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Exploring the connections between environmental security and COP28 with Dr Richard Milburn

Agne Reketyte

MA student in Strategic Communications

05 December 2023

To mark the ongoing COP28, MA student Agne Reketyte interviewed Dr Richard Milburn, a Lecturer in Environmental Security in the Department of War Studies. Dr Milburn delves into key challenges in climate change action, the work of the Environmental Security Research Group (ESRG) and the sustainability efforts at King's.

What challenges are currently preventing the effective tackling of climate change?

Dr Milburn: Personally, I think it is a lack of strategy and a failure to create an enabling environment for individuals to unite in groups to deliver widespread change. The lack of clarity on what must be done to solve climate change remains a big problem. Many people and organisations don't know where to start.

The lack of financial initiatives to drive change is a significant weakness too; where are the pension funds, the ISA investments, the VC funds investing in solutions? They exist, but they are hard to find. Yet, if we make it easier for the millions of people who care passionately about the climate to invest (some) of their savings into the solutions, we could start delivering big change. Perhaps it's time for a new slogan, "Stop Protesting, Start Investing"?

What do you think world leaders need to agree on at the COP28 conference?

Dr Milburn: I think COP is a load of hot air. The clue is in the number 28. We should have had solutions by now, so I have little hope for this one. If they could agree on one thing, I would say to adopt a clear, simple, targeted strategy the world can get behind or create an equivalent to the Montreal Framework for rapidly reducing methane emissions.

What actions do we need to implement worldwide to address climate security?

Dr Milburn: A massive scale-up of clean, cheap, reliable electricity. Around ¾ of emissions come from energy, so that is the 'magic bullet' for climate change. If clean electricity is cheaper than fossil fuels, the world will switch to it because it will be uneconomical to do otherwise, and emissions will plunge. If we were to take a 'Moonshot' or 'war-footing' approach to solving climate change, clean electricity technology would be a key focus, with extra support to develop net-zero synthetic fuels to rapidly de-carbonise transport and enhancements in electrical grid transmission and storage to make electrification work globally.

As part of the School of Security Studies, the Environmental Security Research Group (ESRG) fosters collaboration between the security community and scholars from various disciplines. Can you tell us more about their work?

Dr Milburn: It supports and develops educational, research and policy-related projects and activities. Their focus is on the international, national, and human security consequences of climate change and the challenges for security forces to help societies manage these effects. In bringing scholarly and practitioner expertise on these issues, ESRG aims to support security sector reform efforts to create sustainable, rule-of-law-based security assistance for environmental crises.

What are the implications of their work?

Dr Milburn: It helps elevate the status of environmental security within the department and wider university and brings together those interested in and working on the topic under a single umbrella. Knowing what academics are doing in a large organisation such as King's can be difficult, so the ESRG creates a focal point for staff and students to find people working in relevant areas. It also offers a platform to engage with the Defence sector about environmental issues, from greening defence to military support to environmental protection, leveraging the department's and wider school's strong reputation to push the environment up the policy agenda.

How can students get involved with the group's work?

Dr Milburn: Attending events, getting in touch with members of the group to offer support with activities, and supporting research. It's generally easier for PhDs to engage on the research piece, but those writing their UG or PG theses on an environmental security topic can also contribute. And as ever, suggest ideas – academic staff are often swamped with work, but if students can do the heavy lifting on a new idea or project, they can provide the support to help get it off the ground, be that a careers event, a workshop, or a game-simulation event, as just a few examples.

Do you believe King's is on track to being a global and sustainable carbon-neutral university? 

Dr Milburn: The university has a target of Net Zero by 2025. I believe this only refers to Scope 1 and 2 emissions, and the climate and sustainability directorate is pushing forward a number of initiatives, including multi-million-pound investments, so there is definitely some great work happening. However, are we doing enough? I would say not yet. 

Are there still changes that need to be made at King's, and is there anything the King's community, both staff and students, can do to implement that change?

Dr Milburn: There is a lot more to be done, as there is with every organisation on the planet. If we take the issue seriously, at the very least, every student and staff member at King's should live a Net Zero lifestyle and get rewarded for doing so. We should have a lot more support and activities running every week to enable those with ideas for how to solve environmental issues to get support to realise them.

I think students could play a much more active role in demanding bigger, faster, bolder change from the university; I see many saying there is a 'climate crisis', yet they don't demand enough change from an organisation they are paying thousands of pounds a year to. And I think staff should help with that, supporting students to develop workable proposals for change and being ambitious in our targets; for example, we have a health and nutrition school, so how do we get King's Food to become a global leader in healthy, sustainable, tasty and affordable food on campus.

Please note that all opinions shared by Dr Richard Milburn in this blog are his own.

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