Climate Change and Security in the News - December 2009

A round-up of articles relating to climate change and security in the world media for December 2009

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New research highlights climate change threat to coastal regions

Scientists from the Scientific Commission on Antarctic Research warn that the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has grossly underestimated the amount ice melt in Greenland and Antarctica will contribute to total sea-level rise around the world. If temperatures continue to increase, sea levels could rise by six meters over the next 500 years. To put this in perspective, a rise of just one meter is enough to inundate many densely-populated regions, threaten the flood defences of many coastal cities from San Francisco to St Petersburg, and pose an insurmountable problem for low-lying island states such as the Maldives, whose populations have nowhere left to go.
Coverage: Times, Telegraph, Independent

Cutting carbon emissions will not be enough

The chairman of the IPCC, Rajendra Pachauri has said that drastic cuts in carbons emissions will not be enough to prevent the worst impacts of climate change. The world must use technologies that are already available to suck carbon from the atmosphere if permanent damage to the climate is to be averted. Possible techniques for this type of geo-engineering may include seeding artificial clouds over oceans to reflect sunlight back into space, sowing the oceans with iron ore to boost plankton growth and using carbon capture and storage technology to reduce emissions from power stations. However, the use of geo-engineering solutions could lead to new international disputes over the effects of such technology on different parts of the world.
Coverage: Times

Leading Chinese meteorologist calls for China to focus on adaptation

The top meteorologist in China has warned that climate change could cause 'incalculable' damage to the country. Zheng Guoguang has called for efforts to address climate change to focus on adaptation, rather than mitigation. This is despite the fact that officially China has made both mitigation and adaptation equal priorities in the fight against climate change. The call from the Head of the China Meteorological Administration came just weeks before the start of the climate change conference in Copenhagen where China was expected to play a leading role in negotiations. As the world's highest emitter of greenhouse gases, whatever climate change policies are adopted in China will have huge implications for the rest of the world.
Coverage: AFP

Global climate change is a security issue

Governments around the world have been facing up to the threats that climate change impacts are likely to pose to national and international security.

In the US, climate change is for the first time to be included among the security threats identified in the next 'Quadrennial Defense Review'; a Congress-mandated report that updates Pentagon priorities every four years. The Pentagon has been instructed to accept the climate assessments of the IPCC. Their interest in climate change research reflects the security community's mission to be prepared for any eventuality. 'The American people expect the military to plan for the worst', said the retired Vice Admiral, Lee Gunn.

In Canada, Robert McLeman, a former Canadian foreign service officer, has argued that climate change will not only have implications for geopolitics in the High North, but also that the impacts of climate change in other, more violent regions of the world will increase Canadians' exposure to conflicts and extremism. He has suggested that the current Canadian government's lack of a coherent climate policy undermines Canada's long-term national security.

Nigeria's environment minister, John Odey, has warned that Nigeria will be among those countries hardest hit by the impacts of climate change. Drought, desertification, flooding, soil erosion and storms are expected to increase in frequency and intensity. Odey said that 'the consequences of these impacts could be 'dire' and will invariably result in population movements, climate change refugees and civil unrest, all of which threaten to undermine security'. The Minister has called on the government to treat climate change as a matter of national security and wants a mass mobilisation of Nigerians to take measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and embark on mass education to bring about a change in the national attitude. 

According to international business and security consultant Andrew K.P. Leung, the Chinese government also sees climate change as far more than a risk on the horizon. He told Solve Climate that 'for China, it [climate change] is a clear and present danger. It is threatening the stability of the communist party, so it has been elevated to the level of national security'. In the run up to the Copenhagen conference, China announced a legally binding carbon intensity target to cut CO2 emissions 40-45% by 2020, relative to GDP.

Warnings about the potential for climate change to threaten international security have also come from the Nobel Prize laureate, Wangari Maathai, and President Barack Obama, in the build-up to the climate change summit in Copenhagen. Maathai remarked that 'wealthy nations must fight climate change on security grounds, as they will have to deal with any mass movement of people displaced by the effects of global warming'. In his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, Obama agreed, saying that, because of climate change, 'our common security hangs in the balance'.
Coverage: NPR, Ottawa Citizen, Reuters, COP15, AFP, Solve Climate

NATO Secretary General discuss climate change security threats in Copenhagen

NATO Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, took part in a panel discussion about the international security implications of global climate change in Copenhagen. Rasmussen argued that climate change will only increase demands on military forces. The Secretary General wants NATO to use its position to take a leading role in helping to tackle climate change.

Sherri Goodman and David Catarious, authors of CNA's 2007 report on climate change and US national security have also called for a greater role for NATO in the fight against climate change. They want to see NATO incorporate climate change into its new Strategic Concept to be published in 2010 - this document is only updated every ten years so the inclusion of climate change is critical for focusing the attention and resources of the international community towards meeting climate security challenges.
Coverage: NATO News, New Europe

Future water scarcity is more likely to trigger local conflicts than interstate war

National security and water experts in the US argue that water scarcity caused by climate change and overpopulation is likely to spark local armed conflicts over the next century but not necessarily wars between nation states. Peter Gleick, an expert at the Pacific Institute, expects to see a pattern of localised conflict emerge in sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, India, China, Pakistan and Burma in coming decades. However, Gleick says it is wrong to assume such battles would flare up into international armed confrontations.

Aaron Wolf, director of a water conflict project at Oregon State University, is also concerned about the implications of water scarcity for national security but suggests that cooperation over water is just as likely as armed struggle.
Coverage: NY Times

Environmental refugees from Bangladesh cannot go back to their homes

Environmental refugees from Bangladesh have been unable to return home since Cyclone Sidr ravaged the country. 'Environmental refugees have lost everything,' said Rabab Fatima, the South Asia representative of the International Organization for Migration. 'They don't have the money to make a big move. They move to the next village, the next town and eventually to a city.'

According to Koko Warner of the United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security, the migration of Bangladeshis vulnerable to environmental disasters is leading to rapid, unplanned urbanisation. She expects this will put an even greater strain on scarce water, energy and food resources in the region.

Seasonal migration has for a long time been a way of life for many Bangladeshi families, but in recent years, such moves are more likely to become permanent. Extreme weather events and the encroaching sea, of the type commonly associated with climate change, are leaving people rootless. Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, is one of the fastest-growing cities in the world, but like the rest of the country is extremely vulnerable to climate change impacts meaning its population could soon be on the move again.

In a guest post for Climate Progress, Michael Werz and Kari Manlove discuss the situation in Bangladesh and elsewhere, and offer a framework for addressing climate migration and its effects on security. They argue that climate migration will have numerous humanitarian, security, and legal implications.
Coverage: NY Times, Climate Progress

Adaptation funds could trigger further violence in conflict-prone areas

A new report on fragile states and climate-related conflict from International Alert argues that many of the nations expected to be hardest hit by climate change are vulnerable in part because they are already badly governed and conflict-prone. The provision of funding to help them adapt to climate change could potentially ferment further violence rather than reduce it as rivals fight over the spoils. 'It is the interaction between the natural consequences (of climate change) and the social and political realities in which people live that will determine whether they can adapt successfully' the report explains. For adaptation funding to work, spending must be incorporated into other development efforts to build strong government and society structures that will be resilient in the face of climate change and other problems.
Coverage: International Alert, Reuters

John Reid: environmental security will be at the heart of everything that is to come

The former UK Secretary of Defence, John Reid says we should expect to see environmental security 'at the heart' of everything that UK governments do for years to come. John Reid is now the Chairman of the Institute for Security and Resilience at University College, London.  In an article for Reuters, Reid argues that it will be 'impossible to ignore the huge economic costs if we fail to act, and the immense potential for conflict over resources becoming the dominant source of global insecurity - not least because of the resultant population movements'.
Coverage: Reuters

Further Analysis: Climate Security, Global Security Issues

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