The Japan Forum on International Relations

1. Introduction

“Security” is defined in numerous ways, in general, it refers to “protecting the daily life of citizens from a variety of threats.”[1] For example, as I write this paper, Russian forces numbering 100,000—the largest armed force since the end of the Cold War—are amassing on the Russia-Ukraine border, leading to heightened tensions.[2] This is a typical security-related case. Meanwhile, there are various threats to and means of ensuring security that can be summarized in a simple and direct proposition, namely, “How do we protect what from what?” One means of ensuring security is through maritime security. Additionally, one of the characteristics of maritime security is that it is an integral part of ocean governance.

Ocean governance is the embodiment of the “comprehensive management of the ocean,” which is the objective of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).[3] In addition to “safety,” which includes the “maritime security” mentioned above, its other main initiatives are “development” and initiatives related to “the environment.”[4] However, as is well known, these initiatives have been undertaken individually or adaptively. Nevertheless, it has become necessary to examine policy issues that straddle the multiple fields of development, the environment, and safety, such as the recent efforts to eradicate illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing and conflicts over resource development, or to indicate policies designed to deal with such issues. A prime example of this is how we deal with climate change.[5]

This paper focuses on climate change as a new threat based on the conditions surrounding security and ocean governance and examines its effect on public opinion regarding the ocean.

2. What is climate change

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which is an international framework for climate change, defines “climate change” as “a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods.”[6]

The effects of climate change are expected to be widespread, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which was established collaboratively in 1988 by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), published the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report: AR5 in 2014. This document warned that, “Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive, and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems. Limiting climate change would require substantial and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions which, together with adaptation, can limit climate change risks.”[7] Therefore, the way we handle climate change needs to be strongly promoted as a policy issue. However, in Japan, climate change is recognized as an environmental or economic issue,[8] not necessarily as a security issue.[9]

3. Climate change as a security threat

The common understanding of climate change in Japan has been described above, it is being understood differently abroad. For example, at a summit meeting held in Brussels in June 2021, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) first adopted the NATO Climate Change and Security Action Plan, which clarified its stance on initiatives aimed at climate change.[10] NATO’s actions in this regard suggests that, despite Japan’s perspective of it, climate change is also a threat to the security of the Indian Ocean region. An analysis has been published that indicates that the currently inactive Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) should function as a framework for discussing the security concerns of the countries of the Indian Ocean region, including the threat of disasters due to climate change.[11] At a meeting of the UN Security Council held in September 2021, António Guterres, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, spoke about the relationship between climate change policies and peace building and pointed out the possibility that climate change is closely related to security.[12]

The regions and subjects that are the focus of these policies and opinion pieces vary. Nevertheless, one common aspect among them is that climate change is not understood simply as an environmental or economic problem; it is recognized as a problem related to security or as a threat to it. With this context as the base, the following can be considered examples of an accelerating trend: The Leaders’ Summit on Climate held in April 2021[13] and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change/UN Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC-COP 26) held in October 2021[14]. These meetings treated climate change as an important problem in terms of diplomacy and security; additionally, the participation of Cabinet Ministers in charge of security made it clear that climate change was also recognized as threat to security in both name and reality.

4. Climate change from the perspective of the oceans

Climate change has thus come to be firmly recognized as a security threat, but most of the trends and discussions mentioned in the overview above focus on the land. The effects of climate change are observed everywhere on earth; as such, the oceans are no exception. Therefore, after the IPCC published AR5, it released the Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (SROCC),[15] which is the first report that focuses on the oceans and the cryosphere (e.g., the poles, alpine regions), in 2019. Thus, it cautions about the dangers of climate change.

While it is true that climate change originates on land, the report points out that “the ocean and cryosphere regulate the climate and weather on Earth, supply food and water, support economies, trade, and transportation, shape cultures, and influence our well-being. Many of the recent changes in Earth’s ocean and cryosphere are the results of human activities and have consequences on everyone’s life.” As this statement indicates,[16] the changes occurring in the ocean have an enormous effect.

Therefore, although more assertive initiatives are needed, this means the ocean may change into something that needs to be protected from a setting where security measures have been implemented until now. In addition, economic initiatives are also essential in order to guarantee the sustainability of any initiatives undertaken. Managing these issues is the central task of ocean governance. This may be the start of a shift from viewing climate change as a “mainly terrestrial” problem to viewing it as a “mainly oceanic” problem in the world’s diplomatic and security policies.[17] In addition, this shift is supported by the fact that the basis for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is formed by “Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts (SDG 13)” and “Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources (SDG 14).”[18]

5. Conclusion

In this paper, I focused on climate change as a new threat based on the conditions surrounding security or ocean governance and examined its effects on creating public opinion regarding the ocean. Through my analysis, I determined that handling climate change is not only a security issue, but also an opportunity to achieve a new way for ocean governance and sustainable development. I would like to include some personal views based on these findings.

As I explained comprehensively in this paper, most of the threats to security and items that need to be protected originate from either people or groups such as nations. However, although climate change is caused by human activities, it manifests in specific phenomena in the form of abnormal weather events, such as typhoons and snowstorms. These phenomena can cause severe damage to nations and peoples. Therefore, to put it in common parlance, “this is no time to engage in war lightheartedly.”

At the same time, traditional security threats such as the Russian invasion of Ukraine will not disappear anytime soon. Hence, the construction of international relations that represent a balance of power is an initiative that will reduce war comparably and gradually. In addition, at the closing of the virtual IPCC meeting, the Russian representative stated, “Let me present an apology on behalf of all Russians not able to prevent this conflict.”[19] As is apparent from this statement, although there will be major relapses and progress will be gradual, a trend toward a new international order is arising. Therefore, although climate change is an unprecedented and amorphous threat, through our attempts to deal with it, I believe we can expect new public opinion regarding the ocean to arise, which will represent a breakaway from the current “human against human” situation.