Why it is imperative to involve non-governmental actors in the climate and security nexus
Whether it is the Coronavirus crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic or corona bonds, the worldwide agenda is dominated by the impact and containment of the current health crisis. Political resources and media attention are now concentrated on SARS-CoV-2. Although the pandemic clearly needs to be brought under control as quickly as possible, this strong emphasis on public health is partially clouding our view of other global challenges. Moreover, these challenges will not simply disappear when the Coronavirus crisis finally comes to an end; instead, the pandemic threatens to accelerate and aggravate them.
The Coronavirus crisis is accelerating climate change
This particularly applies to the fight against climate change. In the wake of the pandemic, CO2 emissions from the People’s Republic of China have dropped by 25 per cent, and greenhouse gas emissions have decreased significantly worldwide. However, the welcome “breathing room” that this provides is unlikely to last. Evidence suggests that the climate crisis will be far more severe once the COVID-19 pandemic ends. On one hand, state and private actors will no longer be able to use all of the resources that had been set aside to fight or mitigate climate change. At the same time, several car manufacturers have already started calling for “flexibility” when it comes to achieving climate targets. On the other hand, the global economy will have to play catch-up after a period of near standstill. In the non-high-tech countries of the Global South, where economies are heavily geared towards the production of traditional industrial goods, these developments will result in a massive increase in CO2 emissions. Low oil prices could also slow down the transition to greenhouse gas-neutral energy sources.
This prospect is all the more worrying considering the troubling link between climate change and security threats. In terms of security policy, climate change is a threat multiplier that sparks and reignites conflict, especially in areas that are characterised by weak political structures and social fragility. For example, an increase in extreme weather events can lead to a further scarcity in food and drinking water supplies. The migration flows, the competition over resources, the increased social tension and even the armed conflicts that these problems trigger, therefore, are in fact kindled by global warming. This means that the climate crisis could further destabilise entire regions in Africa, Asia and elsewhere.
States cannot resolve these problems by themselves
If the COVID-19 pandemic is allowed to accelerate climate change, the associated security threats will also increase. Therefore, it is right that the German Federal Government has been committed for some time to ensure that climate security finds its way into the “high politics” of multilateral cooperation. Nevertheless, as important as it is that the United Nations Security Council deals with the issue of climate change, the links between climate change and security are and continue to pose challenges that individual states cannot resolve by themselves.
Therefore, it is essential that we capitalise on the potential of non-state actors more than we have done in the past. Over the past few years, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), business associations and research institutions have become increasingly involved in international climate policy. However, the existing measures have suffered from two weaknesses: first, they have been based around the classical division of labour between state and non-state actors. Consequently, the private sector has focused on being the driving force for research and development, whereas NGOs have been primarily treated as lobbyists that advocate for the interests of civil society and that raise awareness of a states’ “blind spots”. Undoubtedly, these are crucial tasks that we certainly need companies and organised civil society to undertake. However, we have to think beyond this traditional division of labour. Non-governmental actors must be given more significant roles, particularly regarding the implementation of climate protection and adaptation.
On one hand, innovative instruments are needed to finance the necessary climate policy measures. The private sector, development banks and other investors, therefore, have a central role to play that should be exercised to the full. On the other hand, the associations and initiatives that operate in crisis regions understand the local structures and circumstances better than the international community does. Ensuring that this knowledge flows into policy decisions can make all the difference when it comes to the success or failure of climate initiatives.
Forums for cooperation between state and non-state actors
In both of these cases, states need to ensure that they do not let matters slip out of their hands. In an international system that derives its legitimacy from the cooperation between sovereign states, states (and, by extension, international organisations/IOs) must continue to assume the role of key actors in multilateral cooperation. As such, states and IOs have the vital task of building and providing platforms that enable state and non-state actors to work together. These platforms need to be appropriately orchestrated if cooperation between the large number of “players” that they entail is to be coordinated effectively. Successful examples such as the Swedish “Fossil-free-Sweden” initiative, the Non-State Actor Zone for Climate Action (NAZCA) and the Paris Peace Forum could provide the necessary direction with which to do so.
The second weakness of multi-stakeholder cooperation in this field so far is its tendency to concentrate on “traditional” climate policy challenges. This focus must be expanded to include climate security. After all, non-state actors play an important role in peace and security policy. An increasing number of voices largely attributes the success of international peacebuilding initiatives and stabilizing measures in crisis areas to the involvement of local civil society actors. These points should be considered alongside and transferred to the challenges associated with the climate and security nexus. In concrete terms, local programmes and initiatives could link the issues of climate and security more closely. Doing so is the only way in which NGOs and other local actors can have an impact on this field.
An unprecedented symbiosis
The corona crisis is likely to exacerbate the climate crisis. Nevertheless, it seems possible to make a virtue of necessity — at least when it comes to interaction between state and non-state actors. To a certain extent, the health crisis is forcing states, international organisations, research institutions, NGOs and companies into an unprecedented symbiosis. As a global community with a common destiny, we will only be able to deal with the pandemic and cope with its economic consequences through close coordination and cooperation. Lessons from the coming months, therefore, could be applied to multi-stakeholder cooperation in climate security. This is essential because there is only one way that we can end both the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change: by uniting our efforts.