De-securitise global climate change talks

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Connecting climate change with security will defeat democracy in developing nations, said climate experts at a roundtable conference in New Delhi.

New Delhi: Linking climate change and conflict is not new. Even in the 70s, Western scholars like Richard Falk and Lester Brown started talking about the relation between environment and security. Environmental refugees and, wars over depleting resources became a common topic to talk about in the post Cold War period. It was an initiation to securitise climate change and other environmental issues.

Scholar Ole Waever had said, “Something becomes successfully securitised when it is cast as an existential threat that justifies an extraordinary (usually military) response.” On and off, climate change is being observed as a bigger threat to security than nondemocratic regimes, relative power and a conflict-ridden history, that can act as an ‘excuse’ for military response, fear experts.

Climate change is a serious issue that requires consideration to ensure water, energy and food security, particularly in the South Asian region, but it should not be seen as a basis that will lead to security dilemmas, asserted panellists at a roundtable discussion, ‘India’s vulnerability to climate change: The security implication’, organised by the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) on February 15, 2012 in New Delhi.

“We live in globalised world. We are interconnected. What happens in one part affects us,” said Admiral Neil Morisetti, UK envoy on Climate and Energy Security. He cited the growing perception of ‘climate change as a stress multiplier’ amongst the Western world and endorsed the idea of incorporating international perspectives on climate issues in the national security strategies.

Highlighting the reasons behind the success of the Indus Water Treaty between India and Pakistan, Ramaswamy Iyer, Former Secretary, Ministry of Water Resources said, “Despite wars, nothing has happened to the Indus Water Treaty because it’s a simple treaty and has been insulated from political and military interferences.” Citing examples from the treaty, Iyer denounced the idea of securitisation of climate change and the implications of giving a ‘security angle’ to key issues related to environment and natural resources management.

“Melting ice is not as big a problem for India, as sinking rivers is,” said Mukul Sanwal, former coordinator UNFCCC. Sanwal presented a different perspective over traditional ways of evaluating climate change impacts. According to him, elements of societal change, growing Asian markets and changing trade routes should be taken into account while carrying out climate change assessments. He also emphasised that climate change might encourage countries for greater cooperation rather than act as a threat multiplier.

Samir Saran, Vice President, ORF, recommended that in order to disconnect security and climate change, research and development on climate change should not be carried out with defence institutions. He added that additional grants to security divisions are unnecessary when it comes to tackling climate change. Developing nations already have a strong military presence and securitising environmental issues would defeat democracy in such regions. Therefore, de-securitisation of climate change is imperative for peaceful relations between the countries.

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