RISK

U.K. defense ministry details global security impacts of climate change

Climate change will pose an increasing threat to world peace and security over the next 30 years as temperatures warm, sea levels rise and extreme weather events become more frequent, according to a recent report by the U.K. Ministry of Defence.

Derived through research compiled by the ministry's Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre, "Global Strategic Trends -- Out to 2045" aims to inform global policymakers about near-future threats and opportunities by projecting trends, such as population growth, over the upcoming three decades.

"Our world will change significantly over the next 30 years, and all of us will feel it," U.K. Minister for International Security and Strategy Andrew Murrison said in a statement. "It will be a time of continuing transition, characterized by uncertainty, challenge and complexity. [The report] maps this and is well worth studying closely."

The 172-page report identifies climate change as one of several trends that will affect every region of the globe -- including the Arctic and Antarctic -- by 2045, and mentions the man-made phenomenon in almost every themed section, from health to transport.

While the report says that periods of slowdown and speeding up in global temperature trends are normal and that greenhouse gas emissions will "almost certainly" affect the climate for the next few decades regardless of mitigation efforts, it warns that a lack of global action to address climate change could lead to many devastating consequences.

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"By 2045, climate change is likely to have more noticeable effects," it states. "Without mitigation, rising sea levels will increase the risk of coastal flooding, particularly in regions affected by tropical cyclones. Droughts and heatwaves are also likely to increase in intensity, duration and frequency."

Water as a 'weapon of war'

By 2045, the report states, the effects of climate change, coupled with global population growth -- particularly in urban areas -- will increase the severity of humanitarian crises, especially since the majority of urban areas will be vulnerable to flooding due to being on or near the coast.

"Climate change adds another factor of unpredictability and instability to the world security system," said Andrew Holland, a senior fellow for energy and climate at the American Security Project. "In coastal zones, like South and Southeast Asia, sea-level rise combined with more frequent, violent storms will threaten the viability of cities along the coasts."

According to the Ministry of Defence report, between 270 million and 310 million people are believed to be at risk from coastal flooding and, by 2045, there could be between 80 million and 130 million more people at risk, with three-quarters of them in Asia. Many large and populous cities in coastal regions around South America will also be exposed to flooding risks due to both rising sea levels and extreme rainfall, it adds.

But, as the report indicates, it's a lack of water that will affect the majority of the world's regions over the next 30 years. Even Europe, where it says the effects of climate change "are likely to be less severe," is expected to experience increased water scarcity. Sub-Saharan Africa, where there will be the greatest increase in population, will be particularly vulnerable to drought, and the availability of fresh water in the Middle East is expected to decrease.

"In the Middle East, already parched regions will be threatened by drought and water shortages," Holland said. "Water will increasingly become a weapon of war in this region."

Chad Briggs, principal and strategy director of Global Interconnections LLC, on the other hand, thinks the threat of climate change can be an opportunity for countries to work together under the banner of national security.

"India and Pakistan have water treaties, and they still observe those regardless of how many times they've gone to war together," he said. "There are points for people to say, 'Look, we really need to cooperate on this.'"

Backyard climate change

In the United States, the report projects climate change will bring severe heat waves, rising sea levels and intense rainfall, among other side effects.

According to Briggs, places like New Orleans, New York City, Hawaii, Texas and California will be particularly vulnerable to the future effects of climate change, due "mainly to water issues." The report states that average rainfall will remain stagnant on the West Coast and Southwest of the country, and rising sea levels, coupled with intense rainfall, will make the Mississippi Delta and cities along the East Coast at risk of flooding.

Extreme weather, such as severe heat waves, it adds, could cause crop damage, power failures and high death rates among the young and elderly in cities such as New York and Washington.

But "it's not just the cities," Briggs said. "We worry a lot about the rural areas in terms of what the impacts will be on agriculture and water use."

The report projects that by 2045, the Colorado River, a crucial freshwater source for agriculture, will experience a 10 to 30 percent decrease in runoff, and the cost of water stress on agriculture throughout North America will be in the billions of dollars.

Fighting a new enemy

Even the U.S. military won't be able to escape the effects of climate change over the next three decades.

According to the report, melting ice in the Arctic and Antarctica will open many new areas of land to mineral and hydrocarbon extraction as well create new shipping routes, which could result in a global race for power in the region and increase tension among countries that believe their interests are being threatened.

"The Navy and Coast Guard, in particular, are worried about what happens in the Arctic," Briggs said. "We have new areas that people haven't typically operated in before where they have to worry about issues like search and rescue."

Holland said he doesn't think the melting ice will cause conflict between the United States and other Arctic nations, but "it could be a venue for other international tensions (say, over Crimea between Russia and the U.S.) to spill over into."

The report states that future climate change will also bring the U.S. military -- and other militaries around the world -- increasing responsibility to aid other countries with humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

"The militaries and intelligence communities of the U.K., U.S., Germany and other allied governments are leading on identifying and working to mitigate the threats stemming from climate change," Holland said.

"Our studies have indicated that over 100 countries around the world have identified that climate change poses a threat to security," he added, "and many of them have begun the planning process to determine what their military can do about it."

Twitter: @ElspethDehnert | Email: edehnert@eenews.net

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