Edward Davey speech to Climate & Resource Security Dialogue for the 21st Century conference
This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
Check against delivery Introduction Thank you very much. On behalf of Her Majesty’s Government, let me welcome you all to Lancaster House…
Check against delivery
Thank you very much.
On behalf of Her Majesty’s Government, let me welcome you all to Lancaster House.
Next year, this magnificent building will celebrate a century in public hands.
Over the past hundred years, it has welcomed esteemed guests from around the world: kings and queens. Presidents and prime ministers. Princes and popes.
Today, we are particularly glad to receive His Excellency, Ali Bongo Ondimba, President of the Gabonese Republic; and the Honourable Karl Hood, Minister of Foreign Affairs for Grenada.
From universal suffrage to free trade, the issues of the day have been discussed and debated in Lancaster House. People come here to talk about the things that matter.
Our subject today matters.
And that’s why it’s my great pleasure to open this conference.
I want to take this opportunity to talk a little bit about what climate security means. Because I think we face a problem of awareness and understanding.
For too many people, climate security is about making sure you always have an umbrella with you.
The reality, of course, is rather more serious.
Climate change is about increased risk: of extreme events, of natural disasters, of changes in weather patterns.
As our understanding of the climate grows, so does our understanding of what those risks might mean for our people.
Around the world, governments - and militaries - are planning for climate instability. From flood defences to foreign aid, climate security is part of the policy discussion.
But it’s not yet part of the public discussion. And that’s something that we have to change.
We need to get people to engage with climate security; to understand what it means to be climate resilient in an interdependent world. Because at the moment, it’s too easy to discount the danger.
Climate change is something that can seem far away - not just in terms of distance, but also time. For people who don’t live on the climate frontline, talk of 2030 projections and 2050 pathways can make the threat seem remote.
But it’s not. In less than eight years time, we have to peak global emissions. That will only be achieved through real change. We must rewire the global economy, becoming more resource efficient whilst delivering more growth.
The decisions that will shape the decades to come are being taken now, in boardrooms and staterooms around the world.
Many of the homes, the cars and the power stations we build today will be operating in the middle of the century. We are choosing our future now, but most people don’t realise it.
I believe a clear, hard look at climate security - at the risks that climate change could pose to our way of life - could change that. Because if we’re going to stop talking about building a sustainable economy and start doing it, we need to take the public with us.
That’s why I absolutely welcome the work you’re going to do over the next few days.
We need to reframe the debate; to get away from the sometimes fraught politics, and start painting a picture of climate change as the security community see it.
Not as a political football, or a far-off possibility; but as a threat multiplier.
Something that’s already magnifying existing pressures.
Increasing existing stresses.
And making it harder to deliver our shared goals: peace, stability and prosperity for all.
Because the truth is climate change is all of those things.
Our world is connected like never before. Open borders, trade and telecoms have brought our countries closer together. The ties between us are stronger; the world around us is smaller.
Deeper connections bring real benefits for our citizens. But they also leave us exposed. In the global village, a fire in one house can quickly spread to another.
A more unstable climate, with rising temperatures and more frequent and intense weather events, could affect the most fundamental aspects of our shared security: food, water, and trade.
There is considerable expertise gathered here today. And I don’t want to risk telling you things you already know. But there are a couple of things that I think really bring this argument to life.
Firstly, demand for food is predicted to grow by 70% by 2050. But as our climate changes, so will crop yields - and crop distributions.
A recent study found that if temperatures rose by just one degree, then 65% of maize-growing areas in Africa would be less productive.
When food becomes scarce, it’s the most vulnerable who most feel the impact. As the Secretary General of NATO said, food scarcity, ‘like all the effects of climate change… will hit hardest on the people and countries least able financially and organisationally to cope’.
Even where absolute availability is not in question, rising prices can trigger civil unrest, and threaten free trade.
The pressures on the global food system are mirrored when it comes to water. Water use is growing twice as quickly as population. In fifteen years’ time, 1.8 billion people will live in areas suffering from absolute water scarcity.
Historically, countries have tended not to go to war over water. Instead, we have concluded deals and signed treaties to share this finite resource. But such accords could come under threat, as climate change affects rainfall, intensifying pressures between states - and within them.
It is this amplifying effect that makes climate change a particular concern. Where the risk of conflict already burns brightly, it will focus the flame.
Those parts of the world we are most concerned about - the conflict flashpoints, the fragile trade routes, the weakened democracies - are often the same places that will be worst affected by climate change. It is a threat multiplier, and its effects will be felt most keenly in areas already under threat.
From a diplomatic perspective, that makes climate diplomacy all the more urgent.
We need to build resilience and adaptation into developed and developing economies alike. And we need to get that global deal to stop emissions rising; if we do not, a whole new set of problems arise.
From a security perspective, we need to be ready for a world where climate instability drives political instability.
Commodity prices have increased by nearly 150% since the year 2000.
Competition for resources could intensify, as territorial change puts pressure on trade and makes conflict more likely. Natural disasters could increase the demands on our military capability. And in failing states, food, water and energy supply problems could spark internal unrest that spills outwards.
These risks threaten both our defence and development goals; which is why militaries around the world are making climate risk part of their strategic planning.
The Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defence Review Report concludes that climate change will shape the US military’s ‘operating environment, roles and missions’.
Here in the UK, our own National Security Strategy identifies climate change as a ‘wide-ranging driver of insecurity… exacerbating existing weakness and tensions’.
And whether you’re from Australia or Bangladesh, South Africa or Japan, your presence here today speaks to the seriousness of the climate security agenda.
For governments, the risks are clear: to development, to democracy, and to peace itself. We cannot afford to ignore them.
We have to plan for a world where climate change makes difficult problems worse.
But given the beautiful sunshine outside, I thought I would conclude on a more positive note.
When faced with seemingly intractable risks, we can take comfort our history.
When faced with other global threats - from nuclear war to smallpox - we have proven ourselves equal to the challenge.
Our ability to create problems for ourselves, as we have with carbon emissions, is matched only by our ability to create solutions.
So in the months and years to come, I hope we can continue to work together - not only to prepare for the worst, but to deliver the best: a more sustainable future for all.