Six places in the world where climate change could cause political turmoil
From Nepal to Nigeria, Indonesia to the Arctic Circle, a warmer world poses different problems.
Nepal: Unforeseen flash pointSkip to next paragraph
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When it came to climate change fueling conflict, "Nepal was not on people's watch list," says Marc Levy, a political scientist at Columbia University. But several experts now say the country's Maoist insurgency has received a substantial boost from global warming.
During the past decade, a change in precipitation patterns and the shrinking of glaciers – events linked to climate change – have put added stress on Nepal's impoverished western hill districts. "There is a lack of irrigation," says Bishnu Upreti of the National Centre for Competence Research in Kathmandu, Nepal. As snowmelt and glacial runoff have been interrupted, he says, "it has caused a lot of tension."
Maoists have used this to their advantage. These areas "were expecting help from the government, but the government was not able to handle the difficulties," Mr. Upreti says. Maoists stoked these frustrations to turn people against the government.
Many highland Nepalis have left, overcrowding lowland districts along the border with India. Twenty years ago, 18 percent of the population lived in these districts, which make up one-fifth of Nepal's area. Today, nearly half of all Nepalis live there.
Says Geoff Dabelko, director of the Woodrow Wilson Institute's Environmental Change and Security Program in Washington: "It's becoming harder for people in the highlands to earn a living."
Indonesia: Unintended effects
The motive is good: To reduce its carbon footprint, the European Union wants 5.75 percent of its nations' vehicles to run on biofuel by 2010. The result in Indonesia, however, has been an unprecedented acceleration of deforestation to create plantations for palm oil – one type of biofuel – to serve Europe.
The impact is twofold. First, the pace of deforestation has made Indonesia the third-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, behind only the United States and China, in part because of fires lit by some Indonesians to clear land. As a result, an area that covers 0.1 percent of Earth's landmass accounts for 4 percent of global emissions, according to Greenpeace.
Second, Indonesia's indigenous people rely on the forests for their livelihood. As the deforestation accelerates in already volatile regions like Papua and West Kalimantan, tensions are also mounting.
"In the near future there is the possibility of conflict between the community and the companies," says Bustar Maitar of Greenpeace, who has lived among villagers on the island of Sumatra. "The community will want to defend their land."
Conflicts could be an unintended effect of a biofuel program, agrees Geoffrey Dabelko, director of the Environmental Change and Security Project in Washington.
Lagos, Nigeria: Megacity on the brink
Sea-level rise presents a threat to coastal cities worldwide, but the threat is thought to be particularly acute for cities such as Lagos, Nigeria – already stressed to its limits by a population of 17 million and at the center of an unstable region.
Not only might sea-level rise directly affect Lagos, but migration patterns suggest that villagers displaced by the effects of global warming will head to the city seeking jobs. The scenario also suggests that Lagos could be forced to deal with a tide both of water and of refugees from elsewhere along the Gulf of Guinea, along Africa's Atlantic coast.
"Even in a time of relative stability, there is very little civil governance, and very little ability to serve huge numbers of people with basics like electricity, clean water, healthcare, or education," writes US Air Force Gen. Charles Wald (ret.) in "National Security and the Threat of Climate Change," a report by CNA Corp., a research firm in Alexandria, Va. "If you add rising coastal waters and more extreme weather events … it makes the possibility of conflict very real."
Criminals and antigovernment groups already have a substantial presence in the city. The instability created by the effects of climate change could provide them with the ability to work more vigorously, adds Peter Ogden of the Center for American Progress and a coauthor of the study "The Security Implications of Climate Change."