Climate Change Threatens International SecurityJohn Podesta and Peter Ogden | Washington Quarterly
The geopolitical consequences of climate change are determined as much by political, social and economic factors as by the climatic shift itself. As a rule wealthier countries will be better prepared to cope with the effects of climate change whilst developing countries are least able to do so. For example, an increase in rainfall could be a blessing for a country that can capture, store, and use the water. In a developing country it could lead to severe flooding and soil erosion.
Even though the temperature increases will be greatest at higher latitudes, it is developing nations at lower latitudes that will be most severely effected by climate change. Water shortages and in turn food shortages can also result in conflict over water supplies and high levels of migration, putting further stress on short resources.
Climate induced migration will primarily effect South Asia, Africa, and Europe. Such migration puts stress on areas where there is less water, food scarcity, and can also lead to ethnic and cultural tensions. This will have a destabilizing effect in a number of regions. In Europe large scale immigration from Muslim countries may lead to the radicalization of its often poorly assimilated Muslim communities. This will call into question the viability of the EU’s loose border controls.
The scarcity of water as a result of climate change will contribute to instability throughout the world. As discussed this could cause massive levels of migration. International conflicts may also arise as a result of shrinking water supplies. In the Middle East, four countries, Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria control 75% of the water supply. Conversely Israel has very little water, a factor which could lead to a “hydropolitical security complex.”
Water borne diseases will rise in areas with increased rainfall, while in areas with higher temperatures and drought, airborne diseases will rise. Such trends will be exacerbated by shortages of food and water, which render human populations vulnerable to illness. Moreover, the risk of a pandemic will heighten when worsening conditions prompt increased migration. Disease is financially costly – in 1994 a seven week plague outbreak cost India approximately $2 billion in trade revenues.
The livelihood of over 400 million Chinese is threatened by desertification. Moreover, growing internal migration is leading to ethnic tensions in the North West of the country. Should the Chinese continue to avoid international environmental protection agreements, international conflict could flare up – China’s environmental policy directly effects the international community.
The United Nations
As a result of high migration and food and water shortages, various states will call upon the UN for assistance. The UN will need a larger budget to deal with its increased workload in the future. The UN will also be central in negotiating and implementing a post-Kyoto environmental protection scheme. But with the Security Council taking up the issue of climate change and energy security in 2007, there could be many more clashes between large and small emitters and even amongst developed nations over differing policies.
The European Union
The EU is today at the forefront of efforts to reduce greenhouse gases. Its share of greenhouse gases is set to fall in the future. Unlike other organizations the EU is structured to make institution wide carbon reduction policies and to implement them upon its members.
Peter Ogden is the Senior Policy Analyst for National Security and International Policy at the Center for American Progress. His writings have been published in a number of major journals and newspapers including Foreign Affairs (November 2006), The New York Times, and The Washington Post.
John Podesta is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Center for American Progress. Podesta previously served as Chief of Staff to President William J. Clinton and is currently a Visiting Professor of Law at Georgetown University.
The sumary above was prepared by Cosmo Macfarlane of the Atlantic Community editorial team from a report in the Washington Quarterly, which can be seen in full online here.
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