Climate Change and Risk. Securitization and Emergency in Global Governance

Term Paper, 2014

10 Pages, Grade: 2,0



“Climate change in IPCC usage refers to a change in the state of the climate that can be identified (e.g. using statistical tests) by changes in the mean and/or the variability of its properties, and that persists for an extended period, typically decades or longer. It refers to any change in climate over time, whether due to natural variability or as a result of human activity.”[1] When such a change was seen in the past as a purely natural event, humankind now recognizes its own influence on the Earth’s ecosystem. Since the 1970s academics and scientists are warning of a Global Warming caused by human activities by several publications like The Limits to Growth (1972). The issue became ultimately the public attention with the release of former US Presidential Candidate Al Gore’s movie “An Inconvenient Truth” honored with an Academy Award in 2006 and the winning of the Nobel Peace prize by IPCC and Al Gore. For the matter of easy understanding I will put Climate Change synonymous to the recent phenomenon of Global Warming. Being a huge challenge for humankind there is a lively debate about the way facing it, mainly in which category of the trilogy politicization, securitization and riskification it falls. For such a categorization it is important to ask for the nature of Global Warming, so whether it is or should be treated as a political issue, a threat or a risk. Is climate change thus governed as a threat or a risk? Can we witness a successful securitization? Or is it more convenient to classify Climate Change into the concept of riskification? After providing the reader with each conceptual framework, I will challenge the theories with the issues of Climate Change. But first and foremost it will be needed to explain the relevance of Climate Change as an issue within security studies.

Climate Change as a security issue

Climate Change has to be analyzed in two ways, the examination of the causes and of the effects. While Climate Change itself challenges the environmental security, there are some effects resulting directly or indirectly of Global Warming which by themselves are harming political, societal and economic security.

First, it is important to understand how human action has a critical influence on the global climate and is generating Global Warming. The temperature on earth is dependent on the atmospheres consistency. The thicker it is, the less infrared radiation from the sunlight can leave the planet which will increase the temperature. Studies are showing the causality between CO2 in the atmosphere and global temperature on the long term.[2] The highly increased emission of CO2 after the industrial revolutions changed the atmosphere dramatically. Together with the technological development came an exponential growth of the global population to more than 7 billion people nowadays. Global Warming is happening and is predicted to continue. This causality is a significant proof of the geological era Anthropocene. Man is not anymore only exposed to nature but became a force of nature himself.[3] In security logics it means that “the problem is one of humankind’s struggle not with nature but with the dynamics of its own cultures – a civilizational issue that expresses itself mainly in economic and demographic dimensions and that potentially affects the degrees of order in the international system and its subsystems.”[4] While the rise of the average global temperature of 2-6 C° seems at a first glance to be meaningless, one has to realize the possible consequences of this change.

The melting of land-based ice, in Antarctica and Greenland, will be followed by a global rise of the sea level. Coastal areas and islands will be thereby harmed severely or even disappear completely. More Hurricanes, typhoons and other storms will appear because of the warming of the seas. Conversely, on the land the increasing evaporation will pioneer droughts. Millions of people are living from the water of the melting glaciers in Himalaya which may disappear.[5] Those consequences are clearly affecting the human civilization with the following problems of migration, harms by natural catastrophes or food and water supply. Thus the societal, economic and political securities are on risk. But further, also ecosystems are attacked by Global Warming. This means not only the destruction of living environments of umpteen species but also unpredictable changings of global maritime systems like the gulf stream. A possible Global Warming can thus harm human civilization severely and must be discussed also within the security studies. But this does not imply that Climate Change is yet categorized as a threat or a risk.

The conceptual framework of securitization

Within security studies, the Copenhagen School which most prominent scholars are Buzan, Waever and de Wilde established the concept of securitization and desecuritization. In this concept, “security is about survival, urgency and emergency”.[6] In general a securitization of an issue takes place when a securitizing move is considered as successful. This securitizing move is done by a securitizing actor through a Speech Act. By the use of a certain securitization grammar, a legitimating audience must be convinced of a threat to a referent object in order to take extraordinary measures. Or as the Copenhagen School points it out: “It is when an issue is presented as posing an existential threat to a designated referent object. […] The special nature of security threats justifies the use of extraordinary measures to handle them. The invocation of security has been the key to legitimizing the use of force, but more generally it has opened the way for the state to mobilize, or to take special powers, to handle existential threats."[7]

It is emphasized that securitization is the reaction to an existential threat. For Waever this means that “threats seen as relevant are, for the most part, those that effect the self-determination and sovereignty of the unit.”[8] Applying this concept to climate change, it is necessary to scan the past securitizing moves on their referent objects, actors, grammar, proposed measures and the reaction by the approached audience. But before I will put some general reflections on climate change in the concept of securitization.

Securitization of Climate Change

The Copenhagen School broadened the security concept, so that five sectors can be analyzed. One of them is the environmental sector in which falls climate change. The utility of this sector is explained as follows: “The environment is becoming an interesting case, because groups are using a securitizing logic that exactly follows the format prescribes in the previous section: The environment has to survive; therefore, this issue should take priority over all others, because if the environment is degraded to the point of no return all other issues will lose their meaning. If the normal system […] is not able to handle this situation, we […] will have to take extraordinary measures to save the environment. Sustainability might be the environmentalists’ equivalent of the state’s sovereignty and the nation’s identity; it is the essential constitutive principle that has to be protected.”[9] So there is also a specific securitizing grammar to environmental issues like Global Warming. Comparing to the classic security matters Climate Change is furthermore to be dealt with on the global and not on the national level. Relating to this issue, “the fossil CO2 emissions that contribute to the greenhouse effect occur worldwide and are therefore a global problem.”[10]

So, Global Warming as a security issue in the environmental sector follows a grammar of sustainability, affects the survival of the environment (and with it the survival of our current level of civilization[11] ) and is a global matter. In the last decades there were several attempts to securitize climate change which are presented as follows.


[1] IPCC: Climate Change 2007. Synthesis Report, 2007, p. 30.

[2] An Inconvenient Truth

[3] An Inconvenient Truth

[4] Buzan (81)

[5] IPCC: Climate Change 2007. Synthesis Report, 2007.

[6] Trombetta (588)

[7] Buzan (21)

[8] Buzan (52)

[9] Buzan (38)

[10] Buzan (86)

[11] Buzan (75): the ultimate referent object of environmental security is the risk of losing achieved levels of civilization – a return to forms of societal barbarism – while apparently being able to prevent doing so.

Excerpt out of 10 pages


Climate Change and Risk. Securitization and Emergency in Global Governance
LMU Munich  (Geschwister-Scholl-Institut für Politikwissenschaften)
Spezialisierung Governance: Critical Security Studies Securitization and Emergency in Global Governance
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climate, change, risk, securitization, emergency, global, governance
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Justus Lindl (Author), 2014, Climate Change and Risk. Securitization and Emergency in Global Governance, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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