The non-partisan Center for Climate and Security in the United States has come up with a framework for addressing the dual threats of climate change and nuclear war in tandem.
“Simultaneous effects of climate change, tough social or economic pressures, and security challenges could increase the risk of conflict among nuclear weapon-possessing states, even if that conflict stems from miscalculation or misperception,” said Prof. Christine Parthemore, a former U.S. military advisor who co-chairs the center’s working group on the issue. In an interview with Climate News Network, she cited the relationship between India and Pakistan as a specific, major concern.
“They are grappling with water stress, deadly natural disasters, terrorism, and numerous other pressures,” she noted. “At the same time, the types of nuclear weapons they are developing and policies on command of those weapons are raising tensions between them. Our group believed this is a recipe for not only increasing the risk of conflict, but for raising the risk of such a conflict escalating to the nuclear realm.”
In its own review of the report, the Planetary Security Initiative notes that “the global security environment is complex, evolving, and sometimes rapidly changing. The report finds that the effects of climate change are complicating that landscape, and intersecting with nuclear trends, including new countries seeking nuclear energy, some traditional nuclear energy-producing countries pivoting to other power sources, new pressures on the non-proliferation regime, and many specific nuclear risks persisting or increasing.”
“Even more important,” said working group co-chair Dr. Janne Nolan, “these dynamics are connected. Climate, security, and nuclear trends influence one another, and risk combining in unprecedented and catastrophic ways. This is why understanding systemic risks and remedies and their interconnections is so critical.”
Nuclear non-proliferation regimes and global climate cooperation are “stabilizing forces,” Parthemore agreed. But “if we don’t continue strengthening them, we may see a less predictable global security environment”—particularly “in times like these, when some countries are more actively flaunting their nuclear threats toward one another.”
As one example, Parthemore cited the security of Russian-built nuclear reactors in Bangladesh, a country simultaneously trying to cope with climate impacts, terrorism, and overpopulation. The Center’s report “says extreme heat, flooding, sea level rise, and natural disasters are already affecting power stations and could knock out nuclear installations in countries already short of electricity and facing social or political pressure,” Climate News Net notes. “The same dilemmas could face sites handling nuclear weapons.”
The report flags similar concerns in South Asia, the Middle East, the South China Sea, and Central and North Africa. It calls for “technologies to help countries which seek to introduce nuclear energy, including the safest reactor designs, modern security and monitoring systems, and strong climate modelling abilities,” writes News Net managing editor and ex-BBC reporter Alex Kirby.