Climate change, tipping elements and security

Climate change is increasingly being described as a threat to international (as well as ‘human’) security. We examine the claim that it is the so-called ‘tipping elements’ of the Earth System which constitute the most important threats. Three examples of suggested tipping elements, (1) de-stabilization of the West-Antarctic Ice Cap, (2) acidifi cation of the upper layers of the ocean and (3) die-back of the Amazon rain forest, are used to illustrate the ways in which tipping elements may cause insecurity, in various meanings of the term. Further, the use of the tipping element/point metaphor as a means of communicating the risks and uncertainties associated with climate change is discussed, and it is compared to the alternative terminology used by IPCC. Subsequently, we discuss the extent to which the use of the tipping element/point metaphor constitutes ‘securitization’ of climate change, and whether or not such securitization, in ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ versions, is desirable. It is concluded that while ‘hard securitization’, presumably involving use of force, is unlikely to be relevant, ‘soft securitization’ may be realistic – and even necessary – in order to mobilize the reform of international political institutions required to deal effi ciently with climate change in general and tipping elements specifi cally.

Rasmussen K., & Birk T., 2012. Climate change, tipping elements and security. National Security and Human Health Implications of Climate Change, NATO Science for Peace and Security Series C: Environmental Security pp. 39-48. Article (subscription required).

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