The Japan Forum on International Relations

May 07,2024

Growing Interest in Climate Security in Japan

What is “climate security?”

“Climate security” refers to the protection of countries and societies from conflicts and riots caused by climate change.

Climate change-induced environmental changes such as extreme weather events, natural disasters, and sea level rise, or countermeasures such as decarbonization, energy transition, and geoengineering can sometimes lead, through complex causal processes, to insurgency, ethnic conflict, civil war, and even interstate conflict. Especially countries that are highly dependent on agriculture, underdeveloped, or have low governance capabilities are vulnerable to the effects of climate change and are therefore at greater risk for conflicts and riots caused by climate change. (Sekiyama, 2022a)

Japan’s relatively high adaptive capacity to the effects of climate change and the absence of domestic sources of conflict, such as violent ethnic confrontations, make it difficult to imagine climate change causing civil war or large-scale anti-government riots in Japan.

However, Japan could also be exposed to conflict with neighboring countries or a deterioration in domestic security due to (1) intensifying conflicts over territorial rights and exclusive economic zones in the surrounding seas, (2) an increase in climate migrants from Asia-Pacific countries, and (3) economic stagnation due to damage to supply chains and local markets, particularly in Asian countries. (Sekiyama, 2022b)

Security risks emerging along with climate change

These climate security risks will become apparent in the future, along with the effects of climate change. At the same time, the risk of conflict and riots due to climate change is contentious and unclear. Even if conflicts materialize due to climate change, it would not occur today or tomorrow.

Unfortunately, however, climate change is becoming a reality. According to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which summarizes the latest scientific findings on climate change, the global average temperature has already increased by about 1.1 degrees Celsius compared to the late 19th century, and the increase in annual precipitation and mean sea level have also accelerated. Abnormal weather events such as droughts, heat waves, and torrential rains, which have become increasingly severe around the world in recent years, have also been linked to climate change. (IPCC, 2021)

The effects of climate change will become even more apparent in the future. The world is now striving to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, but even if this is achieved, the global average temperature in the middle of this century (2041~2060) will be 1.2°C to 2.0°C higher than in the late 19th century. If carbon neutrality is not achieved and greenhouse gas growth continues at current levels until the middle of this century, average temperatures are expected to rise 1.6°C to 2.5°C. (ibid)

Heat waves, which occurred only once every 50 years in the 19th century, are 13.9 times more likely to occur when the average temperature increases by a mere 2 °C. Similarly, severe droughts, which occurred only once every 10 years in the 19th century, are 2.4 times more likely to occur in a world where average temperatures have increased by 2°C. (ibid)

Climate security risks become increasingly plausible with these climate change consequences. While this is not a matter of today or tomorrow, climate change may threaten social peace and stability in amplified ways as a “threat multiplier,” and may be irreversible once the gears have been set in motion. In view of the precautionary principle, which is a fundamental principle of environmental policy, acknowledging the existence of climate security risks now and taking proactive steps to avoid them is not a foolish proposition.

Discussions that have taken place in the international community

The threat of conflict and insurgency posed by extreme weather events and natural disasters associated with climate change has caught the attention of not only environmentalists but also security experts around the world.

For instance, since 2007, the UN Security Council has repeatedly discussed the security implications of issues such as climate change, resource, energy, and water depletion, and ecological change. The EU, in its document on Common Foreign and Security Policy, also recognizes that climate change, natural disasters, and environmental degradation have far-reaching effects on the resilience of communities and the ecosystems on which life depends, and have led to numerous conflicts around the world.

Not only government agencies, but also many institutions such as the University of Toronto in Canada, Stanford University in the United States, the Oslo International Peace Research Institute in Norway, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute in Sweden, and the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore have actively pursued research on climate security.

Japan Lags Behind in the Global Debate

In contrast, the concept of climate security was rarely discussed in Japan, with very limited exceptions, until the 2020s.

In fact, in the beginning, Japan was not lagging behind the global trend and began to discuss climate security. The Sub-Committee on International Climate Change Strategy in the Global Environment Committee began discussing climate security as early as February 2007 and compiled a “Report on Climate Security” in May (Ministry of the Environment, 2007). This was around the same time that the UN Security Council first discussed the issue of climate change as noted above, so this was not a late development from an international perspective.

In Japan, however, policy discussions on climate security have not continued since then. For example, a review of environmental white papers from FY 2007 to FY 2019 shows no mention of environmental security or climate security. Similarly, a word search of the Defense White Paper from FY1970 to FY2019 shows no mention of environmental security or climate security.

Perhaps reflecting the lack of such policy interest, climate security has not been the focus of much attention in academic circles in Japan. A keyword search for “climate security” in CiNii Articles, the article index database of the National Institute of Informatics, found a total of only 17 articles for the 20-year period from 2001 to 2021. Compared to the 1,222 results found for “human security,” an approximate concept, the lack of interest in climate security in Japan is striking.

Climate security, however, is not an issue of such low importance that Japan can simply ignore it. Every region of the world is likely to face some climate security risks in the future, possibly a combination of risks. That is why Western countries have been promoting research and discussion on climate security. Japan has been late to join this global discussion.

Growing Interest in Climate Security in Japan

The term “climate security” began to be frequently mentioned in Japan around 2021, when the Nihon Keizai Shimbun and the Asahi Shimbun published a series of columns on the subject in April 2021. Since then, both newspapers have frequently published columns and a series of contributing articles on this topic. The coverage of climate security by these national newspapers has likely made more people aware of this term.

In May 2021, the Ministry of Defense also launched a new “Climate Change Task Force” within the ministry. At the end of August of the same year, the 2021 edition of the Defense White Paper devoted a section to the “Impact of Climate Change on the Security Environment and Military,” mentioning climate security for the first time in its history.

Needless to say, between 2007 and 2021, it was not as though climate security had not been discussed at all in Japan. In January 2017, for example, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs held a roundtable seminar on “Climate Change and Fragility Implications on International Security”. Similarly, in October 2020, Yasuko Kameyama, Director of the Center for Social and Environmental Systems Research at the National Institute for Environmental Studies, and Keishi Ono, Special Researcher at the National Institute for Defense Studies, published a co-authored paper on climate security theory in Japan in an international academic journal and delivered a press conference titled “What is Climate Security?”. These developments likely also stimulated renewed interest in this topic in Japan.

Moreover, the Paris Agreement becoming operational in 2020, paired with the inauguration of President Biden the following year has spurred an international movement to place climate change at the center of the diplomatic security agenda. In addition, the IFRS Foundation, which prepares International Accounting Standards, began to develop a standard for corporate disclosure of climate change risks in 2021, an important event that has heightened interest in climate change issues in Japan. This series of events seems to have triggered a sudden increase in public and private sector interest in the risks of climate change in Japan in 2021.

It is well within the realm of possibility that Japan and its neighboring countries will also face compounded climate security risks in the future. Given that climate change can act as a “threat multiplier”, amplifying threats to social peace and stability, and given that once the gears are set in motion, they may be irreversible, Japan should immediately initiate efforts to avert violent uprisings and conflicts that result from climate change.


  • IPCC. (2021). Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.
  • Sekiyama T. (2022a). Climate Security and Its Implications for East Asia. Climate. 10(7), 104.
  • Sekiyama, T. (2022b). Examination of Climate Security Risks Facing Japan [Paper presentation]. RSIS Roundtable on “Climate Security in the Indo-Pacific: Strategic Implications for Defense and Foreign Affairs” held by Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, November 2, 2022.
  • 環境省.(2007b).『気候安全保障(Climate Security)に関する報告』
  • Ministry of the Environment. (2007b). Report on Climate Security.

(This is the English translation of an article which originally appeared on the JFIR website in Japanese on April 12, 2024.)