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Where climate change meets national security

EU report adds urgency to old warnings, NATO to take up discussion next.

By / March 13, 2008

A peacekeeper with the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur stands guard. Decades of drought helped trigger Darfur's violence as rival groups fought over scarce water and arable land.

REUTERS/Stuart Price/Albany Associates/Handout/File


Last year, a group of retired American military officers warned that, left unchecked, climate change could lead to international instability.

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The problems could include refugees driven by drought, loss of food supplies, and rising sea levels: They might include violent conflicts, these generals and admirals said. The warning was an early sign from senior military leaders that climate change could have a serious national-security dimension.

In a report to be presented at a summit of the 27-nation European Union in Brussels on Thursday, two top EU officials will add urgency. The essence of their report: "Climate change is a threat multiplier which exacerbates existing trends, tensions, and instability," says a story in Britain's The Guardian newspaper. It continues:

"The main message is that the immediate and devastating effects of global warming will be felt far away from Europe, with the poor suffering disproportionately in south Asia, the Middle East, central Asia, Africa, and Latin America, but that Europe will ultimately bear the consequences. This could be in the form of mass migration, destabilisation … radicalisation of politics and populations, north-south conflict because of the perceived injustice of the causes and effects of global warming, famines caused by arable land loss, wars over water, energy, and other natural resources."

Water supplies in the Middle East could be a major issue if temperatures were to continue increasing. The Financial Times quotes the EU paper:

"Existing tensions over access to water are almost certain to intensify in the region, leading to further political instability with detrimental implications for Europe's energy security and other interests. Water supply in Israel might fall by 60 per cent over this century...."

It's not just poorer countries that could generate conflict, say the report's authors, EU foreign-policy chief Javier Solana and EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner.

Nations are already vying for energy resources at the poles, Reuters reports:

" 'The resulting new strategic interests are illustrated by the recent planting of the Russian flag under the North Pole,' [the authors said]. A Russian scientific expedition planted a flag on the ocean floor last summer, staking a symbolic claim to the resource-rich region…. It suggested the [EU] develop a specific Arctic policy 'based on the evolving geo-strategy of the Arctic region, taking into account ... access to resources and the opening of new trade routes,' [the report said]. Rules of international law such as the Law of the Sea might have to be strengthened to cope with new challenges, it said."