The issue of climate change has long been discussed by states around the world. As the issue becomes more prominent, the threat of climate change must be understood and the necessary response agreed by all.
International organisations, domestic governments, media outlets, and non-governmental organisations have all played a part in securitising the invisible war against climate change. Securitisation as a process allows a state or, in this case, a network of interconnected states to transform an issue into a security threat. This in turn allows for extreme measures to be taken, mitigating said threat.
The securitisation has taken many forms, ranging from international law to domestic policies. The Paris Agreement (2015) is a clear example of how climate change has been securitised on an international level; a mutual understanding has been provided and a clear dialogue created to discuss the issues. The collective understanding is that a response to the threat is essential to securitisation. The Paris Agreement provided this, with 195 states, including the UK, signing the treaty. The Paris Agreement has not fully securitised climate change by any means, however it is a huge step in that direction. Climate change has been an issue for a long time, recognised by numerous states. The securitisation of climate change starts with recognition of the issue, then a reaction: the Paris Agreement. In short, the treaty outlined a clear goal for states: to reduce their contribution to climate change, therefore stopping the global temperature rising by more than two degrees, with a further emphasis on 1.5 degrees where possible.
Securitisation has unfolded as states have agreed that climate change is a threat to their security, with the potential to compromise their domestic policies on economics, migration, society, welfare, and so on. Although each state that signed the treaty acknowledges this threat, the level of threat perceived by each state varies.
For example, the Alliance of Small Island States experiences higher threats due to rising sea levels. It is essential to recognise that the commitment demonstrated by states reflects the level of threat they perceive.
This influences the way states deal with the issue. The Paris Agreement allows for perceptual differences creating legal obligations to the agreed target of temperature change, while allowing space for individual domestic policy.
Securitisation is clear as this process relies on the collective understanding which, in practice, is almost impossible to achieve. However, the Paris Agreement is a successful tool in the securitisation of climate change as it creates a mutual agreement and collective understanding by the states.
It can be argued the UK has securitised climate change domestically. The Government has passed legislation committing the country to reducing carbon emissions relative to that of 1990 by 100% by 2050, commonly referred to as ‘net zero’.
Although the policy attempts to contribute towards the global target outlined in the Paris Agreement, the UK was not legally obliged to reduce emissions by 100% and could have taken alternative measures. As climate change has been securitised domestically, however, the UK government was able to draft policy to reduce the level of threat.
The policy implemented in the UK, such as banning the sale of fossil fuel cars by 2030, will affect many people everyday. The effects could damage the economy with job losses due to the limited number of electrical car manufactures in the UK and the increased costs that businesses will incur. Nevertheless it can be observed that the securitisation of climate change has taken place, thus leading to this policy. This subsequently might have negative economic consequences, but this is viewed as acceptable as the threat of climate change is mitigated by policy and mutually agreed by citizens, as they elected the Government and granted them the legitimacy to implement policy.
Securitisation is a useful process to tackle a large-scale issue such as climate change as mutual agreement and collective understanding is the best weapon a state can deploy when fighting an invisible security threat. As such, climate change has become securitised internationally using legally binding obligations, while simultaneously being securitised domestically through government legislation. Therefore a legitimacy to intervene is created, which leads to legislation and government policy designed to reduce the threat. Overall framing climate change through a security lens is positive, because it directly affects nations and their citizens – similarly to an ordinary security threat. As the issue is securitised further it would be reasonable to assume a greater understanding and agreement on retaliation will arise, furthermore reducing the level of threat and eradicating climate change altogether.
Bailey Gould studies International Relations and Politics at Sheffield Hallam University.