including both mitigation and adaptation action by all countries as a key contribution to addressing climate security.
  • Cooperation with third countries: greater prioritisation and enhanced support for climate change mitigation and adaptation, good governance, natural resource management, technology transfer, trans-boundary environmental cooperation (inter alia water and land), institutional strengthening and capacity building for crisis management.

Adaptation strategies - According to the German Advisory Council on Global Change

According to the German Advisory Council on Global Change (WGBU) a number of initiatives are needed (2):

  1. Shaping global political change.In order to ensure the acceptance and, above all, the constructive participation of the ascendant new world powers China and India, a multilateral order is needed which is viewed as fair by all countries.
  2. Reforming the United Nations.In general, WBGU is in favour of better coordinating the efforts of the relevant organizations and programmes under the auspices of the UN and significantly enhancing their role in the interests of prevention.
  3. Ambitiously pursuing international climate policy.WBGU recommends the adoption, as an international standard, of a global temperature guard rail limiting the rise in near-surface air temperature to a maximum of 2°C relative to the pre-industrial value.
  4. Implementing the energy turnaround in the EU.In order to be a credible negotiating partner within the climate process, the European Union should achieve its Kyoto commitments and set more far reaching and ambitious reduction targets for the future. In WBGU’s view, a 30 % reduction target for greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 compared with the 1990 baseline and an 80 % reduction target by 2050 are appropriate.
  5. Developing mitigation strategies through partnerships. In development cooperation, path dependencies of emissions-intensive technologies should be avoided, and high priority should be granted to the promotion of sustainable energy systems in order to overcome energy poverty.
  6. Supporting adaptation strategies for developing countries.Adapting water resources management to climate change and avoiding water crises, a.o. in order to avoid water conflicts, cooperation on transboundary water management should be encouraged for regions sharing waters. Focus should also be on gearing agriculture to climate change.
  7. Stabilizing fragile states and weak states that are additionally threatened by climate change. Crisis prevention costs far less than crisis management at a later stage. Specifically, fragile states’ capacities to manage environmental risks must be maintained and reinforced, and if necessary re-established, even under difficult political and economic conditions.
  8. Managing migration through cooperation and further developing international law.
  9. Expanding global information and early warning systems.Both the gradual changes caused by climate change and the natural disasters which are expected to occur with increasing frequency could destabilize the affected regions and, in extreme cases, constitute a major risk factor for national and international security. Global information and early warning systems can therefore do much to mitigate these adverse effects and make a major contribution to conflict and crisis prevention.

WBGU anticipates that in the event of mitigation efforts failing, climate-induced security risks will begin to manifest themselves in various regions of the world from around 2025–2040. The key challenge is to take resolute climate policy action within the next 10–15 years, in order to avert the socioeconomic distortions and implications for international security that will otherwise intensify in subsequent decades (2).


The references below are cited in full in a separate map 'References'. Please click here if you are looking for the full references for Switzerland.

  1. European Commission (2008)
  2. German Advisory Council on Global Change (2007)
  3. DETEC (2008)
  4. Agrawala (2007)
  5. UNDP (2009)

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