Picture Japan, suffering from flooding along its coastal cities
and contamination of its fresh water supply, eyeing Russia’s Sakhalin
Island oil and gas reserves as an energy source…Envision Pakistan,
India and China – all armed with nuclear weapons – skirmishing at their
borders over refugees, access to shared river and arable land.”
might look like the minutes from a meeting of Hollywood executives. In
fact, it is from a Pentagon memo on the possible consequences of global
warming. Climate change is not just an environmental question, it could
have a massive impact on international security.
People in the
developing world will likely suffer most, as climate change will make
the resources they depend on more scarce: fresh water, cropland,
forests and fisheries. This will have grave humanitarian consequences.
Oxfam predicts 30m more people could be at risk of famine as a result
of global warming. With more famine we should expect more disease.
The demand for essential resources could exacerbate tensions within
countries. We are already seeing this: a contributing factor to the
conflict in Darfur has been a change in rainfall that pitted nomadic
herders against settled farmers. Such conflicts over resources within
countries could easily turn into conflicts between countries – either
directly through clashes between governments over a resource such as a
shared river or indirectly through the pressure of refugees crossing
Make no mistake: climate change is not just changing the
planet, it is changing human lives. Creeping environmental
deterioration already displaces 10m people a year. This could rise to
50m by 2010. Movements like this will have a huge impact on worldwide
Climate change will have a profound
effect on developed and emerging economies alike. China’s economy is
dependent on Himalayan glaciers to feed its southern rivers. But rising
temperatures are now causing these glaciers to melt at an alarming rate.
America, Hurricane Katrina turned New Orleans from a stable, wealthy
and vibrant city into a wasteland in the space of a few days. In the
UK, the Thames barrier, designed to be raised once every six years, is
now being raised six times a year. Just one big flood would cost £30bn,
or 2 per cent of UK gross domestic product.
What this would mean
for our standards of living and the strength of society is alarming. So
what can we do? There is a consensus about climate change as an
environmental phenomenon, which I share, that says we need to take
action to prevent it, rather than just mitigate its effects. But, at
the same time, politicians have a duty to prepare for its consequences
in terms of domestic and international security.
Action means the
UK needs a climate change bill with annual binding targets for
emissions. In their last three manifestos, Labour made a commitment to
reduce emissions by 2010, but last year they dropped this altogether.
Only annual targets will create an economic price for carbon and
encourage us to diversify our energy sources.
renewable energy sources will also make our energy supplies more
secure. By 2020, 90 per cent of UK energy will be supplied from abroad,
leaving us vulnerable to political pressure. Reducing our reliance on
oil and gas will help fight climate change and reinforce our security.
leadership domestically also builds the trust necessary to get
diplomatic agreement abroad – underpinned by a new global emissions
authority. Sceptics who argue that the likes of China and the US would
never agree misunderstand how energy security is already influencing
China, a resource-poor country, recently set a
goal of doubling the use of alternative sources of energy. President
George W. Bush last year promised a 22 per cent rise in US government
clean energy funding to help end what he called the country’s
“addiction to oil”.
Preparing for the consequences of climate
change means we must re-evaluate our policies. We need a sharper focus
on preventing and addressing climate change in the developing world. We
must also examine potential areas of conflict caused by climate changes
in planning defence policies.
As early as 1971, Richard Falk
argued that environmental change was a security issue and outlined his
“first law of ecological politics”: the faster the rate of change, the
less time to adapt, the more dangerous the impact will be. The planet
has already waited 36 years; it cannot afford to wait much longer.