Climate change threatens to spark conflicts around the world: security experts

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WATCH: Scientists say 2018 was one of the warmest years on record – Feb 6, 2019

Climate change threats – from worsening water shortages in Iraq and Pakistan to harsher hurricanes in the Caribbean – are a growing security risk and require concerted action to ensure they don’t spark new violence, security experts warned Tuesday.

“Climate change is not about something in the far and distant future. We are discussing imminent threats to national security,” said Monika Sie Dhian Ho, general director of the Clingendael Institute, a Dutch think tank.

The drying of Africa’s Lake Chad basin, for instance, has helped drive recruitment for Islamist militant group Boko Haram among young people unable to farm or find other work, said Haruna Kuje Ayuba of Nigeria’s Nasarawa State University.

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“People are already deprived of a basic livelihood,” the geography professor said at a conference on climate and security at The Hague. “If you give them a little money and tell them to destroy this or kill that, they are ready to do it.”

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Iraq, meanwhile, has seen its water supplies plunge as its upstream neighbors build dams and climate change brings hotter and dryer conditions to Baghdad, said Hisham Al-Alawi, Iraq’s ambassador to the Netherlands.

“Overall we are getting less by nearly 40 percent of the waters we used to get,” he told the conference.

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Shoring up the country’s water security, largely by building more storage and cutting water losses, will take nearly $80 billion through 2035, he said.

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Faced with more heat and less rain, “we need to be wise and start planning for the future, as this trend is likely to continue,” he said.

‘Existential crisis’

The threat of worsening violence related to climate change also extends to countries and regions not currently thought of as insecurity hot spots, climate and security analysts at the conference warned.

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The Caribbean, for instance, faces more destructive hurricanes, coral bleaching, sea-level rise and looming water shortages that threaten its main economic pillars, particularly tourism.

“We’re facing an existential crisis in the Caribbean,” said Selwin Hart, the Barbados-born executive director of the Inter-American Development Bank.


Ninety percent of the region’s economic activity – particularly tourism, fishing and port operations – takes place on the threatened coastline, he said.

Hurricanes, in recent years, have flattened the economies of some Caribbean nations, with Hurricane Maria in 2017 costing Dominica about 225 percent of its GDP, according to World Bank estimates.

But as the global emissions that drive climate change continue to rise, “there’s not a realistic chance of achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement,” Hart suggested.

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The agreement calls for a rapid shift away from fossil fuels to hold the global average temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius.

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The failure to cut emissions means the Caribbean, while doing what it can to become more resilient to the growing risks, also needs “to plan for the worst-case scenario,” Hart said.

It is trying to do that by building coordination and assistance networks among Caribbean states and looking to shore up access to food and water, among other changes, said Ronald Jackson, of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency.

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Often that work requires persuading officials from very different ministries – finance, tourism, agriculture, water, energy and security, for instance – to sit down together and coordinate plans, said Jackson, the group’s executive director.

And the work has to be done quickly, he said. Last October the world’s climate scientists warned that to hold global temperature hikes to 1.5 degrees C, global energy systems would have to dramatically shift in the next dozen years.

“Before the 1.5 degree report came out we were looking at a much longer time frame” for change, Jackson said. “But now it’s the 2020s, early 2030s. We’re out of time. We have to act now.”

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Military officials around the world have increasingly recognized the risks associated with climate change, and moved to shore up bases against sea-level rise, curb military emissions, adopt clean energy and analyze changing risks.

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At the Planetary Security conference at the Hague on Tuesday, they announced the creation of a new International Military Council on Climate and Security, made up of senior military leaders from around the world.

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The panel aims to help build policy to address climate security risks at national, regional and international levels, backers said.

“Climate change fuels the roots of conflict around the globe and poses a direct threat to populations and installations in coastal areas and small islands,” said General Tom Middendorp, a former Dutch defense chief who will chair the new council.

“It should therefore be taken very seriously as a major security issue that needs to be addressed. The military can and should be part of the solution,” he said.

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