Climate Change: A Non-Traditional Threat

Donald Trump’s Administration has launched an attack on existing climate policies. In his first year of presidency, Trump withdrew the U.S. from the historic Paris Agreement, began construction on the Keystone XL pipeline, has taken steps to repeal a plan to curb greenhouse emissions in power plants, as documented in the Clean Power Plan, amongst others. The most recent climate controversy involved the removal of Climate Change from the National Security Strategy. The threat of climate change has been on the National Security Strategy since 2015 and its removal, like many of his previous decisions, has sparked controversy. However, local officials across the U.S. have remained committed to addressing the threat of climate change. Late last year, city officials from the U.S. and around the world met in Chicago to outline a collective plan to address climate change at the local level. This deal, known as the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, includes goals to reduce carbon emissions to meet the aims outlined in the Paris Agreement. On top of this, a survey conducted by the Program on Climate Change Communication at Yale University found that nearly 70% of people across every American state believed the U.S. should participate in the Paris Agreement.

These actions are evidence that climate change is considered an issue in the U.S., but the question remains, why is climate change still a highly controversial issue amongst politicians? The answer to this question is usually framed economically. However, it is my belief that fear is a dominant undercurrent to this controversy. Traditionally, a threat has been clearly defined; a state, individual or institution. Climate change does not have a clear manifestation, as it can be seen in many different forms. Climate change is seen in the extreme weather events, the melting of the ice caps, the deterioration of air quality, amongst others. Without a clear manifestation, it can be difficult to grasp the magnitude of the issue. Simply, climate change does not fit into a defined box. It is more ambiguous than traditional threats.

In politics, the traditional framework of a threat is still dominant. In this framework, a threat needs a clear manifestation because this allows for a clear target to solve the issue. However, as climate change is more ambiguous, traditional responses, like peace talks or conflict, will not solve it. For many politicians, this can cause unease and fear because it means that new solutions must be found. Solutions which do not fall into the traditional realist ideas that still dominate international relations. Climate change is an issue which impacts everyone and as such, it is an issue that requires a cooperative approach to addressing it. It requires international agreements, like the Paris Agreement because this is an issue which transcends borders.

Climate change is a non-traditional threat that does not have a precedence for how to address it. At no point in the past, has any state had to address this threat. As such, fear is a normal reaction to the issue but the actions by the Trump Administration have undermined the work of many before it in developing positive climate policies to address climate change. Despite this, local governments in the U.S. had reaffirmed their belief that this issue needs to be addressed by creating new avenues through cooperation. They have accepted the nature of this threat and are moving towards new solutions which also transcend borders.

Climate change is an issue larger than ourselves and it is crucial that cooperation is a core principal of any solution to address it. It is essential that fear does not rule the reactions to this issue, as the longer there is no action towards addressing it, the worse it will become.

Lillian Wetherspoon


The Organization for World Peace