Event ReportsPublished on Feb 15, 2012
Experts feel that securitising climate change would defeat democracy in developing parts of the world which already have an overwhelming presence of military. Therefore, a counter narrative for securitising climate change is imperative.
Securitising climate change will defeat democracy in developing world

Bemoaning the ’securitising of the climate change’, leading environment experts have stressed on the urgency to enhance dialogues and understanding on climate change as a global challenge.

Participating in a discussion on "India’s vulnerability to climate change: Security implications" at Observer Research Foundation on 15 February, 2012, the experts agreed that securitising climate change would defeat democracy in developing parts of the world which already have an overwhelming presence of military. Therefore, a counter narrative for securitising climate change is imperative, they said.

Initiating the discussion, United Kingdom’s Envoy on Climate Change, Admiral Neil Morisetti, highlighted the recently gaining popular perception of ’climate change as a stress multiplier’ concurrent with the view of strategic defence security trends, 2010 UK and many other reports from other parts of the world like Washington D.C.

According to Admiral Neil Morisetti, threats and risks offer opportunities of cooperation among different countries, given the fact that adverse impact in one part of the world would consequently translate down to the other interconnected globalized countries. To achieve stability in regions of high stresses, international perspectives and shared visions need to be incorporated in the national security strategies, he said.

Admiral Neil Morisetti said that there can’t be ’one size fits all’ approach, and there is a need to recognise varied levels of priorities for countries and share our understanding beyond political horizons for mutual benefits.

Mr. Ramaswamy Iyer, former Secretary, Ministry of Water Resources, bemoaned the securitisation of climate change. He traced the evolution of the security dialogue on natural resources management and examined the implications of such line of thought in the Indian context. Deriving examples from the Indus Water Treaty (IWT), Mr. Iyer pointed out that one of the reasons of its success so far can be mainly attributed to being an entity independent of defence institutions, thereby standing through aggressive tensions between India and Pakistan.

Mr. Mukul Sanwal, former coordinator UNFCCC, evaluated the presumptions made in security dialogues of climate change. Presenting a picture unrevealed in most of the researches, he emphasised on incorporating the elements of societal change, emerging Asian market and changing trade routes into the models of climate change impact assessments. In the Indian context, Mr. Sanwal admitted that climate change might just act as a catalyst of cooperation and greater integration in the region than a threat multiplier.

In perspective, Dr. Rohan D’Souza, Assistant Professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, proposed two frameworks of climate change; one, the business as usual model and the two, the radically revoking political model. Climate change strategies and responses are highly dependent on these models and hence it is important to assess them. Directing to the current situation, Prof. D’Souza brought out the gaps between the rhetoric and reality. The most crucial one, he admitted was the ’meaning-making’ for micro-climates in the light of universal facts of climate change.

Mr. Samir Saran, Vice President, ORF, summarised the three main recommendations agreed upon for disconnecting the ’security’ and ’climate change’ dialogues; first, research and development on climate change should not be with the defence institutions; second, additional grants to security divisions is unnecessary; third, securitising climate change would defeat democracy in developing parts of the world which already have an overwhelming presence of military. Therefore, a counter narrative for securitising climate change is imperative.

The other participants were Ms. Lydia Powell, Senior Fellow, ORF and Dr. Malti Goel, reputed environmental scientist, affiliated to Centre for Science Policy Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University.

The discussion on ’India’s Vulnerability to Climate Change: the Security Implications’ was aimed at invoking rigour into the now stale climate change narratives and evaluate the interests and implications of securitising climate change in the Indian context.

Following the discourses that emerged in the 1990s linking the environment to security, a Canadian researcher, Thomas Homer Dixon extended the link between climate change and security in his studies. This causal linkage evolved over the years has made it to the mainstream dialogues on climate change. Already weighed down by the uncertainty and variability, an additional security dimension of climate change is highly manifested in the global discussions now.

’Security’ is not a harmonizing word, but rather sets up countries or regions in adversarial relationship. Moreover, in its attitude, it may convey a disturbing approach toward mitigation and adaptation strategies. It may also be misinterpreted by countries constantly seeking areas of cooperation and minimizing conflicts over shared natural resources. The most evident example of the mentioned implication is the Indo-Pakistan discourse over Indus Waters. Regarded as a successful treaty of sharing waters, the Indus Water Treaty (IWT) stood strong through two major wars between the countries, attributed to its independent stature and functionality. With the emergence of the ’security’ aspect, the defence structures started playing a dominant and more influential role in the Indus Water Commission. As a result, IWT is currently struggling to balance its ideological sense and objectives with the vested interests of power groups and non-state actors.

As laudable as the objectives of climate change dialogues may be, the perplexity of its perception of threats, risks and opportunities differ from region to region. The response strategies, scope for negotiations and cooperation are highly dependent on how the ’climate change impacts’ are discerned. Categorically, there are two broad approached to adaptation; one, the business as usual model which focuses on strategies of sustainable economic growth; second, the radical revolution altering social hierarchies addressing issues of equality, distribution and entitlement. The articulation of reasoning can modify the way climate change is framed. Nevertheless, an undeniable fact remains that vulnerability to climate change is contextual and location specific. Therefore, to suggest a widespread fact or ’one size fits all’ approach would not address the problem of vulnerability.

There is a wide gap between the global facts on climate change and local values. ’Big sciences’ producing universal facts remain aloof of the micro realities and therefore struggle to produce any viable results. Even the big science for that matter is not uncontested. There are still ’unknown unknowns’ in climate science which is giving way to the political, social, economic interests and interpretations. Subsequently, what we have today is a golf bag with choices which is mainly an amalgamation of vested interests, hypothesis and politics as the driving powers in the climate discourse.

As things stand at the moment, even if one was to believe in the security dialogues on climate change based on the vulnerability assessments made and analysis of conflict prone areas, the fundamental flaws in the approach are too obvious to be neglected. The assumptions have four basic shortcomings. One, the researches neglect the emergence of the Asian Common Market which would have serious impact on the trade routes, which would perhaps then shift from sea-based to land based. Two, the scarcity is being portrayed as a natural phenomenon disregarding the allocation politics and unequal distribution of resources. Third, South Asia is alleged to follow the western trajectory in terms of energy demand and growth, which might not be the case. Fourth, most of the thesis lacks the societal element. As mentioned above, context specific insight of climate change are varied to an extent that climate change can be classified as a catalyst for enhanced cooperation in one region and as a threat multiplier in other regions of the world. Thus, the limitedness of these universalized conjectures are lagging far behind reality, further substantiating the counter narrative to the securitized climate change.

Further to this argument, the institutional interference of defence is even more objectionable. Primarily, because the regions predicted to have high levels of stress already have an overwhelming presence of military and securitizing climate change would defeat any form of democracy already struggling to survive. Secondly, it is unnecessary to construct a parallel entity in defence to conduct research and development activities for common ecological goods and services.

The intriguing questions: Where does this dialogue lead to? What drives the scepticism on climate change? Still remain unanswered. Nevertheless, it can be certainly established that climate change induced threats and risks offer substantial areas of collaboration for research, development and strategic planning. As known, "We are not responsible for climate change in the same manner, but let’s face it; we all are still in it." With this line of thought, it would be prudent to start recognizing the context-specific challenges, be sensitive to the local knowledge and channelize the technologies and methods available equitably.

(This report is prepared by Sonali Mittra, Research Assistant, Observer Research Foundation)

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