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This is the address I gave at the Atlantic Council event Climate Security: The Next ‘Battle Ground’? on June 17, 2015 in Washington DC.












Security professionals often distinguish between human security issues and national security issues. Of course both these aspects of security are linked. Climate change makes that linkage very intimate. There are no hard power solutions to climate change. But there will be hard power consequences to climate policy failure.

Europe this summer is illustrating just how intimate these links already are. Currently between half and one million migrants on the southern and eastern shores of the Mediterranean are seeking a way into Europe. This pressure is causing mounting anxiety among European publics.

This anxiety has proved a rich substrate of support for populist and nationalist parties throughout the EU. Mr Putin has been quick to spot and take advantage of the opportunity to sow dissent. He is now providing overt, and covert, support for such parties.

Climate change is only one of several forces intensifying the migrant pressure on Europe. But as the global temperature from just below 1°C where it is today towards 2°C  climate’s share in increasing these stresses will grow. With it will grow the opportunities for mischief making by Mr Putin.

The first imperative for any government is to maintain territorial integrity. If it cannot maintain this it is no longer a government. The second imperative is to maintain internal stability. The first imperative cannot be met if the second fails. The third imperative is to maintain water, food and energy security. These are the basic requirements for human security.  Unless they are satisfied neither of the prior imperatives can be met.

Climate change is making this latter task increasingly difficult and eventually will make it impossible. Climate security is necessary for the maintenance of human security which, in its turn, is necessary for national security. There are, of course, many other threats to national security. But they are well recognised. This threat is only just beginning to receive the serious attention it deserves.

Climate policy failure matters most in cities. Half the world’s population now live in them. By 2050 it will be three-quarters. They generate 80% of global economic growth. It is often said the fish rot from the head down. States rot from the city out. As we see in Libya and Syria.  Climate change will impose escalating costs on urban populations through water and food price spikes and constant disruptions to essential infrastructure.

The growth of these burdens will make it ever harder to meet the expectations of rising urban populations. This increases the difficulty and cost of maintaining social stability. Further more as these costs grow they cut into the income of the bottom two quartiles of urban populations in the merging economies. These are precisely the incomes that are the critical fuel for global economic growth.

Many cities are already acting vigorously to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and to prepare for the consequences of a changing climate. But if national and international climate policy fails their own efforts will be overwhelmed. Current government policies will fail to preserve climate security. They need to act faster and more aggressively. City political leaders need to play a larger and more vocal part in pressing them to do so.


Tom Burke















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NEGOTIATIONS: Warming’s impact on global security a critical issue for Paris talks, experts say


Here is another report of the panel I spoke on at the Atlantic Council event Climate Security: The Next ‘Battle Ground’? on June 17, 2015 in Washington DC.


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NEGOTIATIONS:  Warming’s impact on global security a critical issue for Paris talks, experts say

Brittany Patterson, E&E reporter

Published: Thursday, June 18, 2015


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The major impact climate change will have on global security is one of the key issues that unite the world and will be immensely important during the U.N. climate negotiations to be held in Paris at the end of this year, said Gerard Araud, France’s ambassador to the United States.

“The climate has always posed threats to security,” Araud said speaking at an Atlantic Council event yesterday on climate security and the Paris talks. “Climate disruptions upset the full range of economic and social equilibrium and therefore threatens countries’ internal security.”

Araud cited examples of climate-related maladies that spanned the globe, including the social unrest and deployment of troops in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the fight for water resources between Egypt and Sudan. He also mentioned the terrible weather of 1788 that sparked a food crisis in France and contributed to the start of the French Revolution, although it wasn’t the doing of climate change specifically.

Climate change poses both a human security and a national security issue, added former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Operational Energy Sharon Burke.

Although climate change is not directly a military issue, she said the well-funded, trained and oiled machine that is a country’s military has a role to play via the way it does business.

Through purchasing of clean energy and pushing technology forward, the U.S. military has made strides, but the United States still has work to do in thinking about the bigger picture in terms of how the world will physically change and the likely increases in humanitarian aid missions the military will be called upon to do, according to Burke.

‘States rot from their cities’

Across Europe, there are huge political implications of a changing climate, especially with regard to the migration of climate refugees, said Tom Burke, founding director and chairman of E3G — Third Generation Environmentalism.

For example, as instability drives half-a-million people to seek shelter in Europe, citizens are responding by voting for populist candidates, a move Russian President Vladimir Putin can use to his advantage, Burke said.

“States rot from their cities,” he said. “If you don’t maintain water, food and energy security, you are not able to keep order.”

Looking forward to the Paris conference, Araud said he was heartened by the mobilization of not just countries, but states, cities and businesses that see not just the security implications of a changing climate but the economic value that creating a low-carbon society will have.

Burke added that in countries without structured grid systems, creating a renewable energy system is a great opportunity to connect countries through building a distributed power system.

Expanding our definition of national security and reaching out to cities and states that are already adapting against climate change will be key to moving forward, even if Paris fails to produce a meaningful agreement.

The challenge, Araud added, will be leaving Paris with a common agreement, while recognizing that each country’s goals for getting there will be different.




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CLIMATE: National security concerns could spur Hill action — ex-DOD officials?






This is a report by Environment & Energy Publishing of the panel I spoke on at the Atlantic Council event Climate Security: The Next ‘Battle Ground’? on June 17, 2015 in Washington DC

The reporter misheard what I said about America. What I actually said was: ‘Winston Churchill, who had an American mother, once said that you could always count on America to do the right thing but only after it had explored all the  other options. America is still going through the process of exploring all the other options  but if you looked at what was actually happening beyond Washington, in the cities and states, you could have no doubt at all that it would get there.’



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CLIMATE: National security concerns could spur Hill action — ex-DOD officials?

Ariel Wittenberg, E&E reporter

Published: Wednesday, June 17, 2015

National security issues could be the best hope for bringing Congress in line with any agreements made at the U.N. climate negotiations in Paris later this year, former military officials said today.

Speaking at an Atlantic Council panel on climate security and the Paris talks, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy Daniel Chiu and former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Operational Energy Sharon Burke said they were not optimistic that anything could get Congress to move on climate change — but national security concerns are the best bet.

“The question is critical,” Chiu said. “We know that if we can’t get Congress to move after Paris, we are going to have some real obstacles to making progress.”

Climate security issues show some promise, he said, because they present global warming as “not an issue Congress can or should ignore because it has fluffy implications they won’t see.”

“We emphasize it is an issue that has real implications on national security,” he said.

Burke said that while she hopes security is an area in which Congress “can come together and agree on investments, I would also say don’t wait for it.”

“It keeps me up at night that climate change is still a political issue in our country,” she said.

Tom Burke, chairman of the British nonprofit Third Generation Environmentalism, said the United States lags the international community in political acceptance of climate change.

“You can always count on America to do the right thing, but only after it explores every other option,” he said. “We look at Washington, D.C., and we’re not seeing anything that will make us believe America will get there to the point of having climate legislation.”

Former Virginia Sen. John Warner (R) told the panelists that the Paris talks “have the potential to move the base of public opinion in our country in a positive way.”

But, he said, he was concerned about whether Congress would be willing or able to “further foster” any Paris agreements.

Without congressional intervention, Warner said he was concerned the military would have to pick up the slack when issues like migration due to sea-level rise in Bangladesh come up.

“Who would be the first to respond to a problem there? One of our aircraft carriers,” he said.

Chiu said that he agreed with Warner’s analysis and that the United States’ reliance on its military worries the international community. During his time at the Pentagon, Chiu said, he was approached by European officials worried that the Defense Department’s energy initiatives were “militarizing” climate change.

That concern is a legitimate one, Burke said. She noted that climate change can cause humanitarian crises like food and water shortages that could turn into military conflicts. But she cautioned that using the military to solve “human security and national security” would be problematic.

While the American people overall have a respectful relationship with the military, Burke said, that is not the case in other countries where the armed forces are seen as sources of corruption or instigators of coups.

“Assigning civilian roles to the military is a slippery slope,” she said.

Even in the United States, she warned, using the military for humanitarian needs would not be sustainable because “our primary mission is to fight and win wars.”

She said broader policy changes are necessary to both mitigate and adapt to climate change.

Relying on the military for either would be “blunting the tool for what you need it for and also under investing in other tools of state power that could better address climate change,” she said.



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Climate Security: The Next ‘Battle Ground’? – Atlantic Council event – June 17, 2015

I will be speaking at the Atlantic Council event Climate Security: The Next ‘Battle Ground’? on June 17, 2015 in Washington DC.


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As the international community heads to COP21 in Paris this December, much of the public discourse focuses on the relationship between climate and the environment.

Equally important, however, are the ways countries address the global security threats that arise from climate change.  From a national security perspective, climate change is viewed as a risk multiplier or conflict aggravator and a source of nontraditional threats that require nontraditional responses.

What local and global actions can be taken to reduce the stresses climate change has on economic, social, and political systems? How can security planners and actors address the threat of climate change on international security? What are the dangers of inaction and could an international climate regime contribute to reducing instability and conflict risks?

In honor of the European Union’s (EU) Climate Diplomacy Day, please join the Atlantic Council and the EU on Wednesday, June 17th, 2015 from 10:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. for a discussion exploring the critical dynamic between climate change and global security.

An introduction will be delivered by H.E. David O’Sullivan, the Ambassador of the EU to the United States and keynote remarks will be provided by H.E. Gérard  Araud, the Ambassador of France to the United States. Panelists include Sharon Burke, Senior Adviser to the New America Foundation’s International Security Program, Tom Burke, Founding Director and Chairman of E3G, Third Generation Environmentalism, Major General Munir Muniruzzaman (Ret.) , Chairman of the Global Military Advisory Council on Climate Change (GMACCC) and President and CEO of the Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies (BIPSS), and Dennis Tänzler, Director of  International Climate Policy at Adelphi.

The discussion will be moderated by Dan Chiu, Deputy Director of the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security at the Atlantic Council.  Welcome remarks will be provided by The Hon. Richard Morningstar, Founding Director of the Atlantic Council’s Global Energy Center.


Follow the conversation on Twitter at #ClimateDiploDay and @ACenergycenter



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G7 fossil fuel pledge is a diplomatic coup for Germany’s ‘climate chancellor’ – The Guardian


I was quoted extensively in an article in The Guardian by on why the plan outlined by the G7 on Monday to phase out fossil fuels by the end of the century is, for some member countries, not quite as ambitious as it sounds.


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Tom Burke, environmental advisor to Shell, Rio Tinto and Unilever, said Merkel had made a big play”.

“It’s more aggressive than you would have expected. That’s been helped a lot by the US démarche with China and the growing signs are that China is probably going to do better than a lot of people are expected,” he said.

He said that outside the numbers, the G7’s primary function was to send signals to other countries and to markets and that the announcement today would shift things significantly.

“Everyone gets over focused on what the text of the treaty is. What really matters is what gets done in the real economy and the extent that the players in the real economy react to this signal. You’re going to shift the needle of interest in the investing community away from oil and gas and towards renewables, storage and energy efficiency. And I think that’s further than probably the oil companies had anticipated,” said Burke.


Burke also noted that decarbonisation probably didn’t mean the total abnegation of fossil fuels. The world can still burn a few gigatonnes of carbon per year and remain carbon neutral by relying on natural uptake of carbon. He said the reality of the phase out would probably allow for gas being burned for heat and carbon-fuelled planes.




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Pester power: The new weapon in the fight against global warming – The Independent


I was quoted by The Independent in a piece about how influential young people are in the fight against climate change.


pester power climate change


“Young girls have enormous influence on their fathers. In the work I have done I would say that the most influential group of people of all are 12-year-old girls; they have their fathers wrapped around their little fingers.”


Continue reading…



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This article first appeared in BusinessGreen





The politics of climate change is changing. Astonished listeners at a recent conference in Paris heard the Saudi oil minister, Ali al-Naimi, announce ‘one of these days we are not going to need fossil fuels’. He went on to make it clear he was thinking in terms of decades not centuries. Then he said, ‘I believe solar will be more economic than fossil fuels.’

This cannot have been comforting listening for oil industry moguls already disturbed by the accelerating momentum of the global divestment campaign. Just how disturbed they have become is clear from the report that Shell, BP, Statoil and Eni are about to announce the formation of new industry body. Its purpose will be to get the industry speaking the same language.

This follows a series of speeches from oil industry leaders around the world on the theme of getting their voice ‘heard by members of government, by civil society and the general public. The idea that their voice is not already being heard, loud, clear and often, by governments is laughable. So what can they possibly mean? A seam of doubt is starting to run through the industry’s innermost councils. They have always deeply believed that governments would promise much and deliver little on climate change. Now they are beginning to wonder. They have also believed deeply in their dominance of energy markets. That belief, too, now looks under threat.

Governments are fickle friends at the best of times. The early politics of climate change were driven by scientific knowledge. By 1992 governments at the Earth Summit in Rio agreed there was a problem. Then they quickly put off taking effective action. By 2008 action was unavoidable. Something really would have to be done. The two degree ‘threshold’ of danger was accepted by global leaders.

At Copenhagen politicians looked closely for the first time at what avoiding danger would mean for their economies. They balked again. By this time the dry analyses of science had been given dramatic political life by validating events. Most people in most countries now believe that human beings are changing the climate.

Experience has now replaced knowledge as the primary political driver of climate action. As Harold Macmillan replied when asked what he feared most, ‘Events, dear boy, events’. Or, as we might say in these more vernacular times, ‘Stuff happens’. ‘Stuff’ is now happening to the climate.

Politicians are skilled at ducking the facts. Events are more difficult. It is just beginning to occur to oil industry leaders that governments may do more than they expected. Not enough to solve the problem, perhaps, but a lot more than would be comfortable for them.

Furthermore, other voices are beginning to compete for the ear of government. Unilever’s Paul Polman told a recent conference that extreme weather had already pushed up his costs by £316 million. The dominant business voice in the climate debate, however, remains that of the fossil fuels industries and their customers.

This leaves governments facing a choice between today’s winners (oil companies) or tomorrow’s possible winners ( renewables and efficiency). For governments this is a no brainer. You back today’s winners. Polman’s intervention implies that this comfortable asymmetry may come to an end.

The real costs of climate change are already falling on tens of thousands of businesses around the world. But they are not being captured. The high level aggregates used by economists to estimate these costs conceal more than they reveal. They significantly underestimate the impact of a changing climate on business. As global temperature climbs inexorably beyond 1°C towards 2°C over the next decade these other business voices will grow louder.

This will present governments with a different political equation. The choice will be today’s losers (the non-fossil businesses) plus tomorrow’s possible winners or today’s winners. This equation does not resolve so favourably for the oil industry. In any case, they may not be winners for as long as they think.

Tomorrow’s winners are becoming today’s winners far more rapidly than anyone forecast. Deutsche Bank recently published a report on solar pointing out that it is now at grid parity in more than 50% of countries. They are not alone. Citi has announced the establishment of a $100 billion fund to invest in renewables. The fossil fuel consultancy, Wood McKenzie pointed out that solar farms were already displacing gas-fired generation in the US. Renewables compete directly with gas putting the oil companies’ balance sheets under further stress.

Climate events on the one hand and accelerating deployment of renewables on the other now threaten the political support the industry has assumed. Governments will not abandon the oil industry. They rely too much on it for taxes and dividends. But the industry fears they will bend too far. The point of raising their public voice is not to tell governments things they already know. Its real purpose is to muddy the waters of public debate to reduce the danger that governments will act soon enough to keep the climate safe.


Tom Burke

May 25th 2015




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Revealed: BP’s close ties with the UK government – The Guardian


I was quoted extensively in a piece The Guardian wrote on the extent of BP’s influence on government policy and how their intimate relationship is at odds with UK commitments to reduce carbon emissions.


david cameron BP


“About 1.5% of UK pension industry money was invested in BP shares, which had plummeted. And BP had scrapped its dividend payments. Around 7% of UK pension fund annual income came from BP at the time. A further 12% came from Shell, so nearly one-fifth of pension funds were intricately linked to the profits of these two oil and gas companies.”

“They’ve worked it out. The only people who have done as much thinking as them on this are the military. BP is certain that government won’t act on their obligation to keep the rise in global temperatures below 2C and in fact will be allies to keep the revenues flowing.”



See the full article here



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This piece was first published by the Energy and Carbon Blog




Amber Rudd’s appointment as Secretary of State for Energy and Climate has been welcomed by environmentalists. This is partly out of relief. There was a real risk that DECC would be abolished by an incoming Conservative Government. Taking away DECC would have weakened the Climate Change Committee and undermined the Climate Act. That would have pleased a significant faction of Tory MPs. Instead, it was the environmentalists who were pleased at DECC’s reprieve.

And even more pleased by the appointment of Rudd. She has been outspoken about climate change calling the scientific evidence for it ‘compelling’. She is robust when challenged by colleagues, reminding them that she is a Thatcherite and that Margaret Thatcher was the first senior British politicians to speak about climate change. She has already made it clear that she will push hard for an ambitious outcome to the climate negotiations in Paris in December.

So far, so good. But climate and energy policy are two sides of the same coin. They succeed together or they fail together. There is no appetite in the Tory party for climate policy to take precedence over energy policy. Furthermore, as we saw in the last Parliament, neither the Prime Minister nor the Chancellor are averse to having their own energy policy – sometimes made up at the ballot box.

To succeed, Rudd will have to square a number of very tricky circles. And she will have to do so with a Department not widely regarded as being run by the best and the brightest in Whitehall. There is little evidence that the climate and energy wings of the Department have ever thought they were working on the same problem. Another savage round of Whitehall budget cuts is unlikely to improve either the quality of DECC’s analytic skills or the confidence of its external stakeholders.

Rudd’s early statements on energy policy illuminate the road ahead for her. She has been quick to reassure her less climate aware colleagues that she is no guileless green. There will be no more subsidies for onshore wind. Consent for new wind farms will have to be given by a local council planning authority which will have to consult residents. There will she says ‘be a much more accountable democratic process’.

Few would argue with this break with Eric Pickles’ habit of taking all such decisions himself. But will the same logic apply to fracking? She told the Sunday Times that she would kick start a shale gas revolution. How will this be readily squared with more local democracy? Local opposition to fracking is greater than that to wind farms even before people realise that future production will have a far greater impact on communities than current exploration.

Rudd also wants to ‘unleash a new solar revolution’. She is clear that she wants this to be roof top solar thus avoiding an early clash with the Environment Secretary who is determined to keep solar off farmland. This is more music to green ears. But it won’t sound so good in the ears of potential investors in shale gas. It is now clear that renewables preferentially drive gas out of the electricity mix by taking away the high value supply. Squaring this circle will require political gymnastics of a superior kind.

Energy bills will remain at the top of  her agenda. Wholesale gas prices have dropped 31% in the past three years. Domestic gas prices have risen by 6%. Wholesale electricity costs dropped 13% in five years but bills are 5.3% higher. Everyone agrees that the cheapest, fastest and most reliable way to drive down energy bills is to insulate homes properly. She has said little yet on this topic. There is much to be done. Rescuing the much touted but woefully poorly designed Green Deal would be a start.

Energy efficiency squares all the circles. Energy bills go down, carbon emission go down, NHS bills go down, jobs go up, tax revenues go up, energy security goes up. What’s not to like? The Treasury’s inability to see improving the energy integrity of Britain’s buildings as the best value infrastructure investment public money can buy is a mystery beyond fathoming.

But there is a catch. Under the Coalition, DECC has saddled  Britain with an electricity market in which consumers electricity bills will rise if the wholesale cost of electricity falls. Let me say that again in case you thought I had mis-spoken. If  the wholesale cost of electricity falls your bill will rise. There is insufficient space here to explain how this works but this is the system enshrined in the Energy Act. In other words, DECC has a powerful incentive not to improve the energy efficiency of Britain’s buildings.

I wish I could say that this was part of a clever plan to make the Treasury’s inability to value energy efficiency compatible with DECC’s bizarre electricity system. But is not. It is just a bungle caused by over-stretched officials trying their best to deliver for Ministers with incompatible goals. Energy investors will be watching to see how well Ms Rudd sets about squaring these, and other, circles over the next few months.


Tom Burke

May 18th 2015





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One useful piece of analysis has emerged from the media froth post-election. Labour lost because they offered nothing to the ‘aspirational middle class’. This is surely right. An awful lot of people were left out of a narrative that posed the choice as being between the toffs and the underclass.

There is nothing wrong with the British people. George Orwell got it right sixty years ago. Common decency is their core political belief. That was demonstrated yet again with their response to the Nepalese earthquake. The British people, despite static wages, zero hours contracts and cuts to benefits, raised over £47 million pounds for Nepal. This is rather more than their government has been able to do.

The message to the environment community from the election is clear. Speak to voters aspirations but do so in a way that addresses their fears. We have a lot to offer. Home owners have much to gain from incentives to ensure their own energy security by putting solar panels on their roofs. Everyone wins if their energy bills go down in properly insulated homes. Electric vehicles will not only be smart, innovative consumer products, they will also cost half as much to run and help reduce the cost of keeping the NHS affordable. Let’s get them here faster.

The retired architects of Labour’s last electoral success have been quick to blame Miliband’s loss on his anti-business rhetoric. They are right that the aspirant middle wants to hear about wealth creation as well as wealth distribution. But I don’t think they have in mind the bankers and large, foreign owned energy utilities so vigorously promoted by the last Labour government. They do create wealth but not much of it stays here.

Real wealth creators make things not just money.  These are exactly those industries that the Conservatives will undermine. They are the hundreds of smaller, national and local businesses that could drive forward energy efficiency, domestic and community renewables, the circular economy. They are exactly the kind of businesses that will rebalance our economy to reduce its dependence on the service industries.

They are also the businesses that will build the affordable, energy efficient, social housing near the places people live. That’s just the kind of housing that the big house builders do not want to build. But it is these smaller businesses, the real wealth creators, which are finding it most difficult to borrow working capital from the banks. That’s those same banks, now mostly owned by us, who were the real cause of our current deficit problem.

We have an offer for them too. The Green Investment Bank should be given immediate powers to borrow from the capital markets while interest rates remain low. It should have a specific window to support the smaller British businesses that will green our economy and ensure its ability to compete in the resource and carbon constrained global markets of the future. It should also be enabled to use its expertise to offer people a safer haven for their savings – increasingly locked up in defined contribution pension schemes.

The environment community in Britain is large. It vastly outnumbers the membership of all the political parties. For all the triumphant headlines, the new government won less than 40% of the votes cast and less than a quarter of the population. One reason that they are universally regarded as being out of touch with most people is that they are. With so few members why would you expect them to be in touch?

This government is not going to be as friendly to the environment as it will be to developers, bankers and the large corporations. If the environmental community wants to move its agenda forward it is must learn from Labour’s mistake and talk to the public’s hopes as well as their fears.


Tom Burke


May 10th 2015.


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