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Issue 2021/01

Climate Change as a Threat Multiplier

Global climate change poses an existential danger to humanity, but has faded into the background somewhat during the coronavirus pandemic. Now the issue is back with force. In the United States, President Biden formally rejoined the Paris climate agreement on the day of his inauguration, and has since announced very ambitious climate targets. In Germany, climate protection has remained a focal point of political debate even during the pandemic, and is one of the key issues in the upcoming parliamentary elections. The UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) promises to be an interesting event. It was postponed because of the pandemic and will now take place in Glasgow in November 2021. Will the international community agree on further improvements to limit global warming to well below two degrees Celsius?

The fact is that the past decade was the warmest since weather records began 140 years ago, and 2015 to 2020 were the six warmest years in that whole period. Climate change threatens the livelihoods and health of millions of people – especially in vulnerable regions of the global South. Possible consequences include a worsening of economic inequalities, conflicts over resources, the migration of refugees and displaced persons, and even the collapse of state structures.

Pope Francis drew attention to the dangers of climate change in 2015, in Laudato si’, the first ever encyclical letter about the environment. In this text, he describes climate change as “one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day” and a “global problem with grave implications: social, economic, [and] political [...]”.

Although there is now a broad consensus within the global community that the impacts of climate change may threaten the living conditions of many people, it is a much disputed topic whether and how climate change contributes to the emergence of armed conflicts. During its two-year membership of the United Nations Security Council from 2019-20, Germany tabled a draft resolution describing climate change as a threat to international peace and security. The proposal was blocked by the United States, Russia and China.

It would no doubt be a simplification to say that the impacts of climate change will inevitably lead to armed conflicts. However, with increasing fragility in regions of the world such as sub-Saharan Africa and the Horn of Africa, they should certainly be taken seriously as threat multipliers. These dangers must be considered when assessing the needs and focus of humanitarian aid and disaster relief, international development cooperation, efforts to promote peace and resilience, and state-building.

This brings us to the tasks and instruments of classical security policy. There is increasing pressure to integrate crisis prevention and conflict preparedness more strongly into security policy concepts. At the same time, demand is growing for the military to become more sustainable, given its enormous consumption of financial and ecological resources. For our armed forces, this means modernizing their equipment and at the same time adapting their capabilities in light of potential new operational scenarios.

I am delighted to present this new edition of “Ethics and Armed Forces”, which puts forward an extremely important topic for discussion. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the authors for their intelligent and thought-provoking contributions, and I wish you an enjoyable read.

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Veronika Bock

Director of zebis

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