Global Warming Seen as Security Threat

Oct 24 2004

Global Warming Seen as Security Threat

By Ed Stoddard


Rising sea levels force millions of Bangladeshis into India, fueling
ethnic and religious tensions that end in bloody riots. In Africa,
crops wither in the parched landscape of a once-lush nation, bringing
strife to the countryside and leading city dwellers to clash with the
army as they loot shops for food.

As Russian lawmakers ratified the Kyoto protocol on climate change on
Friday after years of dithering, grim scenarios like these may have
been on the minds of some.

A growing number of analysts argue that global warming linked to
greenhouse gas emissions is not just a “green issue.”

They argue it might eventually top terrorism on the global security
agenda, provoking new conflicts and inflaming old ones.

“The biggest security problem from global warming would be forced
migrations, the dislocation of people because of flooding or
drought,” said Steve Sawyer, climate policy adviser for environmental
group Greenpeace.

“Or drastic ecosystem change could change the resource base and
uproot rural people. Forced migrations of people almost always cause

Former Canadian Environment Minister David Anderson said earlier this
year that global warming posed a greater long-term threat to humanity
than terrorism because it could force hundreds of millions from their

Russia’s ratification of Kyoto cleared the way for the long-delayed
climate change pact to come into force worldwide.

Kyoto obliges rich nations to cut overall emissions of heat-trapping
carbon dioxide to 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by 2008-12, by
curbing use of coal, oil and natural gas and shifting to cleaner
energies like solar or wind power.

The United Nations projects that temperatures may rise by 1.4-5.8
Celsius by the year 2100. That could raise sea levels, swamp
low-lying states, and bring desertification or floods.

Even if fully implemented to 2012, Kyoto would only curb the
projected rise in temperatures by 0.15 Celsius. Anything more would
require far deeper cuts likely to cost trillions of dollars.

POOR BEAR THE BRUNT Climate change is taking its worst toll on the
developing world, although the bulk of greenhouse gas emissions stem
from rich nations.

Global warming may already be a source of violence in heavily
populated central Nigeria, where nomadic cattle herders and peasant
farmers have been locked in conflict over scarce land for decades as
the Sahara Desert creeps southwards.

“The frequency and impacts of natural disasters are on the rise,
driven in part by an unpredictably changing climate. The poor are the
most threatened by these catastrophes and the least equipped to
recover,” says the International Institute for Sustainable

“Evidence is emerging that many conflicts around the world are driven
by natural resource scarcity or inequitable access and

A United Nations and Organization for Security and Cooperation in
Europe (OSCE) report released on Friday looked at the ecological
roots of conflict in the tension-ridden Southern Caucasus region,
which includes Chechnya.

“Environmental degradation and the use of natural resources are
identified as factors that could deepen contention in areas of
existing conflicts as in Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and
Nagorno-Karabakh and adjacent regions of Azerbaijan,” it said.

Another recent study, the Southern African Millennium Ecosystem
Assessment (SAMA), stressed that many conflicts in Africa were driven
by land degradation.

Some analysts see global warming contributing to conflict over
dwindling water supplies. But one U.N. study found that 3,600 water
agreements had been recorded over the past 4,500 years — suggesting
that people can cooperate when it comes to this vital commodity.