Responding to Climate Change 2007
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  During the heat wave in August 2003 France experienced a 60% increase in excess mortality. No relief plans were in place for the city of Paris (pictured) despite more than 6,000 excess deaths having been registered after a heat wave in 1977. Framing climate change in terms of human security shifts the focus of risk reduction to individuals and communities, and from there to institutional, state, and international responses.

Human Security and Climate Change

Global Environmental Change and Human Security Project (GECHS)

Climate change heralds potentially profound changes to the global environment with broad implications for human society. Actions to mitigate or adapt to climate change are unlikely to be taken until societies are convinced the potential changes are worth avoiding. While much research has been carried out to identify the impacts of climate change on different sectors and ecosystems, the issue has been consistently framed in research and policy realms as a question of the natural environment and its relationship to large aggregated groups such as the ‘world’ and its regions and countries. Yet climate change differentially influences individuals, communities, and social groups and there is a consequential impact on human security.

Human security affects how individuals and communities manage stresses that influence their needs, rights, and values. Climate change is a security problem when it undermines the needs, rights, and values important to individuals and communities. The Global Environmental Change and Human Security (GECHS) project is a core project of the International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Change (IHDP). GECHS positions environmental change resulting from human activities and natural processes within the larger socioeconomic and political contexts that cause environmental change and that shape the capacity of communities to cope and respond. The project seeks to bridge the gulf between science and practice by linking with policymakers and civil society groups in both developing and developed countries.

Research on the biophysical consequences of climate change is a strong foundation for understanding how climate change will influence the earth systems. However, there is also a need for a more comprehensive understanding of how climate change may affect different social groups and the ways they can respond to both change and uncertainty. Such social science perspectives raise concerns about resource distribution and access, the social construction of nature and scarcity, the role of institutions in resisting, managing or promoting change, and the relationship between climate change and other processes, such as globalisation, poverty, disease, and conflict.

Vulnerable Societies

Seen through the lens of human security, climate change becomes an issue of equity, ethics, political and economic power, human rights, and sustainable development. Not everyone contributes equally to the causes of climate change, and not everyone has an equal voice in determining appropriate responses, nor an equal capacity to respond. There are important questions about vulnerability and adaptive capacity, and how individuals and groups may be differentially affected by changes to the biophysical environment. Examples of key research questions include: “Whose security is threatened?”; “How are insecurities perpetuated?” and “How are responses constrained or facilitated by institutions and existing power structures?”

Within the context of the UNFCCC, an array of responses has been proposed and each will have implications for human security. Both mitigation and adaptation are likely to raise issues of justice and fairness, and responses will themselves have positive or negative implications for human security and environmental sustainability. All adaptation measures are not equal; some may potentially reduce vulnerability for a given community while increasing it for another. This can be seen in efforts to manage water supplies under changing climate conditions, where water storage and irrigation schemes can affect the livelihoods of downstream users. The capacity to adapt is tied to many factors, including access to financial resources and technology, education, and the characteristics of institutions. It is also intricately linked to political representation and access to power.

Impacts of globalisation

Human security shifts the security discourse away from nation-states and towards individuals and communities. And while climate change does matter for some people more than others, human security is interlinked across both space and time. Globalisation, characterised by expanding linkages and interconnections between people that often transcend geopolitical borders, often means that insecurities of one group or community can have discernible impacts on others, whether through trade, investment, tourism, media, or other forms of interaction. Interconnectivities may also lead to compassion among disparate individuals and a shared concern for the future. Human security research acknowledges that diverse values, beliefs, and world views may influence responses to climate change, but that an underlying concern for human security and sustainability must form the basis for responding.

It is essential for the growing community that is engaged with the issue of climate change-including nongovernmental organisations (NGOs,) civil society, researchers, policymakers, and practitioners-to consider climate change within the context of the larger challenges of equity and sustainable development, and to identify the opportunities and possibilities for generating an alternative, and more secure, future.

Global Environmental Change and Human Security Project: click for web site Karen O’Brien, Jon Barnett, and Lynn Rosentrater
Global Environmental Change and Human Security Project
Tel.: +47 22 84 43 86
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