Climate Change, the Erosion of State Sovereignty, and World Order

In News, Security by

The Centre for Climate Change & Security takes a long hard look at how the whole concept of a nation-state may be undermined by climate change, given that nation-states started during a period of climate stability. Changing climatic conditions mean fundamental changes to the distribution of natural resources. We’re already seeing major refugee crises as parts of the world become untenably arid due to drought. What happens to nation-states as these changes get more extreme?

The formation and spread of the nation-state has occurred during a relatively stable climatic period—an 11,000-year-plus epoch referred to by geologists as the Holocene. The Holocene, thought to be the longest warm and “stable” climatic period of the last 400,000 years, may have played a significant role in facilitating the development of human civilization. The epoch encompasses the advent of agriculture, the rise and fall of empires and monarchs, and the birth and spread of the nation-state to all corners of the globe. In short, all of modern civilization occurred within the Holocene. In this context, the foundation for the current system of nation-states rests in part on a common assumption that the baseline climatic and natural-resource conditions present until today will generally continue. The flaw in this assumption is that atmospheric conditions, due to human activity, have shifted in an unprecedented way since the mid-20th century, and are changing rapidly. This phenomenon, coupled with massive demographic changes, has led some to assert that that the Earth may have entered a new epoch called the “Anthropocene.” The rapid changes inherent in this epoch could stress the very foundations of the modern nation-state system…

The complete article is available as a PDF. It suggests that without a global policy framework to address the destabilizing nature of climate change, the world is likely to see more and more countries struggle to adapt, by becoming more politically fractured, more economically and agriculturally dependent on external resources, sinking into conflict, or disappearing altogether.