Climate change is a security issue. How can we make sure climate security receives the attention it needs?

Climate change is a security issue. How can we make sure climate security receives the attention it needs?


Shirin Hakim and Miriam Aczel, who recently co-organised a Grantham Institute event about climate change, low-carbon transitions and security, reflect on why climate change is a security issue and the next steps for researchers and policymakers .  

While climate change and security have traditionally been examined in isolation, climate is increasingly entering the policy arena as a national security issue. The impacts of global warming are far-reaching. Extreme weather like droughts and flooding impact crop yields and water resources; threaten vital facilities and infrastructure; and even force people to leave their homes to meet their basic needs – becoming ‘climate refugees’These kinds of impacts exacerbate existing pressures on human wellbeing and national security, which is why climate change is often described as a ‘threat multiplier’. 

Initiatives such as the Planetary Security Initiative (PSI), launched in 2015, are dedicated to elevating the climate security debate. PSI hosts annual conferences bringing together politicians, researchers and policymakers to discuss current climate security risks, creating a community to drive the agenda forward. However, there are still few professionals speaking out on these issues in the policy context. Camilla Born, Senior Policy Advisor at E3G, warns this lack of actors on the ground in the climate security space is a critical issue. 

How can the research community help trigger more action on climate change and security? 

Funding bodies and governments must take climate-related threats to security seriously
Climate and security issues need to find space in academic communities. Funding should be channeled specifically to support the advancement of this field.  

Establish standard definitions to describe the climate-security nexus, and focus research on defining climate-induced migration and refugee status
There is great debate amongst scholars, policymakers and relevant stakeholders over definitions in the field of climate security. For example, the term climate refugee in the policy sphere may have a very different definition to how it is used in the context of academia. This is incredibly problematic when it comes to translating research into policy. To advance this field properly, there must be standard terms and definitions.  

Create a collaboration-driven research agenda and discussion platform.
Rather than operating independently in silos, academics, policymakers and other relevant stakeholders need to work together to develop the climate security field further. A collaborative space should be created, to expand understanding of the climate-security nexus, and to deliver informed, enduring climate policies that protect human rights. 

Create more opportunities for practitioners focusing on climate security at academic institutions, within national governments and in the policy sphere. 
While there is an increasing number of scholars examining climate-security issues, their findings are not always used in the most effective way. More jobs need to be dedicated to translating academic findings from the climate-security nexus into meaningful advice for actors on the ground on actions that they can take. For example, local governments need to recognisthat the impacts of climate change can have an impact on security, and establish a post or ministerial position dedicated to addressing these issues in the future.   

Panel of 6 speakers, 5 female one male, in front of the Grantham Institute banner
Grantham Institute event: “Climate as a security issue: challenges and opportunities”

We recently convened an event that bought together researchers with policymakers and leading figures from NGOs to bridge the gap between these different communities and create a more effective dialogue – and it was clear there is a real appetite for more collaboration. By encouraging dialogue with wide groups of stakeholders, and promoting further research and discussion among researchers, policy makers and global citizens, we can better prepare for both the environmental and human impacts of climate change. And this will undoubtedly help us move towards greater climate resilience, as well as global security and stability.   

To find out more about climate change, low-carbon transitions, and security, read our briefing paper.


The event was co-organised 
by Miriam Aczel and Shirin Hakim, PhD researchers at the Centre for Environmental Policy working under the supervision of Karen Makuch,  with the assistance of the Grantham Institute.  

With thanks to our Chair Dr. Amiera Sawas, Senior Research and Policy Specialist at ActionAid UK, and our speakers Dr. Ayesha Siddiqi, Lecturer in Geography at Royal Holloway University of London, Camilla Born, Senior Policy Advisor at E3G, Dr. Louise von Schaik, Head of the Clingendael International Sustainability Centre and Senior Research Fellow at Clingendael Institute, Dr. Naho Miramuchi, Senior Lecturer in Geography at King’s College London and Jan Selby, Professor of International Relations, and Director of the Sussex Centre for Conflict and Security Research.  


Editor’s note: this article originally appeared on Imperial College London’s Grantham Institute for Climate Change blog at


Shirin Hakim is a PhD Candidate at Imperial College London’s Centre for Environmental Policy, and a member of The Grantham Institute Science and Solutions for a Changing Planet Doctoral Training Partnership (SSCP DTP). Her research is focused on the impact of economic sanctions on the environment with a focus on Iran.  

Miriam Aczel is a President’s Scholar PhD Candidate at Imperial College London’s Centre for Environmental Policy. Her research focus is on international energy science and policy, with a focus on mitigation of environmental and health impacts of shale gas. She is also co-founder and co-director of the Amir D. Aczel Foundation for Research and Education in Science and Mathematics, a nonprofit based in Cambodia.

Miriam is Director of Communications and blog editor for Leaders in Energy

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