How does climate change compare to other security risks?

Climate change is comparable to other transnational risks to security, having been identified by many experts and governments as a high probability, high consequence risk. This means that climate change is happening, and has potentially expansive consequences for international security. However, the response from governments has not yet been commensurate to the risk. For example, the possibility of a nuclear detonation is seen by experts as a low probability, yet high consequence risk. This means that though the likelihood of a nuclear weapon being detonated is considered low, such an occurrence would be catastrophic. As such, there is a regime of international laws and resources in place to monitor and prevent the proliferation and detonation of nuclear weapons. Despite significant intolerable risks associated with climate change, a comparable approach to nuclear non-proliferation has not yet materialized.

Comparisons aside, ranking climate change vis-a-vis other security risks may contribute to a false separation of these risks (and a potential underestimation of the broader risk landscape). For example, climate change-exacerbated water security can increase the likelihood of state instability, which could in turn enhance the influence of disruptive non-state actors, and increase the potential for nuclear materials to proliferate. These interconnections suggest that it may be less important to rank security risks, than to address them as part of a comprehensive security matrix.

Read more:

2015:  Global Risks report 2015. World Economic Forum.
2015: Climate Change as Threat Multiplier: Understanding the Broader Nature of the Risk. Werrell, C. & Femia, F. Center for Climate and Security.
2014: Global Strategic Trends Out to 2045: UK Ministry of Defence (MOD), Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre (DCDC)
2014: Quadrennial Defense Review, U.S. Department of Defense
2014: Global Risks report 2014. World Economic Forum.
2012: National Intelligence Council: “Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds”
2012: Protecting Americans in the 21st Century: Communicating Priorities for 2012 and Beyond. National Homeland Security Consortium.
2011-2012: Key Strategic Issues List: U.S. Army War College
2011: The inadequate US response to a major security threat: Climate change, Femia, F., Parthemore, C. Werrell, C. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists
2011: Degrees of Risk: Defining a Risk Management Framework for Climate Security. Mabey, N. et al. E3G
2011: DNI Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community
2010: DNI Annual Threat Assessment of the Intelligence Community
2009: DNI Annual Threat Assessment of the Intelligence Community
2008: National Intelligence Council and Director of National Intelligence, Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World
2005: Climate Change poses greater security threat than terrorism. Global Security Brief No. 3., Sawin, Janet L. Washington, D.C.: Worldwatch Institute.