Planetary Security. How does climate change relate to global conflict?

Essay, 2020

19 Pages


Table of contents

List of abbreviations

1 Intro

2 History brief

3 Climate change and conflict risk

4 Planetary Security
4.1 What it is and why it matters
4.2 Research on the topic and related fields
4.3 Definitional basics

5 Perspective for the future
5.1 Behavioral change
5.2 Raising awareness, breaking up silos
5.3 Rethink policies, establish responsible positions

6 Conclusion



About the authors

This work is a product of several associates of the LIGA. The findings, interpretations, and conclusions expressed in this work do not necessarily reflect the views of the LIGA, its Board of Directors, or the entirety of the associates and fellows of the organization. The LIGA does not guarantee the accuracy of the data included in this work. Nothing herein shall constitute or be considered to be a limitation upon or waiver of the privileges and immunities of the organization, all of which are specifically reserved.

Rights and Permissions

You are free to copy, distribute, transmit, and adapt this work, including for commercial purposes, under the following conditions:

- Attribution - Please cite the work as follows: Stefan Raul, Reimar Weissbach, Benjamin Rosskopf, Hannah Stiegler. 2020. Planetary Security. Donau-Ries, Germany: LIGA.
- Translations - If you create a translation of this work, please add the following disclaimer along with the attribution: “This translation was not created by the LIGA and should not be considered an official LIGA translation. The LIGA shall not be liable for any content or error in this translation”.
- Adaptations - If you create an adaptation of this work, please add the following disclaimer along with the attribution: “This is an adaptation of an original work by the LIGA. Views and opinions expressed in the adaptation are the sole responsibility of the author or authors of the adaptation and are not endorsed by the LIGA”.
- Third-party content - The LIGA does not necessarily own each component of the content contained within the work. The LIGA therefore does not warrant that the use of any third party-owned individual component or part contained in the work will not infringe on the rights of those third parties. The risk of claims resulting from such infringement rests solely with you. If you wish to reuse a component of the work, it is your responsibility to determine whether permission is needed for that reuse and to obtain permission from the copyright owner. Examples of components can include, but are not limited to, tables, figures, or images.

All queries on rights and licenses should be addressed to the Legal Counsel’s office of the LIGA, only by e-mail:

Referencing details

This document is written in reference to the APA style, regarding citations. For several definitions and content, Wikipedia is used, based on articles by Becher and Becher as well as Rodman (Becher, Becher, 2011, pp. 116-118; Rodman, 2015, p. 1).

List of abbreviations

AI Artificial Intelligence

a.o. amongst others

ca. circa

e.g. exempli gratia (for example)

EGD European Green Deal / Green New Deal

EU European Union

GDP Gross domestic product

GDPR General Data Protection Regulation

IISS International Institute for Strategic Studies

JRC European Commission's Joint Research Centre

MIT Massachusetts Institute of Technology

MSC Munich Security Conference

NASA National Aeronautics and Space Administration

NATO North Atlantic Treaty Organization

No. Number

NO2 Nitrogen dioxide

PSI Planetary Security Initiative

SIPRI Stockholm International Peace Research Institute

UN United Nations

USA United States of America

WHO World Health Organization

WRI World Resources Institute

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

1 Intro

As the arguably greatest challenge of our time, climate change is a global issue with innumerable, widespread, and severe consequences. These include the increased risk of pandemics. It is time to realize that climate change is not about political interests and national security anymore. It is about the future of humankind and therefore, planetary security. Collaboration on an international scale and joining forces will lead to determined action – and ultimately insure a sustainable future.

Looking at the drastic measures taken across the world to battle the outbreak of the coronavirus, we see that it is possible. We must take immediate climate action because we are in the Endgame now.

2 History brief

According to a study in Nature, temperatures are rising globally and in every area of planet earth, all in the upward direction. The conclusion of the study is that there is no comparison regarding global warming in the modern era. There is nothing within the last 2,000 years which compares to the scale of climate change. The so-called coherence – the change of climate happening everywhere and at the same time – is what concerns the researchers the most. According to them, the assumption is that the planet “is as hot now as it’s ever been in at least the past 125,000 years” (Meyer, 2019, URL) and that in the last two millennia, about 98 percent of the surface of Earth went through the warmest period, based on data of climate-recording objects e.g. tree rings, formations of caves, etc. all over the world. In the common epoch, this is unprecedented (Meyer, 2019, URL).

3 Climate change and conflict risk

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) researched on South Asia and South East Asia and found that – in a context-specific view – there is evidence for the relation of climate change and causes of violent conflict. When a.o. the upper class takes advantage of resources or social weaknesses, or when people get displaced and, in consequence, migration levels elevate, the research study found that there is a possible relation for climate change and regional conflict. The researchers state that it is necessary to “address knowledge gaps, but also to enable a more refined understanding of the applicability and adequacy of different response mechanisms in diverse contexts” (Nordqvist, Krampe, 2018, URL). The transnational characteristics of climate change opens new and numerous challenges but also heighten the relevance for institutions (Nordqvist, Krampe, 2018, URL).

Research from the European Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC) suggests that so-called ‘water wars’ could become increasingly relevant due to climate change and the growth of populations. There is the possibility of people clashing for the access to water resources, next to regional conflict. The competition for scarce resources leads to hydro-political issues, enabling instability in several regions as well as social unrest. Tensions arise when it comes to scarcity of hydro resources due to environmental effects, which leads to the probability of water wars, lying at about 75 to 95 percent within the next 50 to 100 years (Ratner, 2018, URL).

About 25 percent of the world's population lives in regions threatened by water shortage, a research study from the World Resources Institute (WRI) suggests. The researchers investigated the water resources of 189 countries by evaluating data from the years 1960 to 2014. Areas where it is very dry, like e.g. states in the Middle East and North Africa, are affected. According to the evaluation, the situation is worst in a.o. Israel and Lebanon (Hofste et al., 2019, URL).

One key driver of conflicts is perceived inequality, be it in wealth, opportunities, or access to infrastructure. Climate change and the consequences thereof surface inequalities, sometimes even on a simple level such as having enough electricity for an air conditioning unit or not. Economic metrics are often used to measure inequality, e.g., GDP per capita. Although the impact of climate change on the global economy remains difficult to quantify, scientists conclude one thing. In the long run, the negative effects will outweigh the positive effects and negative impacts will be substantially greater in poorer, hotter, and lower-lying countries (Tol, 2018, pp. 4-25). We believe this will only exacerbate the conflict potential in certain areas.

4 Planetary Security

Planetary security is a term and field of research, which has not yet been researched on comprehensively and literature on the topic is scarce. Therefore, this discussion paper offers some definitions, background information and related research from adjacent areas.

4.1 What it is and why it matters

Research suggests that global challenges – climate change1, pandemics2, conflict risk through e.g. water shortage, geopolitical developments3 – are interconnected in one way or another (Nordqvist, Krampe, 2018, URL; Ratner, 2018, URL; United Nations, 2020, URL; Unknown author, 2019, URL; Pinner et al., 2020, URL; Barrie et al., 2020, pp. 1-18, Ischinger, 2020a, URL).

Climate change is considered a “root cause of conflict in specific regions and countries” (Dortland et al., 2019, p. 1) by the UN Security Council and the relation of international security and climate change is getting increased attention4 - global warming is recognized as a multiplier for threats and the EU or the UN put an increased focus on the topic (Dortland et al., 2019, pp. 1-10).

More than 50 percent of the global GDP is dependent on nature in a high or moderate way, according to research by the World Economic Forum. In an interconnected system, it is shown how one of the elements can trigger a domino effect and destabilize a system – as currently shown by the pandemic. Diseases which are emerging are the result of interference in ecosystems in many cases and therefore show the need of an intact nature. Nature can act as a secure cushion between humans and diseases and it is required to ensure the sustainable capacity of the planet to benefit a yielding and sound human population (Quinney, 2020, URL).

As more than half of the diseases emerge as a result from human activities5 this all contributes to the loss of biodiversity, and therefore, the Club of Rome6 pleads in a recent statement, that it must be acknowledged “that the planet is facing a deeper and longer-term crisis, rooted in a number of interconnected global challenges” (Club of Rome, 2020, URL). Biodiversity loss, climate change as well as the coronavirus pandemic are threats to humankind and can only be managed by acting collectively, and according to the statement, must be acted upon before they become outright crises (Club of Rome, 2020, URL). Yuval Noah Harari, one of the world’s acclaimed public intellectuals, pleads for global solidarity in this crisis. He argues that the resulting consequences are going to be a global problem which shall be solved by global cooperation (Harari, 2020, URL).

4.2 Research on the topic and related fields

There is research on the topic with a deeper security focus. Recommendations from experts include the contributions to climate security by the military. Most possible solutions include focused policies and frameworks, coming from the competent Ministries of Defence. For example, NATO analysis frameworks shall be extended, doctrines and mission statements must be updated, incorporating the environmental factor, helping to gain a holistic understanding of climate change and its effects. Awareness sessions regarding climate change need to be included in basic military training, recognizing the impact of the issue, being present at all levels of military organizations. Reserve officers participating in missions and accompanying different phases of a mission, providing expertise7 about climate change and ensureing a proper quality of e.g. environmental assessments will lead to a better understanding of the root causes of conflict related to global warming. The collaboration on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions is also necessary, helping to address issues of climate change. Structural attention to these collaboration efforts must be paid by e.g. the EU (Dortland et al., 2019, pp. 1-10).

Picking up the argument about the involvement of the military in such endeavors, a fact which needs to be considered is that e.g. military bases in a mission are a burden for water and food resources in a respective area, putting even more pressure to regions threatened by climate change. As an example, a land restoration project or a water resources project can benefit one focus group, e.g. farmers from the Sahel, but does not benefit the herders of the area. This will lead to tensions, as policies for climate adaptation will neglect the mentioned focus group and therefore, the policies are not sensitive to conflict. This situation would get a ‘maladaptation’ label (van Schaik et al., 2020, p. 12).

A recent study by McKinsey found that “climate change could affect the most vulnerable populations disproportionately and could foster inequality by simultaneously benefiting some regions while harming others” (Engel, Krishnan, 2020, URL). Risk management and establishing resilience are central to protect the global community from further threats, especially when looking at the ongoing pandemic, which is a very recent example of how risks can extend to a global scale. Climate change is considered to be even more intense with regard to economic and social costs, if the world will not be able to prepare for the risks associated with it (Engel et al., 2020, p. 1-117; Engel, Krishnan, 2020, URL).

4.3 Definitional basics

For this paper, the working definition of planetary security is “the security and defense of the planet, which includes humankind and environment as well as economies and institutions. Planetary security is regarded as a duty of a government 8 , which must recognize the interconnected challenges and threats for humanity” (Raul, 2020, p. 2), adopted from the policy brief by Raul.

In simple terms, this means that governments put their (military) resources in use to protect the planet as a whole and not to use (military) resources to gain geopolitical impact, strive for areas which have many resources or moving into the field to defeat the (political) opponent.

This is of course a very noble, idealistic approach, but in view of the ever more complex global challenges, it is probably the only feasible way.

5 Perspective for the future

There are certain perspectives for the future, ranging through certain topical areas. These perspectives are not exhaustive.

5.1 Behavioral change

When looking at the efforts that were made to battle man-made global warming so far, ranging from e.g. the Kyoto protocol in 1997 to the agreement of Katowice in 2018, it has to be admitted that almost no considerable action has been taken yet. Scientists and researchers agree that a ‘point of no return’ has already been passed for several ecosystems, such as glaciers and that immediate climate action is critical on a global level (Marzeion et al., 2018, pp. 305-308). When thinking about a global crisis that truly affects everybody, the current COVID-19 spread comes to mind. Everybody, independent of citizenship, wealth, education, race, or other factors is potentially threatened. “With the coronavirus, we have a focusing of global attention on one single topic that really rarely happens. Once you have that focused attention. Almost anything is possible" (Scharmer, 2020, URL), says Otto Scharmer from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Currently, unprecedented reactions to tackle the coronavirus can be observed across the world, and results are clearly visible. With global warming being a much bigger threat to societies, why has nothing comparable happened regarding climate change yet? One key factor in slowing or stopping the spread of the coronavirus is behavioural change. People are currently massively changing their behavior and adjusting to new realities - something that nobody could have imagined as a reaction to fight global warming.

The coronavirus lockdowns all around the world already led to a big change on nature. The world's largest lockdown means that many factories, markets, shops, and places of worship are closed, most public transport suspended, and construction work halted. The world asks its citizens to stay home and practice social distancing.

Since social distancing practices have been enacted across the world, cities are showing decreased air pollution. In Wuhan, the NO2 values in eastern and central China decreased significantly by ca. 30 percent. Less traffic and thus less burning of fuels is truly giving the air a break. Researchers in New York have realized that their early calculations have shown the level of carbon monoxide emissions in the area reducing by 50 percent. In Venice, the canals are coming back to life. Since the traffic stops on the canals, the water is getting visibly clearer. Also, in Northern Italy, where e.g. Milan is located, the amount of air pollution above the Lombardy region has dropped substantially. In Krakow, residents enjoy looking out to see the Tatra moun-tains again, which were previously covered by the city’s smog (Link, 2020, URL). The same is in India, where the Himalaya mountains can be seen from Jalandhar, which was not possible in the last 30 years. These are not accurate representations of what is going on, but we have seen a boost to nature in this area and beyond, far more in terms of lower levels of pollution, clearer water, and cleaner air (Lucey, 2020, URL). Why are we not willing to change our behavior, even in less drastic ways, to save our planet?

5.2 Raising awareness, breaking up silos

According to Verbeek9, it is the lack of awareness as well as the related complacency which must be concerning when it comes to climate change. On all levels - people, media, or the government - there seems to be no ability or urgency to deal with possible hazards in the long-term. Verbeek states that “we have yet to see effective and visionary decision-making that could preserve our vulnerable planet from environmental degradation. The damage to our planet is globalising faster than the global coordinated responses that are needed.” (Verbeek, 2019, URL). Verbeek refers to the ‘The Limits to Growth’ of the Club of Rome about 50 years ago and mentions that these concerns certainly were justified. The consequences for humankind are hard to imagine, when trying to consider the societal costs as well the geophysical changes. He therefore states that the concept of planetary security is the best to capture the global challenges ahead and outweighs other concepts like climate security oder environment and security (Verbeek, 2019, URL).10

Predicting conflicts considering the ever further degradation of the environment through climate change presents a huge challenge, although new possibilities through big data and artificial intelligence (AI) may increase the opportunities to forecast security threats of the future. Another reason why the world community mainly reacts very slowly to the planetary security challenges is “that our institutions tend to work in silos and through government structures set up in a different era to confront a different sort of dangers. The scale of the climate change challenge is so huge, the risks are so complex, and there are so many actors involved, that it is safe to say we have simply never dealt with such a multifaceted risk before” (Verbeek, 2019, URL), as Verbeek put it. He mentions the Planetary Security conferences, which have been organized since 2015 and constantly help to break up silos and connect scientists, policy makers and military experts (Verbeek, 2019, URL). Why is there not more focus on such formats and initiatives?

5.3 Rethink policies, establish responsible positions

Wolfgang Ischinger states that the COVID-19 pandemic is an opportunity to “move the climate-security nexus up on the EU agenda und build a better and more comprehensive EU foreign policy” (Ischinger, 2020b, URL). Maybe it is necessary to get inspired11 by the position of the Planetary Protection Officer at National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in the USA. This position is responsible for “preventing biological contamination outside of Earth and safeguarding the planet's biosphere from any alien life” (deGrandpre, 2017, URL). The officer needs expertise in natural sciences and environmental matters and needs to have a sound knowledge regarding NASA policy and international agreements (NASA, 2020a, URL; NASA, 2020b, URL). Why is there no willingness to find sustainable solutions and think big?

Based on the outlined research and findings as well as recent developments12 mentioned in this paper, it is necessary to view these challenges and threats as a holistic issue, and therefore consider planetary security the relevant and vital mission for the future.

6 Conclusion

In recent years, institutions like the EU or the UN Security Council have started to pay attention to planetary security challenges but there is still no holistic understanding of the topic.

We think that we must gain a much better understanding of the interconnected global challenges ahead of us and therefore need deeper, interdisciplinary research on the topic of planetary security. We consider connecting scientific and professional disciplines and collaborate on a global scale the most fruitful way to go.

We are convinced that we can master the challenge which climate change puts us up to – if we stop hesitating and act now. Collaboration of governments, institutions, corporations, civil society, and other actors is required, and a sustainable future is at hand. Let us be bold.


1 Interchangeably referred to as global warming, climate change “occurs when changes in Earth's climate system result in new weather patterns that remain in place for an extended period of time” (Wikipedia – Climate change, 2020, URL). The former Chief economist of the World Bank and Nobel laureate, Joseph Stiglitz, compared the effects of climate change with the ones of a war. He considers the climate crisis as a ‘Third World War’ because the lives and all civilization are at stake (Unknown author, 2019, URL).

2 A pandemic is “an epidemic of disease that has spread across a large region, for instance multiple continents or worldwide, affecting a substantial number of people” (Wikipedia – Pandemic, 2020, URL). In December 2019, a new phylum of coronavirus which originated in Wuhan, China, is now referred to as coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). As of now, 200+ countries and territories have been affected by COVID-19, with major outbreaks and centers of disease occurring in the USA, China, and Western Europe. The World Health Organization (WHO) characterized the spread of COVID-19 in March 2020 as a pandemic (Wikipedia – Pandemic, 2020, URL). Pandemics and climate risk “share many of the same attributes. Both are systemic, in that their direct manifestations and their knock-on effects propagate fast across an interconnected world.” (Pinner et al., 2020, URL), according to research by McKinsey.

3 According to research by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), several geopolitical developments are relevant for the EU in the present, e.g. the annexion of Crimea by Russia, attempting to change international borders in Europe via the use of force several years ago and still being a relevant player in the field. Next to that, the growing political, economic, and military influence of a rising China cannot be underestimated by governments in Europe (Barrie et al., 2020, pp. 1-18).

4 The global population puts more and more pressure on earth’s resources because it is consistently growing. Weather events increase in magnitude and prevalence and the rise of sea levels will affect populations living in lower areas on the planet. This will confront populations with the serious threat of flooding. Climate change aggravates the situation regarding the availability of natural resources, and degrading resilience of ecosystems. Changing landscapes in the arctic areas and geopolitical interests occur about gas resources or minerals, leading to tensions. This all is amplified through the effects of climate change (Dortland et al., 2019, pp. 1-10).

5 Examples are e.g. the enlargement of agricultural land, wildlife trade, hunting activities, and forest clearing (Club of Rome, 2020, URL).

6 The Club of Rome is a renowned Think Tank, focusing its work on climate change and the ‘Limits to Growth’ since decades. The Club of Rome consists of a.o. high-level politicians, government officials, diplomats, scientists, economists, and corporation leaders from around the globe (Wikipedia – Club of Rome, 2020, URL).

7 As an example, experts in biology or hydrology can perform assessments of the ecosystem, political scientists could analyse governance structures, etc. Another recommendation includes the promotion of cooperation between military organizations, especially regarding best practices (Dortland et al., 2019, pp. 1-10).

8 This refers to a supranational entity like the EU in this context.

9 Alexander Verbeek is a Dutch environmentalist, who has mostly worked on the linkage between security and the earth's accelerating environmental crisis. He created the Planetary Security Initiative (PSI) and is Policy Director at the Environment & Development Resource Centre in Brussels. He is connected as associate or fellow to several environmental or security institutions and the universities of Yale and Uppsala (Verbeek, 2019, URL).

10 Verbeek statest that “a classic enemy is fought by the military, while every other institution in a country prepares for the consequences of the enemy’s actions. For climate change it is the other way around: diplomats, businesses, environmentalists, and everybody else should fight climate change. Meanwhile the military should prepare for the consequences of climate change on security.” (Verbeek, 2019, URL).

11 Considering the EU, there could be a Planetary Security Officer on (national) government level and at EU level, all connected and collaborating with each other and driving forward a possible planetary security agenda in the future - in very general terms and without going into detail about concrete tasks and orientation.

12 The ongoing coronavirus crisis elucidates that pandemics - as part of the multitude of threats and challenges for the global community - emphasizes the necessity for a planetary security approach.

Excerpt out of 19 pages


Planetary Security. How does climate change relate to global conflict?
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
Planetary security, International security, Security, Defence, Climate change
Quote paper
Stefan Raul (Author)Reimar Weissbach (Author)Dr. Benjamin Rosskopf (Author)Hannah Stiegler (Author), 2020, Planetary Security. How does climate change relate to global conflict?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: Planetary Security. How does climate change relate to global conflict?

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free