Image: sameer madhukar chogale/shutterstock.com - Photo: 2024

The Quad, Maritime Security, and Climate Change

By Robert Mizo*

This article was issued by the Toda Peace Institute and is being republished with their permission.

NEW DELHI | 20 May 2024 (IDN) — The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, colloquially known as the Quad, was re-initiated in 2017 after almost a decade-long hiatus. The members of the informal minilateral—Australia, Japan, India, and the US —found a shared sense of weariness against China’s perceived rise, evidenced through the expanding and deepening Belt and Road Initiative and Maritime Silk Route and Beijing’s aggressive behaviour in the East and South China Seas, as well as along the border with India.

While the Quad never explicitly verbalizes the Sino-centricity behind its objectives of securing a ‘free and open Indo-Pacific’ (FOIP) and inclusive, ‘rules-based order’ in the region, existing literature and opinions gathered through interviews of security experts and practitioners confirm as much. This anti-China posturing and messaging, however, has rendered the Quad lacking in acceptability and relevance in the eyes of several stakeholder states in the region. The Quad has an opportunity (and a need) to revamp itself as a bigger, more durable platform by engaging with diverse concerns of the region, including non-traditional ones, particularly climate change.

The Indo-Pacific, which came to replace the geopolitical limits of Asia-Pacific as conceived in the late Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe’s much acclaimed ‘Confluence of the two seas’ speech in the Indian parliament in 2007, covers a major chunk of the global maritime area—from the eastern coast of Africa to the western coast the USA. It brings within its realm many countries from the Indian Ocean and the Pacific, key sea routes, several maritime choke points such as the Malacca strait, South and East China seas, and sites of strategic contention in the latter two.

The sheer size of the imagined strategic region brings a plethora of issues and concerns for the Quad to engage in other than the China factor alone. One such challenge is to re-evaluate maritime security in the Indo-Pacific region in the context of climate change and find ways to cooperate and engage with vulnerable nations and among themselves.

That climate change impacts on the physical attributes of the seas

That climate change impacts on the physical attributes of the seas is well understood. The rise in sea surface temperature and sea level will have devastating impacts on the natural weather systems. Countries and islands within and along the Indo-Pacific rim will experience frequent and intense weather-related extremities such as typhoons and cyclones. Floods, saltwater intrusions, and land inundation will cause unprecedented hardships to human wellbeing and survivability as these directly impinge upon food, health, and economic security, and by extension, political stability. Maritime security faces threats from climate change as maritime criminality and conflicts are expected to rise with the decline in fish stocks and other marine resources.

As traditional fisherfolks and marine ecology-dependent communities lose their livelihood, there is a strong likelihood that they will turn to criminal activities such as piracy and trafficking as witnessed in the Horn of Africa region. Additionally, rising sea levels will impact existing sea boundaries, as features on which boundary delimitations are based may be inundated or washed away. This is sure to further complicate existing maritime disputes among states such as the South China sea and the East China Sea. Climate change’s impact on the seas will also trigger mass migration as inhabitants of low-lying lands and littorals will have to move in search of safer habitats. This is bound to result in law-and-order issues in (reluctant) host countries in the least and could result in intense conflict over dwindling resources.

Over the last years, the Quad has increasingly come to pay attention to issues which are of relevance in the context of an expanded conceptualisation of security. This is evident through various new programmes. The 2022 Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness (IPMDA) initiative aims to bring increased transparency to critical waterways in the region by harnessing innovative technology to provide partners across the region with real-time information on maritime activities such as illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, climate events, and humanitarian crises.

Quad Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation Package

In 2022, the group operationalized the Quad Partnership on Humanitarian and Disaster Relief in the Indo-Pacific to enhance capacity, capability, and coordination in disaster relief operations. The Quad’s joint statement issued after the leaders’ summit in May 2023 in Hiroshima, Japan, further underlines their intent to act on “the Indo-Pacific’s key challenges of health security, rapidly changing technology, the grave threat of climate change, and the strategic challenges facing the region”.

On climate change specifically, the group formulated the Quad Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation Package (QCHAMP) in 2022 with the goal of advancing practical cooperation to address climate change and to provide ‘support for Indo-Pacific partners for pragmatic transition to a net-zero economy and society and enhancing resilience’. QCHAMP contains measures to address both mitigation and adaptation/ resilience needs for the region.

Experts this author spoke to laud the initiative as a concrete step in the direction of the Quad shedding its China-centeredness while also addressing an existential crisis the region faces. The QCHAMP, however, falls short of establishing a collective financial mechanism to implement the plans and does not institutionalise a point of coordination for its various programmes.

Elevating climate change on the agenda of the Quad is vital, given the imminence of the crisis and the vulnerability of the region it seeks to protect. For the Quad to successfully secure a free and open Indo-Pacific, it needs to synergize efforts with other existing regional groupings such as ASEAN, and of course, garner the support and acceptance of other partner countries. Key states such as South Korea, Philippines, and Vietnam which are economically deeply intertwined with China despite hard security differences are naturally reluctant to support a Quad bulwarked solely against Beijing.

In fact, China remains ASEAN’s largest trading partner since 2009. Similarly, smaller country partners within the region, such as the Pacific Small Island Developing States, are particularly susceptible to climate impacts. Their gravest security threat stems from climate change related disasters, inundation, and associated resource conflicts. At the same time, their support is essential for the Quad to realise its ideal of securing the open, peaceful and rules-based international order, especially in the maritime context. The Quad therefore needs to heed to their assistance requirements to help bolster resilience and adaptability to climate change, in exchange for which they might be more willing to lend allegiance and support to the Quad’s larger strategic goals.

While the Quad’s original motive remains the maintenance of a strategic balance against a rising China, packaged in the form of the FOIP and an inclusive, rules-based international order, these goals do not stand threatened by China’s perceived rise alone. Impacts of climate change on the sea can derail the peaceful and safe operationality of the region’s sea routes, maritime chokepoints and maritime security in general. the very space for power projections by states.

Further, for the Quad to have a realistic chance to achieve its goals, it must find acceptability and resonance from other partners in the region, including East and South-East Asian States and Island countries. Their engagement with the Quad and its project will remain limited if the Quad’s messaging and deeper intent remains the containment of China. Quad members Japan and India themselves have shown discomfort about the grouping being pitted directly against their neighbour. The Quad has an opportunity to become a platform of deeper engagement in the region by elevating in its agenda other non-traditional security concerns, especially climate change.

Related articles by this author:

Civil society, climate action and the state in China (3-minute read)

Riding the heatwave: India’s sweltering exposure to climate change (3-minute read)

Leaky roof: Melting Himalayas in the ‘Asian Century‘ (3-minute read)

*Robert Mizo is an Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Relations at the University of Delhi, India. He holds a PhD in Climate Policy studies. His research interests include Climate Change and Security, Climate Politics, Environmental Security, and International Environmental Politics. He has published and presented on the above topics at both national and international platforms. Robert is currently a Japan Foundation Indo-Pacific Partnership (JFIPP) Research Fellow based at the Toda Peace Institute, Tokyo. [IDN-InDepthNews]

Original Link: https://toda.org/global-outlook/2024/the-quad-maritime-security-and-climate-change.html

Image: sameer madhukar chogale/shutterstock.com

Related Posts

Begin typing your search term above and press enter to search. Press ESC to cancel.

Back To Top