At the July 8 Vulnerable Twenty or V20 Summit, leaders from the world’s most climate-vulnerable countries called on rich nations to fulfil their pledge to provide $100 billion in climate finance per year to help poorer countries deal with the effects of climate change.
In a statement to the V20 summit, United Nations Secretary General António Guterres warned that current adaptation costs for developing countries which are around $70 billion a year could soar to $300 billion a year by 2030. “Developing countries need reassurance that their ambition will be met with much-needed — and still lacking — financial and technical support,” he said, calling on rich countries to “clarify now how they will effectively deliver $100 billion in climate finance annually to the developing world, as was promised over a decade ago.”
The V20 represents countries from the larger Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF), whose 48 members are the most exposed to the impacts of the climate crisis. Founded by Maldives in 2009, the CVF has several South Asian members including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Maldives, Nepal and Bhutan.
In her speech at the V20 summit, the CVF’s current chair Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina stressed the importance of developed economies helping the CVF countries “by closing the existing financial gaps in protecting climate-induced disasters. Financial support is needed to introduce smart insurance premium subsidies and capitalization of insurance products for CVF countries.” The international community “should recognize the vulnerability of our people,” she said, stressing that rich countries have “historical responsibilities and moral obligations” to help poorer countries.
South Asia is already seeing the impact of global warming and climate change. Global warming has already forced over 18 million people to migrate within the region. ActionAid International and Climate Action Network South Asia have warned in a recent report that rising sea-levels and drought could displace nearly 63 million people in the region by 2050. This figure is an underestimation as it doesn’t include those who will be compelled to flee sudden natural disasters like floods and cyclones to which most South Asian countries find themselves historically vulnerable.
During the four years of the Donald Trump presidency, the U.S. was hardly visible in the international climate finance arena. That appears to be changing.
Signaling the priority and urgency his administration would accord to the climate change issue, U.S. President Joe Biden signed an executive order soon after taking office in January directing the federal government to make climate change an integral part of its foreign and national security policy, calling for the preparation of a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) to comprehend better the magnitude of the climate change threat before making allocations from the military budget.
This means that 18 different agencies ranging from the Central Intelligence Agency to the year-old Space Force are now collaborating to answer how climate change might affect U.S. bases abroad and the security landscape for the U.S .and its allies. The NIE will provide the U.S. government with input on how climate change will multiply threats to international security.
Currently, military planning for climate change does not account for consideration of “threat to habitats and species,” but focuses on social strife and state collapse in regions already suffering from scarce resources and ethnic friction.
The securitization of climate change carries both good and bad implications.
A sharp focus opens up the multi-billion-dollar defense budget for humanitarian use and paves the way for efficient and accurate implementation of projects toward achieving the desired climate adaptation and mitigation impacts in different parts of the world.
But an increased security focus risks turning the most climate-vulnerable entities into security threats, as stranded climate refugees become yet another vehicle for non-state actors to weaponize. Perpetuation of the securitization view, nonetheless, will likely lead to an inward-looking strategy that only seeks to leverage U.S. interests vis-à-vis a global problem, as opposed to a concerted global effort that climate-vulnerable South Asian countries have long been demanding.
Speaking at a 2013 American Security Project seminar, Major General Muniruzzaman, a career military officer from Bangladesh, pointed out that climate change does not respect natural borders. The Langley Air Force base will need similar coastal embankments that are currently being used in many rural parts of Bangladesh to adapt to rising river levels.
The military can only be an effective reactionary tool if the security community views the problem equally as a humanitarian crisis of mammoth proportions, drawing necessary lines between the securitization and the humanitarian in security strategies.
That will require the U.S. National Security Strategy to get the framing right at the outset: Protection of U.S. interests should include solving the climate change crisis for the most climate-vulnerable, particularly in South Asia.
The burden-of-proof is simple: historical inequality ensured that while the global North believes in equal responsibility to fight against climate change, most climate-vulnerable countries in South Asia believe in differentiated responsibilities, especially since the big countries have historically polluted more. The facts make their case, too. Bangladesh, for instance, emits 209 million metric tons of greenhouse gas every year as opposed to 5.9 billion metric tons the U.S. does. Even if South Asian countries agree to the equal responsibility principle, the costs of adjusting to cleaner technology can easily spike up the budget beyond affordability.
The inability to address climate change with big budgets and the lack of emergent technologies to mitigate the impacts, or even decarbonize, have only amplified the belief that climate-vulnerable countries can only do so much.
A military focus on climate change with a deep pocket will not only be able to bankroll more climate adaptation projects in countries like Bangladesh but can also move them towards climate mitigation aided by technological innovations. With more funds, the U.S. can ensure effective adoption of cleaner technology.
Countries like Bangladesh, which are faring better against the rising sea levels, have already shown keen interest to adopt environment-friendly technology. However, the odds are heavily stacked against them: It will take the U.S. an estimated $4.5 trillion dollars to shift to renewable energy 100 percent in this decade. If Bangladesh chooses to only shift 10 percent of its energy production to renewables, the cost would be at least $450 billion.
Introduction of cleaner technology will require rethinking and adapting the entire electricity grid, Sohara Mehroze, a student of Environmental Change and Management at Oxford University told The Diplomat. There are other associated costs as well, for instance, changing the mode of electricity generation will also require redress for job losses for a just transition. The economy will need to adapt to absorb such shocks in the short-term, she said.
The fight to contain global temperature rise within 1.5 degrees is a steep uphill battle. But it can get slightly easier if the Biden administration adopts a strategy that unifies the world to solve a global problem, and aligns U.S. policies not only to significantly reduce its own emissions but to decisively install change in South Asia’s energy production. The cat-and-mouse game of shared versus differentiated responsibilities will continue for decades if the essence of policy success – all roads must lead towards saving the climate-vulnerable – is not clearly outlined and achieved.