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Canadian Climate Leadership – Addressing the Looming Threats Despite a Return of International Conflict

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The rise of tensions both in Eastern Europe and the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) regions over the past two years has recently shifted attention from global challenges such as climate change towards a return of armed conflicts on the international stage. Yet, climate change-induced disasters continue to plague the international community on an incredibly devastating and recurrent basis. The United Nations reports indicate that the international community is likely to miss the critical 2030 targets outlined in the Paris Agreement. As a result, the irreversible effects of climate change, including those relevant to climate security considerations, are looming closer. This article outlines these considerations for climate security, highlighting consequences that are becoming a reality sooner than expected. It also proposes ways for Canada to take a leadership role in this domain.


Recent events in the Middle East, coupled with the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, have taken center-stage as of late, with large-scale conflict making its return to the international scene. Accordingly, within the sphere of international relations, this re-emergence of power politics can be attributed to a weakening  of the liberal order and its institutions. One of the results of this shift is the dearth of sustained efforts towards resolving the ongoing problems that can only be addressed through international cooperation – namely: climate change. 

At a recent Institute for Peace & Diplomacy colloquium titled “Canada in a Shifting International Order: Debating our National Interests”, a critical question posed was raised: “Does climate change outstrip great power competition as the existential crisis facing the international community?” If this is true, it suggests that climate change should serve as the unifying crisis, or even central issue within the international system, potentially overriding the pursuit of geopolitical gains or rivalries among regional and global powers. Yet, United Nations reports indicate that we are not on track to meet long-term goals set out by the Paris Agreement. To this effect, achieving the 2030 objectives would require a reduction of emissions of 43%.

The Crux of the Issue – Collaboration within a Weakening International Order

The scientific community widely agrees on the impacts of climate change, a consensus that is also recognized within the international community. This acknowledgment is evident in agreements such as the Montreal Protocol (1987), the Kyoto Protocol (1997), and the Paris Agreement (2015), which highlight the commitment of nations to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and other environmentally harmful actions, while also addressing the existing effects of climate change. Leading into the United Nations Climate Change Conference in November 2021 (commonly known as COP26) held in Glasgow, there was a sense of optimism for international collaboration. The conference saw more than 153 countries making net-zero commitments. Additionally, COP26 attracted unprecedented media attention on climate change, the most since the Paris Agreement’s signing in 2015, setting the stage for further progress at subsequent conferences. 

However, the war in Ukraine overshadowed much of the subsequent COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh. Discussions there devolved into power politics and regional interests, particularly in debates pertaining to climate change reparations for emerging economies. Post-conference, these discussions further deteriorated, focusing on deeper issues related to certain states’ efforts to end perceived Western hegemony, exemplified by the growing significance of the BRICS bloc. The September 2023 G20 summit in India, the latest meeting of nations, aimed to address international issues such as climate change. Yet, it too witnessed emerging economies expressing their discontent with the West, highlighted by various MENA nations’ applications to join BRICS. The war in Ukraine continued to overshadow climate change discussions, with attendees failing to agree on fossil fuel reductions, despite the EU climate monitor’s report that 2023 was expected to be the hottest year in human history.

Consequently, the core issue for climate change remains: how can we foster sustainable action through collective efforts to address its threats amidst a weakening international order, deteriorating institutions, and the rise of both geopolitical competition and armed conflicts? The following section proposes the role Canada can play in leading global climate change initiatives. It also explores bringing this issue to the forefront, especially in light of Canada’s recent investments in this domain.

Canadian Considerations for Climate Change Leadership

The consequences of failing to meet the Paris Agreement targets are dire. From a security standpoint, NATO recognizes climate change as the “defining challenge of our time.” Its recent Vilnius Summit Communique highlights that climate change profoundly affects all of NATO’s core tasks. Viewing climate change as a threat multiplier, worsening impacts contribute to increased forced climate migration, exacerbate food insecurity, and further strain the armed forces of member states, which are already committed to addressing ongoing natural disasters linked to climate change. This results in heightened volatility and tension within an already fragile and fraught security framework.

In Canada, there has been an undeniable increase in extreme weather events induced by climate change, with annual natural disasters significantly impacting communities nationwide. As these events become more frequent and severe, they overwhelm provincial and territorial authorities, leading to a default federal response involving the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) through Operation LENTUS. However, the CAF is at a crossroads, as the continual need for disaster response, combined with increased deployments to Eastern Europe, places a strain on an organization already facing challenges. While the CAF’s focus on deterring international threats through alliances like NATO is essential, climate change represents a boundless threat, increasingly evident as Canada continues to confront domestic climate-related disasters. This therefore presents an opportunity for Canada to take a self-interested yet altruist leadership position in the domain of climate change and climate security today. 

As highlighted in the most recent Institute for Peace & Diplomacy foreign policy White Paper, it is in Canada’s interest to actively engage in issues crucial to both the nation and the world. Yet, this ambition comes at a time when Canada, with its limited resources, cannot strategically address all global issues, as exemplified by the Canadian Armed Forces’ (CAF) stretched capacity in disaster response. A prime area of focus is the intersection of the environment and security, where Canada has both an interest and a responsibility in managing the dislocations caused by climate change. A shift in foreign policy towards challenges like climate change, which are significant yet less focused on hard security, would benefit not just Canada, but also the increasingly fragile international order struggling to collaborate on such existential issues.

Leading into the upcoming COP28 summit, as Joseph Ingram points out, Canada has a unique opportunity to begin this reorientation. Ottawa has already positioned itself as a leader in climate change action, often spearheading initiatives to mitigate and address the effects of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and other environmental impacts globally. In the lead-up to the 2015 Paris climate change conference, Ottawa even acknowledged the need for a distinct “Canadian approach” to climate change. This approach included decision-making processes based on science, and policy solutions such as carbon pricing and the development of climate-resilient economies.

Climate Action: Tools for the Task

Commitments through NATO already allow for Ottawa to seize upon this opportunity. Canada recently moved forward with the establishment of the NATO Climate Change and Security Centre of Excellence (CCASCOE), having signed the founding document with eleven other nations in Vilnius. By leveraging CCASCOE, Ottawa can address two major issues: balancing its commitment to NATO, and fostering the previously mentioned reorientation of its foreign policy. This initiative also allows Ottawa to further develop the “Canadian approach” to climate action, while addressing a currently under-emphasized area within NATO, especially in light of the current global security context.

Canada is well-equipped with support from its internal security and environmental communities and now faces the task of converging these resources into a unified effort. The annual Montreal Climate Security Summit exemplifies this, providing a platform to address crucial issues such as energy transition, refugee displacement, greening defence, and emergency response to extreme weather events. Concurrently, the Climate Security Association of Canada, launched in March 2023 by experts involved in the CCASCOE process and based in Montreal, further strengthens this initiative. Through these and other dedicated institutions, Canada is well-positioned to contribute significantly to NATO’s Climate Change Compendium of Best Practice and potentially assume a leadership role in the Climate Change and Security Action Plan

Moreover, as an energy superpower, Canada is uniquely positioned to demonstrate the transition to clean energy sources on a global scale, a critical component in reducing GHG emissions. Interestingly, energy transition has become a significant concern for NATO recently, driven more by economic and supply chain considerations than climate change itself, as highlighted by the war in Ukraine. This shift in focus is evident in the newly announced NATO Energy Transition by Design initiative.

Considering this, it is evident that Canada has the necessary elements in place to reposition itself as a leader in climate change, should it choose to do so. The initiatives mentioned are well-aligned to address both the core of the issue and specific Canadian considerations. These efforts are aptly suited to contribute to both NATO and broader international endeavors aimed at enhancing climate change awareness, mitigation, and adaptation. Additionally, embracing this leadership role aligns with Canada’s NATO commitments while also rebalancing its internal priorities to address issues that hit closer to home. This represents a strategic reallocation of resources, optimizing what Ottawa has at its disposal both internationally and domestically. Out of both self-interest and a commitment to the planet, Canada should capitalize on this opportunity, harnessing the array of efforts outlined above.


The weakening of the international order, the rise of geopolitical rivalries, and the resurgence of armed conflicts have eclipsed climate change considerations within the global security landscape. NATO acknowledges climate change as a “defining challenge of our time,” and it has been an agenda item internationally for over three decades. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) also recognizes that climate change exacerbates conflicts and further endangers the most vulnerable. However, recognizing the issue does not equate to solving it within a weakening international order; collaborative action and transnational cooperation are essential. To this effect, the UNHCR warns of worsening conditions, yet also emphasizes that defeatism is not an option and that little is inevitable. With sufficient political will and anticipation of future risks, there is potential to improve future outcomes in terms of climate change for the benefit of future generations.

In this context, this article has outlined various pathways for Canada to take a leadership role in climate change action, many of which align with its existing commitments in the realm of climate security. If the federal government can effectively balance its domestic and international priorities related to climate change, resisting the urge to use it as a political tool, there is still hope for Canada to emerge as a leading light on this critical issue within a new global security environment.

Written By:
Alexander Landry
Alexander Landry is a Young Fellow at the Institute for Peace & Diplomacy and a Staff Officer at NATO Allied Land Command covering portfolios of Energy Security, Climate Change, and Environmental Protection.
Alexa Dominique Pascual
Alexa Dominique Pascual is a youth delegate for various institutions including the World Bank, United Nations, and NATO for key topics including Climate Change and Women’s Rights Advocacy.
Panel 4: Pathways to Manage Non-Proliferation in the Middle East (4:30 PM - 5:45 PM ET)

The Western powers have failed to effectively manage the increasing threat of proliferation in the Middle East. While the international community is concerned with Iran’s nuclear program, Saudi Arabia has moved forward with developing its own nuclear program, and independent studies show that Israel has longed possessed dozens of nuclear warheads. The former is a member of the treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), while the latter has refused to sign the international agreement. 

On Middle East policy, the Biden campaign had staunchly criticized the Trump administration’s unilateral withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), more commonly known as the Iran Nuclear Deal and it has begun re-engaging Iran on the nuclear dossier since assuming office in January 2021. However, serious obstacles remain for responsible actors in expanding non-proliferation efforts toward a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East. 

This panel will discuss how Western powers and multilateral institutions, such as the IAEA, can play a more effective role in managing non-proliferation efforts in the Middle East.  


Peggy Mason: Canada’s former Ambassador to the UN for Disarmament

Mark Fitzpatrick: Associate Fellow & Former Executive Director, International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS)

Ali Vaez: Iran Project Director, International Crisis Group

Negar Mortazavi: Journalist and Political Analyst, Host of Iran Podcast

David Albright: Founder and President of the Institute for Science and International Security


Closing (5:45 PM – 6:00 PM ET)

Panel 3: Trade and Business Diplomacy in the Middle East (3:00 PM - 4:15 PM ET)

What is the current economic landscape in the Middle East? While global foreign direct investment is expected to fall drastically in the post-COVID era, the World Bank reported a 5% contraction in the economic output of the Middle East and North African (MENA) countries in 2020 due to the pandemic. While oil prices are expected to rebound with normalization in demand, political instability, regional and geopolitical tensions, domestic corruption, and a volatile regulatory and legal environment all threaten economic recovery in the Middle East. What is the prospect for economic growth and development in the region post-pandemic, and how could MENA nations promote sustainable growth and regional trade moving forward?

At the same time, Middle Eastern diaspora communities have become financially successful and can help promote trade between North America and the region. In this respect, the diaspora can become vital intermediaries for advancing U.S. and Canada’s business interests abroad. Promoting business diplomacy can both benefit the MENA region and be an effective and positive way to advance engagement and achieve foreign policy goals of the North Atlantic.

This panel will investigate the trade and investment opportunities in the Middle East, discuss how facilitating economic engagement with the region can benefit Canadian and American national interests, and explore relevant policy prescriptions.


Hon. Sergio Marchi: Canada’s Former Minister of International Trade

Scott Jolliffe: Chairperson, Canada Arab Business Council

Esfandyar Batmanghelidj: Founder and Publisher of Bourse & Bazaar

Nizar Ghanem: Director of Research and Co-founder at Triangle

Nicki Siamaki: Researcher at Control Risks

Panel 2: Arms Race and Terrorism in the Middle East (12:00 PM - 1:15 PM ET)

The Middle East continues to grapple with violence and instability, particularly in Yemen, Syria and Iraq. Fueled by government incompetence and foreign interventions, terrorist insurgencies have imposed severe humanitarian and economic costs on the region. Meanwhile, regional actors have engaged in an unprecedented pursuit of arms accumulation. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have imported billions of both Western and Russian-made weapons and funded militant groups across the region, intending to contain their regional adversaries, particularly Iran. Tehran has also provided sophisticated weaponry to various militia groups across the region to strengthen its geopolitical position against Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Israel. 

On the other hand, with international terrorist networks and intense regional rivalry in the Middle East, it is impractical to discuss peace and security without addressing terrorism and the arms race in the region. This panel will primarily discuss the implications of the ongoing arms race in the region and the role of Western powers and multilateral organizations in facilitating trust-building security arrangements among regional stakeholders to limit the proliferation of arms across the Middle East.



Luciano Zaccara: Assistant Professor, Qatar University

Dania Thafer: Executive Director, Gulf International Forum

Kayhan Barzegar: Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the Science and Research Branch of Azad University

Barbara Slavin: Director of Iran Initiative, Atlantic Council

Sanam Shantyaei: Senior Journalist at France24 & host of Middle East Matters

Panel 1: Future of Diplomacy and Engagement in the Middle East (10:30 AM-11:45 AM ET)

The emerging regional order in West Asia will have wide-ranging implications for global security. The Biden administration has begun re-engaging Iran on the nuclear dossier, an initiative staunchly opposed by Israel, while also taking a harder line on Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen. Meanwhile, key regional actors, including Qatar, Iraq, and Oman, have engaged in backchannel efforts to bring Iran and Saudi Arabia to the negotiating table. From a broader geopolitical perspective, with the need to secure its energy imports, China is also expected to increase its footprint in the region and influence the mentioned challenges. 

In this evolving landscape, Western powers will be compelled to redefine their strategic priorities and adjust their policies with the new realities in the region. In this panel, we will discuss how the West, including the United States and its allies, can utilize multilateral diplomacy with its adversaries to prevent military escalation in the region. Most importantly, the panel will discuss if a multilateral security dialogue in the Persian Gulf region, proposed by some regional actors, can help reduce tensions among regional foes and produce sustainable peace and development for the region. 


Abdullah Baabood: Academic Researcher and Former Director of the Centre for Gulf Studies, Qatar University

Trita Parsi: Executive Vice-President, Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft

Ebtesam Al-Ketbi: President, Emirates Policy Centre​

Jon Allen: Canada’s Former Ambassador to Israel

Elizabeth Hagedorn: Washington correspondent for Al-Monitor

Panel 4: Humanitarian Diplomacy: An Underused Foreign Policy Tool in the Middle East (4:30 PM - 5:30 PM ET)

Military interventions, political and economic instabilities, and civil unrest in the Middle East have led to a global refugee crisis with an increasing wave of refugees and asylum seekers to Europe and Canada. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has, in myriad ways, exacerbated and contributed to the ongoing security threats and destabilization of the region.

While these challenges pose serious risks to Canadian security, Ottawa will also have the opportunity to limit such risks and prevent a spillover effect vis-à-vis effective humanitarian initiatives in the region. In this panel, we will primarily investigate Canada’s Middle East Strategy’s degree of success in providing humanitarian aid to the region. Secondly, the panel will discuss what programs and initiatives Canada can introduce to further build on the renewed strategy. and more specifically, how Canada can utilize its policy instruments to more effectively deal with the increasing influx of refugees from the Middle East. 



Erica Di Ruggiero: Director of Centre for Global Health, University of Toronto

Reyhana Patel: Head of Communications & Government Relations, Islamic Relief Canada

Amir Barmaki: Former Head of UN OCHA in Iran

Catherine Gribbin: Senior Legal Advisor for International and Humanitarian Law, Canadian Red Cross

Panel 3: A Review of Canada’s Middle East Engagement and Defense Strategy (3:00 PM - 4:15 PM ET)

In 2016, Canada launched an ambitious five-year “Middle East Engagement Strategy” (2016-2021), committing to investing CA$3.5 billion over five years to help establish the necessary conditions for security and stability, alleviate human suffering and enable stabilization programs in the region. In the latest development, during the meeting of the Global Coalition against ISIS, Minister of Foreign Affairs Marc Garneau announced more than $43.6 million in Peace and Stabilization Operations Program funding for 11 projects in Syria and Iraq.

With Canada’s Middle East Engagement Strategy expiring this year, it is time to examine and evaluate this massive investment in the Middle East region in the past five years. More importantly, the panel will discuss a principled and strategic roadmap for the future of Canada’s short-term and long-term engagement in the Middle East.


Ferry de Kerckhove: Canada’s Former Ambassador to Egypt

Dennis Horak: Canada’s Former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia

Chris Kilford: Former Canadian Defence Attaché in Turkey, member of the national board of the Canadian International Council (CIC)

David Dewitt: University Professor Emeritus, York University

Panel 2: The Great Power Competition in the Middle East (12:00 PM - 1:15 PM ET)

While the United States continues to pull back from certain regional conflicts, reflected by the Biden administration’s decision to halt American backing for Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen and the expected withdrawal from Afghanistan, US troops continue to be stationed across the region. Meanwhile, Russia and China have significantly maintained and even expanded their regional activities. On one hand, the Kremlin has maintained its military presence in Syria, and on the other hand, China has signed an unprecedented 25-year strategic agreement with Iran.

As the global power structure continues to shift, it is essential to analyze the future of the US regional presence under the Biden administration, explore the emerging global rivalry with Russia and China, and at last, investigate the implications of such competition for peace and security in the Middle East.


Dmitri Trenin: Director of Carnegie Moscow Center

Joost R. Hiltermann: Director of MENA Programme, International Crisis Group

Roxane Farmanfarmaian: Affiliated Lecturer in International Relations of the Middle East and North Africa, University of Cambridge

Andrew A. Michta: Dean of the College of International and Security Studies at Marshall Center

Kelley Vlahos: Senior Advisor, Quincy Institute

Panel 1: A New Middle East Security Architecture in the Making (10:30 AM -11:45 AM ET)

The security architecture of the Middle East has undergone rapid transformations in an exceptionally short period. Notable developments include the United States gradual withdrawal from the region, rapprochement between Israel and some GCC states through the Abraham Accords and the rise of Chinese and Russian regional engagement.

With these new trends in the Middle East, it is timely to investigate the security implications of the Biden administration’s Middle East policy. In this respect, we will discuss the Biden team’s new approach vis-à-vis Iran, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. The panel will also discuss the role of other major powers, including China and Russia in shaping this new security environment in the region, and how the Biden administration will respond to these powers’ increasing regional presence.



Sanam Vakil: Deputy Director of MENA Programme at Chatham House

Denise Natali: Acting Director, Institute for National Strategic Studies & Director of the Center for Strategic Research, National Defense University

Hassan Ahmadian: Professor of the Middle East and North Africa Studies, University of Tehran

Abdulaziz Sagar: Chairman, Gulf Research Center

Andrew Parasiliti: President, Al-Monitor