The threat spectrum

Planet A

The most authoritative international body advising the world on climate change has warned that the viability of a liveable and sustainable future rests on what will be done in the next seven years.

On Monday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its synthesis report summarising experts’ findings about global warming, fossil-fuel emissions and climate impacts. The report warns that global temperatures are on track to rise by 3.2°C by 2100 if actions to deal with climate change remain at their current levels. It says that if ‘nationally determined contributions’ are not reduced, the level of global emissions in 2030 will lead to a temperature rise of more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels during the 21st century.

Warming above 2°C will produce cascading impacts, in time resulting in ‘1-in-100 year’ extreme sea-level events occurring annually. Those disasters would occur against a background of intense competition for land from urban expansion, food insecurity, pandemics and conflict.

The report is regarded by climate specialists as the final warning on the imperative to keep warming within 1.5°C. At the report’s launch, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres characterised it as a ‘how-to guide to defuse the climate time-bomb’ and a ‘survival guide for humanity’. Mitigation strategies alone will not keep pace with the anticipated climate impacts and must be supplemented by accelerated climate-resilient development, the report says. This includes building community resilience, increasing disaster preparedness and supporting vulnerable communities.

Closing the gap between existing measures and what is needed to head off disaster requires prompt and efficient action. This work is beginning in earnest in Australia after cabinet considered the nation’s first climate and security risk assessment late last year. A critical next step is for the government to release a declassified version of the risk assessment to help Australians understand the gravity of the climate crisis and its impacts.

Democracy watch

Threats to democracy and the rule of law have propelled massive protests in Israel into their 11th week. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets to protest against the government’s proposed judicial changes, which would permit the Knesset to override Supreme Court decisions with a simple majority, preclude judicial oversight over laws, and give the government complete control over judicial appointments.

The Supreme Court is a key component of Israel’s democracy and its system of checks and balances, especially since Israel doesn’t have a formal constitution. This erosion of the court’s powers would place the rights of minorities, women and the LGBTQ community at the mercy of the most right-wing government in Israel’s history. The prospect of an unchecked government also alarms Palestinians as the return to full scale-conflict and administrative changes amounting to annexation grow more plausible.

The crisis is likely to escalate since neither the protestors nor the government show signs of backing down. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently rejected a compromise proposal from President Isaac Herzog. Mounting tensions have led the president to warn of a looming civil war.

Information operations

A contract government procurement document discovered by an American investigative podcast, The Intercept, indicates that US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) aims to build next-generation capabilities in using social media and deepfakes to improve ‘influence operations, digital deception, communication disruption, and disinformation campaigns’.

This story emerged soon after The Intercept said several fake Arab-language Twitter accounts created by the US military with the help of deepfake avatars were circulating disinformation to further US interests in the Middle East.

Against the backdrop of growing weaponisation of digital propaganda, US efforts should focus on establishing safeguards and countering such manipulation. The US has raised concerns about deepfakes and social media disinformation, particularly in relation to domestic politics following Russian interference in the 2016 US elections. SOCOM has been responsible for countering misinformation campaigns but for it to build capabilities to conduct the same sort of campaigns is seen as weakening the legitimacy of these counterefforts.

Follow the money

The British government has launched the UK Integrated Security Fund of nearly £1 billion to support domestic and international projects aimed at tackling national security challenges facing the UK and its partners. The fund will contribute to core priorities of the government’s 2021 integrated review, including initiatives relating to economic security, cybersecurity, counterterrorism and human rights.

The announcement comes as global economic stability is being undermined by turmoil in the banking sector following the collapse of the Silicon Valley Bank in the US and the Swiss-government-backed takeover of Credit Suisse by UBS. There are fears that the Silicon Valley Bank collapse could lead to a recession in the US and elsewhere. The RAND Corporation has warned that the strong nexus between economic stability and national security makes it vital to deal with the fallout from these economic shocks. The UK Integrated Security Fund will play a role in combating global economic volatility and insecurity by helping to enhance economic security in the UK and overseas.

Terror byte

The Sahel region of sub-Saharan Africa has become a major hub of terrorism, surpassing South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa combined, according to the Institute for Economics and Peace’s latest Global Terrorism Index. In 2022, the region accounted for 43% of terrorism fatalities, highlighting ongoing and complex security challenges. The death tolls are compounded by clashes between violent extremist groups, government and foreign troops, and by the targeting of civilians.

Despite a global decline in terrorism, the Sahel has experienced an alarming surge of over 2000% in incidents since 2007. This escalation is driven by multifaceted and systemic forces, including population growth, climate shocks, food insecurity, ethnic polarisation, geopolitical competition, external interventions, pastoral conflicts and transnational Salafi-Islamic ideology.

Weak governance, poverty and a lack of state control in border areas have enabled groups aligned with al-Qaeda and Islamic State to thrive, with isolated and struggling civilians particularly vulnerable to terrorist recruitment.

The spread of terrorist activities from Mali and Burkina Faso to Benin, Togo, and coastal West Africa indicates a broader presence of jihadist and terrorist groups in the Sahel, further destabilising the region through violent extremism, radicalisation, illicit trafficking and security threats with terrorist ties.