For most people, when climate change is mentioned, their thoughts immediately go towards paper straws, reusable coffee cups, and Greta Thunberg.
But in recent years, mainstream understanding surrounding climate change has undergone great changes.
Deeper understanding of the implications of climate change has become more accessible, and subsequently our patterns of living and consumption have changed; albeit slowly.
In academic circles climate change is often viewed in terms of its threats to national and economic security, especially to Western nations.
Human security, in fact, faces a huge threat as a result of global warming and all that entails. Although human security is rarely, if ever, mentioned in climate change discourse, and environmental protection legislation as espoused by international governance organisations such as the UN.
Human Security covers seven key areas; economic, food, health, environmental, personal, community and political security. Climate change will ultimately have an impact on each one of these seven areas if no action is taken.
In some regions, this is already happening. Water security is a major issue in the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa due to climate change induced droughts and changes to precipitation patterns. Whereas community security is a concern for pacific island nations such as Kiribati and Tuvalu, that face the risk of rising sea-levels consuming their homelands. This becomes increasingly worrisome when we remember that refugee status cannot be granted as a result of climate induced human insecurity.
Real issues, global implications
As Western nations do not feel the immediate risk of climate change, they can seen to be guilty of neglecting the importance of human security in climate change discussion and policy.
While we do not face the same immediate risks, the threat to human security will be acutely felt in this part of the world in coming decades.
Climate change is a global security threat with global implications. As such it requires a global response.
Two key global intergovernmental organisations that regularly produce discourse and policy on climate change around state security are the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
The UNFCCC focuses on further reduction of emission of greenhouse gasses, as laid out in the legislation of the 2015 Paris Agreement.
Much of the analysis put forth by the UNFCCC is embedded in cost-effectiveness logic, with economic concerns being a key motivation in their climate change policies.
While the Paris Agreement was heralded as the beginning of a new era of climate change policy, it in fact falls incredibly short of what is required.
The agreement itself is inherently vague, that promises to do something, eventually!
While it sets out C02 targets to kerb emissions, each signatory sets their own targets and their own timelines, with the USA failing to even ratify the agreement.
Realistically, we are still yet to witness policy from the UNFCCC that pays explicit attention to human security.
The most recent of the IPCC’s five reports on climate change, was published in 2014.
The body is the leading scientific authority on climate change, and its reports assess the causes, consequences and potential responses to climate change since its inception in 1998.
The 2014 report, importantly, does explicitly highlight that climate change is a direct threat to human security.
Although academics such as Flottum, Gasper and St. Clair (2016) highlight that ‘the reporting, opportunities, and options for action remain underdeveloped.’ Perhaps a reason for this is that richer countries, like those in the western world, are expected to adapt and afford the coming changes.
Western countries have seemingly robust economies and massive armies, giving a sure sense of security. Nevertheless, human security is not synonymous with national security.
Human insecurity as a result of climate change is often perceived as a problem of others by the richest countries in the world.
The richest countries in the world, such as India, China, Brazil, Australia and the USA, are the biggest contributors to climate change.
They have the biggest impact on environmental security, they have a lot of power in global relations, and they pay the smallest price.
While it is true that the specific implications of climate change are not universal, there are varying degrees of vulnerability and also responsibility, both between countries and within countries.
This hinders global institutions such as the UNFCCC and IPCC from formulating adequate policy for the protection of human security.
As an international security threat, it is simply a process of logic that climate change would be considered and dealt with at an international level.
However, human security and environmental concerns are consistently shunned in favour of traditional concepts of notions centered upon economic concerns and bundled within national borders.
There is hope and optimism that something will be achieved at the international level, but it seems increasingly unlikely.
Human security should be protected to the best of our collective abilities, human life should always be the main concern in security policy. If human life is not protected, nation-states, borders and economies become obsolete. Discourse must change so that national and economic concerns no longer trump human security concerns.
The current COVID-19 Pandemic has further highlighted just how interdependent our global health security actually is.
In so-called ‘normal times,’ the international system is slow-moving and cumbersome, but as the world grapples with Covid-19 and the resulting economic issues, it is likely that climate change and human insecurity is destined to be pushed further down the list of urgent concerns.
Human security is suffering now, and people across the globe are struggling because of the climate change induced by our modern way of living and consumption.
Cara MacSherry is from Omagh, Co. Tyrone. She graduated from QUB with a degree in International Politics and Conflict Studies.