Why isn’t climate change seen as geopolitical risk?

Yesterday the Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy released its annual list of top geopolitical risks for 2019. While themes like cyberwarfare, the US-China relationship, and the rise of populism made the ranking we were surprised to see that there was no mention of climate change. In 2018 we saw unprecedented droughts in much of the world but especially across Europe and Australia (as well as continuing drought in Africa and the Caribbean) and a major city (Cape Town) came within inches of completely running out of water. In addition, the migrant caravan of Central American refugees seeking asylum in the United States was fueled by gang violence but experts say the deep underlying cause is actually due to climate change which is forcing farmers off their land and pushing millions of people deeper into poverty (we saw something similar happen in the Syria conflict which led to the rise of ISIS). These, along with countless other, climate change-derived issues will only continue to grow more dire as our planet warms–the bad news is that 2018 was the 4th hottest year on record with numerous countries and cities reaching all-time highs that even led to national emergencies in several cases. 

The UN itself has even said that climate change has the capacity to completely destabilize our planet if proper action isn’t taken especially by wealthy nations (i.e. the ones who would pay most attention to the Eurasia Group report). Here is some more evidence that climate change should make the top of every geopolitical risk ranking:

Why This Matters: As climate policy expert, Michelle Melton, wrote for Lawfare recently, “The question for the next hundred years is not, “are disparities politically and economically manageable?” but, “can the global order, premised on the nation-state system, itself based on territorial sovereignty, survive in a world in which substantial swathes of territory are potentially uninhabitable?”” If we don’t have an inhabitable planet capable of sustaining the world’s population then nothing else matters. What’s startling is how many people don’t see climate change as an immediate and existential threat or one that will harm them personally. We drastically need to dispel that mindset and we get there by having trusted institutions take climate risk seriously themselves.

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