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

Essays and Interviews
Caitlin E. Werrell
Francesco Femia

Climate change and its attendant impacts on natural resources have tra- ditionally been treated as a “soft security” issue—a challenge to be managed, but not necessarily a disruptive factor in international security. Until recently, climate change was primarily the domain of specialized negotiators, such as environmental ministers and individuals present at the United Nations Frame- work Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). However, this has begun to change. In response to a growing body of research demonstrating a significant relationship between a changing climate and state fragility, the foreign policy and security establishments of a growing number of nations have become increasingly concerned. A flurry of national security strategies, defense papers, and intel- ligence assessments have suggested that climate change is a “threat multiplier” and an “immediate risk to national security.” Although security establishments have been attuned to climate change risks since at least 2003, the number of strategy, planning, and implementation documents addressing climate change risks to security has increased significantly in recent years. A reasonable ques- tion follows: What does this mean for state sovereignty and the world order that rests on that foundation? This article is a preliminary attempt at answering this question. Its general conclusion is that climate change, by exacerbating stresses on the natural resources that sustain the nation-state, presents a significant threat to state sovereignty and world order.