Heating up: The impact of climate security on the Alliance

Spotlight: Professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber CBE, director emeritus, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK)

Conversation: Her Excellency Erna Solberg, prime minister, Norway

Moderator: Ambassador Boris Ruge, vice chairman, Munich Security Conference

Location:  London, United Kingdom

Time:  1:40 p.m. GMT

Date:  Tuesday, December 3, 2019


HANS JOACHIM SCHELLNHUBER:  So good afternoon, everybody.  I’m going to talk about the elephant in the room, if you like.  At least I’m not going to talk about – uh-huh – 2 percent, but 2 degrees actually.  And there is in parallel now the conference in Madrid on global warming.

So NATO has been around for seventy years now in order to keep the world safe. But we have to ask what type of world will it be in thirty, forty, fifty years from now. And so when you think about global warming, resource depletion, pollution of the oceans, the air, well, this is quite a challenge.  Actually I’ll refer to a slide behind me a little bit later, but since this is an interactive forum, let me ask you two questions:  Who here in the audience thinks – and raise your arms – that you are better off today than your grandparents were?  Raise your hand.  OK, that’s a big showing.  And who thinks that your grandchildren will be better off than you today?  Very few actually.

And this is telling you a big story actually, yeah, because somehow we think we are the golden generation or the golden generations who actually live at the peak of human civilization.  But human civilization is really at threat because of global warming.

So behind me there is a slide.  We published a paper last week actually – it’s a coincidence – in Nature, the leading science journal, on the so-called climate emergency.  And if you think global warming is something which is coming in an incremental way – you know, smoothly, we can adapt to it over hundreds of years – what you see behind me is a cartoon.  These are the vital organs of the planet, if you like.  If global warming keeps on going one degree, two degrees, four degrees, when some of these vital parts of the earth system – we call them tipping elements or tipping points – we’ll be pushed into a new mode of operation.  Greenland ice sheet may melt down, certainly to sea-level rise.  The Indian summer monsoon, if it falters, it will affect 800 million people.  And the Gulf Stream, if it is shut down – and what happened many times in the history of this planet – it will change the climate of Europe.

So I’ll show you how the scientific evidence has changed over the years; so next slide please.  Or actually I can do it myself; that’s even better.  You see, very interactive.  This is a paper I, all, advise you to read.  It’s easy reading, but very scary in a way.  And what we have shown there is the scientific assessment, the IPCC.

So on the left-hand side you have in 2001 when do we think that these tipping points will be transgressed, and you see it’s only when the dark red actually shows up; so between five and six degrees’ warming before this would happen.  When you go through the years, 2007, 2013, and finally 2018, so the last IPCC report, and now you see the danger zone has come down to between one and two degrees.  So it’s precisely the Paris agreement.  And if we keep on doing research, it might be even worse.

What is even worse and what is really risky is that these tipping points might interact to bring about something like a runaway greenhouse effect, or maybe a global tipping point, and we might be pushed into a hothouse earth with five, six or eight degrees’ warming.

Actually, very interesting, because the Norwegian prime minister will follow me.  This cascade of tipping points and hothouse-earth dynamics starts in the Arctic.  So the jet stream may be weakened because of ice melting.  Finally, you will have fires across the Arctic Circle – Siberia, Alaska, as we have seen this year, by the way, Scandinavia.  And this will affect the permafrost and will release methane and CO2 and so on.  So if there is such a vicious circle, it will start in the Arctic.  We have to take good care of it.

Now, let me end with one idea, which is very important.  If we really want to confine global warming to less than two degrees – and this is a hell of a job – then we have to decarbonize global industry during the next thirty years.  That’s a tall order, clearly.  But this will change the geostrategic balance of powers.

Think of Russia, for example.  In the morning everybody talked about Russia.  But without Russia oil and gas to sell will be a different state, of course, while China will rise anyway.  They are not based on oil and gas.  They invest heavily in renewables.  And in the end, they are based on brain power.  So we will have a different strategy on this planet.

So I could talk for hours, of course, and I know you would be very eager to listen.  But I will (dragged ?) away from the stage now.  And I thank you very much for your attention.  (Applause.)

ANNOUNCER:  Ladies and gentlemen, please now welcome to the stage Vice Chairman of the Munich Security Conference, Ambassador Boris Ruge.  (Applause.)


The Munich Security Conference is very proud to be part of NATO Engages.  We’ve worked very hard with our partners, the names of which you can see behind me, to make this event happen.  We’re delighted to have you here; great speakers and a great audience.

Professor Schellnhuber just gave us a sobering presentation, not unlike the one he gave at the Munich Security Conference 10 months ago.  And we at the Munich Security Conference believe very strongly that climate change must be addressed as a security issue.  And that is why we’re pleased to have it on the agenda today.

And we’re very fortunate to have with us Prime Minister Erna Solberg of Norway.  And I would like all of you to welcome the prime minister.  (Applause.)

Thank you for being with us, Prime Minister.


AMB. RUGE:  It’s a real pleasure to have you.  You’ve been prime minister since 2013.


AMB. RUGE:  And climate issues and issues of sustainability have been important topics for you.  So it’s great to have you here.

Before we turn to climate, I would like to ask you very briefly, what is it that you’re looking for from the leaders’ meeting tomorrow?

PRIME MIN. SOLBERG:  Well, first of all, I think we are here to celebrate 70 years of cooperation over the Atlantic for security, for peace.  And I suppose that our biggest aim was to have to remember that for the meeting, because we have had 70 years of securing this.  And even if we have discussions up and down on single issues, there still is a very fundamental, I think, trust that we can deliver on security for all member countries.  And I think that’s the important thing that we’ve been working on the last six years, in fact, in this alliance.

AMB. RUGE:  Thank you.

Now, turning to climate, you and I were listening to the professor’s presentation just now.  And as somebody who has thought about these issues and engaged on them in many different fora, I’d like to ask you for your reaction to what the professor had to tell us.

PRIME MIN. SOLBERG:  Well, I think this is among the issues that we have to start to discuss closer on security issues too.  What will climate change, the heating of the world, mean for insecurity, for different changes?  What new types of challenges?  And some of them are not new.

I mean, we now have a critical discussion and a critical situation in Mali, Burkina Faso.  We have had extremism rising.  But also some of this is fueled by lack of water.  And as you get the herders to move into the areas where the farmers are, and then you’ll end up in a conflict because of the movement of people.  Climate change makes people move, and it changes and it creates new security threats in areas.  It will change economies.  And I think that is also a big aspect of it.  And it will change sea routes and all of this.  And it’s also implicated by the Arctic.

Just before this weekend, there was a news story in Norway saying that the temperature is on average, since 1961 – that’s the year I was born, so through my lifetime – has increased by 0.9 degrees.  In Oslo it has increased by two degrees; in the Arctic by 5.6 degrees.  It’s twice as fast than the mainland, and even more faster than the average, the changes that we’re seeing.  And that will change the structures.  And what we have to do is to see what will be the security implications of those changed structures.

AMB. RUGE:  So when we think of climate change in NATO, something that perhaps people usually don’t think of as connected, how would you see NATO’s role?  It’s primarily, in a sense, a matter of adaptation.  How do we deal with the fallout of climate change?  You talked about the southern neighborhood of NATO, migration, and the impact that can have on our security.  You also mentioned the Arctic.  And perhaps we can explore that a little more.  But is NATO’s role to deal with the fallout?

PRIME MIN. SOLBERG:  I think NATO’s role is to make sure that they analyze the root causes for changes in security in different areas.  I mentioned Mali.  Iraq is also a very difficult issue when it comes to water supply.  The whole Middle East has a water problem for the future, and it will lead to more conflicts in these areas.  And that’s – understanding what happens means that you learn more about security.

I don’t think we will solve this by our defense part of NATO.  But in the political part, it might also give rise to a little bit more discussion on how important is it to stop the change, because that’s what we really have to do is to stop the climate change, is to make sure that we invest now instead of having to really invest a lot in the future to work on the damages.  It’s much less costly to prevent climate change than it will be to adapt to it, and on all levels of our society.

So I think it’s for the political side more than for the military side of it.  But, of course, it’d have to be part of the analysis that you – that you see where the new threats are and what will happen because of that.

AMB. RUGE:  My sense on that – I could be wrong – is that one thing that NATO can bring to this is precisely the analytical side, the assessment side.  I think at the beginning of this year the US Department of Defense issued a study on the impact of climate change on US military installations and the operational impact that has.  So my sense is that if military people write these things up with the credibility they have and say there’s real-life consequences of this – it’s not just an environmental issue, it’s not just something that tree-huggers care about; we as military people see an impact, it undermines our security – do you think that would – that political leaders, heads of state and government ministers will take note if that analysis comes out of the NATO system?

PRIME MIN. SOLBERG:  Yes, and understanding that insecurity is the worst thing for security.  I mean, when things change too much, it’s difficult to plan.  It’s difficult to know how to deal with it.  You know, you have to rethink a lot of the strategies that you have.

And climate change is a big insecurity creator these days because it’s really – and when you have more people – I mean in Africa – you know, migration is a big issue for Europe.  Underlying this, climate change will lead to more migration.  It will lead to more conflicts.  It will lead to less sustainable development in all of the African continent, even though, you know, on the soft-power side the European Union is trying to work together with other countries to create more development in these – in these countries to stop the migration waves.

So I think understanding this and see how that fuels extremism.  Because one thing is of course that there will be a hot spot and conflict between countries, but it fuels extremism and extremism is global.  It’s not local anymore.  It will have global effects.

AMB. RUGE:  Now, the Arctic is an area of particular interest to Norway.  Can you talk a little bit about how climate change has already impacted and what that means for Norwegian security?

PRIME MIN. SOLBERG:  Well, what we see in the Arctic, of course, is that the ice cap is moving further north.  It means that you will have the sea routes open in the north, that will be open because it’s ice-free but not open securitywise.  I mean, if you’re going from Europe to China via the north passage, I mean, it’s – you go by Russia all the way.  And it still is costly.  It’s going to be difficult to have insurance on your – on your trade.  So we don’t really see that much happening.  We discuss it more than what really is happening these days because of costs on that.  What you do see is that it increases economic activity in those areas.  It increases fisheries, tourism.

So we don’t really look upon the challenges in the Arctic these days as new security issues.  The new things are, in fact, safety issues.  It’s about rescue.  It’s about safety.  It’s about making sure that you can search and rescue people who are there.  I mean, a big – a big cruise ship having problems in the Arctic area is going to be a very challenging thing.  So we have to think through all of these things.

But the Arctic has always been an area for Russian operations.  They have been testing their military equipment there all the time.  It’s not a new thing, the military activity.  The new thing is that the civil activity is increasing in these areas and leads to – those of us who are countries who have responsibility in those areas, we have economic zones, we have to plan more for what we’re doing, and probably have to regulate more what we are doing in these areas.

AMB. RUGE:  Earlier in the day we had Secretary-General Stoltenberg here, a fellow Norwegian, and he spoke about the Arctic as well, and he said China was also active in the Arctic.  And perhaps we can turn to China for just one second, because it appears that China will be part of the discussion among leaders tomorrow.

And China is seen as the great-power competitor.  It’s the rising power extending its influence beyond Asia in a number of ways.  So it’s a competitor on the one hand.  But when we look to the issue of climate change, it’s obvious that we will not get a handle on climate change unless we find some way of bringing China onboard, cooperating with China, using Chinese – the Chinese potential for innovation.  Can you describe how you see China if you look at it from this meeting and also with regard to climate change?

PRIME MIN. SOLBERG:  Well, in the view of climate change, we will not solve the issues without having the big emitters onboard.  I said it in Madrid when the – when the COP opened yesterday.  We need to have the big emitters onboard, and they need to have stronger national targets the next year.  They have to do that, and China is one of them.

The US is one of them, which we would hope for getting back into the climate discussions again, but all of the big emitters have to participate in that because they are still opening new coal mines to fuel the energy needs of China.  So we can do a lot in other countries, but if China is not onboard, it will be difficult.

And I believe that the Chinese are thinking seriously about this among – one of the reasons is, of course, because of the congestions in their – and the air pollution in their own cities.  It’s harming the health of Chinese people.  So there is a mixture of reasons, but I think they are onboard with this.

When it comes to the economic activity of China, of course they are innovative, they are – all our businesses are working closely with them on different issues.  It’s a big market, but it’s also a big technology developer these days.  And I think there is a need to drag China into these international organizations, through the multilateral organization, and work together with them, both on climate change but also on all of the other issues that leads to lowering tensions in the world.

When it comes to the Arctic, I think, what we mainly see now from our side is that the Chinese, in their research work – on research and polar research – is very interested in the Arctic.  And it’s important to remember that the earth’s orbit is the shortest on the poles.  That means that if you are looking at what happens in space and satellites, this is also an important issue for a lot of countries to be active in that area.  And of course they are, on oil and gas.

AMB. RUGE:  Thank you, Prime Minister.

Now we have a short seven minutes left, and I want to bring in the audience.  And specifically, I’d like to discriminate against all who are older than thirty-five years – (laughter) – so if we can have some under-35s sticking up their hands with questions – and do we have a mic somewhere?  I’m looking – so we have one question right here, and I’d like to take two or three questions in a row.

Q:  I have two for –

AMB. RUGE:  No, that’s – (laughter) – yeah, that’s right.  Please?

Q:  Hello.  My name is Richard Griesse (ph). I’m from the University of Munich.

And my question to the prime minister is what role Svalbard – if I’m pronouncing it correctly – is going to play in the Arctic, and how Norway is going to act as possibly a broker or an actor in the struggle over the Arctic.

Thank you.

AMB. RUGE:  Two more questions – under-35s.  There’s one over there.

Q: My name is Connor (sp) and I’m a student at the University of Glasgow.

We’re seeing rising movements of young people about climate change, but the political leaders don’t seem to be reflecting the urgent needs to act on it.  Do we need to see our political leaders take action and kind of bring some uncomfortable truths and uncomfortable laws to society to make us change because, at the moment, we don’t seem to be doing it by choice and for our actions.  So that’s my question.

AMB. RUGE:  And we have a young lady over here.

Q:  Hello.  My name is Ekaterina (sp), and I’m part of the Atlantic Club of Bulgaria, our youth organization.  So our organization – and the seniors and the younger ones – have been working on the Bulgarian presence on the Arctic, and we will be happy to also cooperate with Norway on that issue.  But for that reason we will be happy also Norway to open its embassy in Sofia and not to be – (inaudible).

AMB. RUGE:  So will there be an embassy in Sofia is your question, OK.

Then I’d like one more question.  Is there another – young lady here.  Pass on the mic.  And if you could keep the questions to the point, please.

Q:  OK.  Hello.  I’m Sofia (sp).  I’m from – (inaudible) – Portugal.

Being that Norway is a role model regarding a total defense system, how can you apply some measures to tackle or to respond to climate change challenges?  Thank you.

AMB. RUGE:  Thank you.

Prime Minister?

PRIME MIN. SOLBERG:  First of all, let me start by the Arctic.  There is no – there is no battle over the Arctic.  The Arctic is a well-regulated area.  It’s regulated by the Law of the Sea, and there is a U.N. commission that decides on where the economic zones go.  So those who believe that this is a wilderness place where there’s no law that applies, there are laws and there are caretakers, and nine countries are the main caretakers in the Arctic Council.  So it’s important to say that this is not a free zone for people to do activity.  It’s under national authority and its role.

And Svalbard is part of the Norwegian – of Norway.  It has a special treaty around it, but it’s a part of our country.  And what we do there is that we try – first of all, most of this is vulnerable nature, so a lot of it is regulated because of the nature that’s there.  But we are working a lot on cooperation when it comes to research.  There is a large international community of researchers there.  And of course, there is a bit of tourism – a little bit too much, maybe.  We are now trying to look at how we can make sure that it doesn’t – it doesn’t become too much for the nature and the caretaking of the Arctic area.

But there is a well-regulated system for all of this.  The challenge is – of course, as I said, is on the safety issues because when there are more tourists, more boats, it’s difficult, you know.  We have a small hospital, we have – we have some transportation means, but we cannot rescue a whole cruise line up there if something really goes wrong.  It’s going to be quite difficult.

If we are too comfortable, we as world leaders.  I think that depends on who are the leaders that are facing climate change.  I believe – and I sincerely believe that there is a big responsibility that most national leaders feel today.  But there is also a problem between the shortsightedness in politics and the long sights, and it’s difficult to get a compromise.  And I was in a panel in Madrid yesterday talking about just transition, and that’s a big and difficult issue because there will be countries losing jobs.

If you look at what has happened around in riots the last two, three, four months in different parts of the world, it’s one of the guidelines in the work against climate change that people are trying to follow up, is to cut petrol and oil subsidies in countries, and it leads to street riots.  Maybe not only because of that; there’s probably a lot of other reasons why the riots come.  But it says that it’s difficult to do that type of structural changes without really having a public support for it.  That’s why it’s important to engage, it’s important to discuss, it’s important to get people to understand, and it’s important for all of us politicians to understand that we can’t just take – that part of our society take the cost, for example, by losing their jobs, so by getting much more costs because we are putting in policies that are hurting some parts of it.

Even in my country, I have to admit, we have a discussion on – we have a very extensive electrical car policy.  The ones who buy new cars and expensive new electrical cars are quite well off compared to those who would buy their first car and it would be a 10-year-old car and they will not get an electrical car by that.  So it’s sometimes the social distribution connected to it is difficult.

I am – well, we try to be very good working together with Bulgaria, even though we do not have a(n) embassy there.  Sometimes we have to run efficiency also our foreign services.  And I think the total defense system is an important part of working also against, you know, changes and – especially on the – when we are adapting to the more challenging weather systems that you have, that we will get with climate change.  Our total defense system is an important part of it because the civil defense systems have to be increased, I think, in most countries because you get more flooding, avalanches, and all of that.

And I think my time is up.  Yes.

AMB. RUGE:  And our time is up, Prime Minister.  Thank you very, very much for being here.  (Applause.)  We could go on for a long time.  Thank you.

PRIME MIN. SOLBERG:  Thank you.  (Applause.)