Skip to main content

“A code red for humanity”? How should the UK Government tackle the security threats posed by climate change?

18 March 2024

Today the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has launched a new inquiry, ‘Climate change and security’. The inquiry will explore the UK Government’s approach to anticipating, preventing and responding to the threats climate change poses to national security.

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned in 2021 that the global threat level posed by climate change was “a code red for humanity”. Climate change is a major source of global instability, causing and heightening tensions, prolonging conflicts, and polarising nations.

Extreme weather caused by climate change can generate insecurity in food, water and housing, potentially leading to mass displacement within and across borders. It can also threaten physical infrastructure, from naval bases to transport hubs. 

EAC is keen to explore the scale of the challenge that climate change poses to UK security. It is likely to consider how climate change will affect the UK’s national security, including access to natural resources and how the UK should respond to extreme weather events, as well as how the risks to the UK compare to those facing other countries.

The Committee will also consider possible solutions. Members will consider whether the Government’s current plans do enough to mitigate the dangers of insecurity caused by climate change. They will also consider how the UK Government can cultivate cooperation on climate security issues, how funding can be targeted towards adaptation, and the role of technology in addressing potential security issues caused by climate change.

Chair comment

Environmental Audit Committee Chair, Rt Hon Philip Dunne MP, said:

“February was the ninth consecutive month that global temperature records were broken; record breaking temperatures are now a regular part of our lives. At the same time, the world is also growing ever more unstable. Regional conflicts are having knock-on effects across the rest of the world.

“Many might not realise that these two trends are deeply linked. Climate change can prolong instability, and in turn, instability can stifle efforts to address climate change.

“In its next inquiry, the Environmental Audit Committee is examining the true extent of the challenge climate change poses to our national security, and how the UK should best respond. I encourage anyone with views or expertise to give evidence.”

Terms of reference

The Committee invites written submissions addressing any or all of the issues raised in the following terms of reference, by 17:00 on Monday 29th April 2024.

Understanding the challenge

What challenges to UK national and human security are posed by climate change in the next five, ten, and twenty years? In particular:

  1. What is the relationship between climate change and population growth, and what are the effects of this relationship on displacement and population flows, both within the UK and across borders?
  2. How might climate change and its effects affect the UK’s access to natural resources such as water, food, and energy?
  3. How does climate change affect UK infrastructure and land use, including military assets, in ways that create and exacerbate insecurities?
  4. How well prepared is the UK to respond to extreme weather events, such as wildfires and flooding?
  5. How do the risks to the UK compare to those facing other countries?

Potential solutions

What is the UK Government’s current approach to anticipating, preventing and responding to the threats in part 1? How could that approach be strengthened? In particular:

  1. Which solutions would have the largest impact across the widest range of areas for the UK?
  2. What updates to Government policy and strategy documents, such as the National Adaptation Programme, the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy, and the Defence Command Paper, would improve the UK’s ability to address the security implications of climate change?
  3. How can the UK Government fully embed mitigation of security risks in its plans to achieve its targets for climate and the environment?
  4. What technological innovations could strengthen the UK Government’s approach to addressing the security implications of climate change?
  5. How best can funding be targeted towards climate adaptation and emergency response solutions?
  6. What more can the UK Government do to encourage global co-operation on climate security issues? 

Further information 

Image: UK Parliament/Tyler Allicock