Should We Include Global Insecurity as a Hidden Cost of Carbon Emissions?

Ed note. I am pleased to welcome Emily Loftis to the site.  Emily  covered the auto industry and health care for Bloomington, Indiana’s NPR station while earning a master’s degree at Indiana University’s School of Journalism. She recently completed a 14-month internship at Mother Jones magazine, where she wrote print book reviews, fact-checked investigative stories, and blogged on everything from moneyless living to chemical safety regulations.

Last week, the UN Security Council adopted a meek statement (watered down at the insistence of Russia, China, and India) linking climate change to global security risks. The Pacific Small Island Developing States chairman and Nauru president, Marcus Stephen urged the Security Council to look into the climate-security correlation and prepare for impending points of conflict and security issues such as scarce resources, people immigrating away from corroding landscapes, and the very existence of island-nations such as Nauru. (The island is so small, one has to zoom deep into Google maps before it even appears on the screen.)

Perhaps in the future, these security concerns will be included in the “social cost” analysis of carbon emissions, such as the one just released by a group of economists from Economics for Equity and Environment. The research team (PDF) purports the US government’s $21 per carbon ton estimation is far below the actual economic damage. The report states the price tag could be shooting past $800 per ton of carbon– and rising. Carbon costs, argued the research team, should include flooding, agricultural damage, loss of fresh water.

Eventually, security costs may be added to the growing list. The report was released the same day that the World Resources Institute and the Environmental Law Institute released a report of the same nature, (h/t Climate Biz reporter Mindy Lubber.) “Our significant concern is the lack of transparency inherent in the models used to estimate the social cost of carbon,” said Scott Schang, the editor of the ELI’s Environmental Law Reporter. “Some of the models are opaque, and few policymakers are likely to understand the dramatic simplifications and assumptions embedded within them. There is much room for debate whether these tools are ready for use in policymaking.”

And there is plenty of debate to be had over the immediacy of security issues linked to climate change. The near future may hold unexpected costs of peacemaking, riot-control, and other safety measures. But last week at the Security Council, the wall of opposition– India, Russia, China– stated the security climate-change issue is not on the horizon yet, and that topic should be relegated to UNFCCC talks.

If it were to consider decades of sectarian strife, severe famine, and religious tension, the global community might find security problems are more immediate — and costly– than initially thought.