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At E.U. summit, climate change billed as major security risk

EU foreign affairs chief Javier Solana warns in a new report that detrimental climatic changes could drive millions of migrants to Europe from developing countries.

By Nicole ItanoCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / March 14, 2008

Huddled masses: Already, thousands of Africans attempt to find work in Europe by migrating illegally. On March 9, a group of 78 came ashore in Tenerife, Spain.

Santiago Ferrero/Reuters



Rising sea levels are what some nations fear most about global warming. But in Europe, climate change is likely to mean a new flood of immigrants from Africa and other poorer countries, according to a new report.

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That was one of the issues before the heads of state from the 27-member European Union as they gathered in Brussels Thursday and Friday to address climate change and, in particular, the security threats it raises.

Unchecked climate change could not only cause a flood of new environmental migrants to Europe, it could spark instability in energy-producing states and lead to the collapse of fragile states around the world, says the report by EU foreign-policy chief Javier Solana and Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the European commissioner for external relations. Climate change, the report says, is a "threat multiplier" which "intensifies existing trends, tensions, and instability."

European leaders say they have an important role to play in leading the world towards an agreement to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions – and that's on this meeting's agenda, too. But increasingly, EU leaders are also seeing the need to prepare for the impacts of climate change at home. Meeting those challenges, analysts say, may require greater coordination of foreign policies.

"There's really a new approach and perspective developing," says Dirk Messner, director of the German Advisory Council on Global Change. "Climate change has been addressed until very recently as an environmental problem.... But dangerous climate change, beyond 2 degrees or so, will result in a destabilization processes around the world."

In 2007, the Solana report notes, all but one of the emergencies for which the UN appealed for humanitarian aid had climate dimensions. And new trading routes are opening in the Arctic as the polar ice caps melt, shifting the balance of power in the region.

Little in the report is new. In fact, it echoes a widely cited 2007 study by 11 retired American admirals and generals issued by CNA Corporation, a Virginia think tank.

But the stark warning from such high-ranking EU officials is likely to invigorate the debate in Europe about the links between climate and security – as well as highlight the urgency of coming to some sort of global agreement on reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.

Europe, experts say, is not likely to experience climate-related instability within its own territory – the brunt of the impact of global warming is likely to fall on the world's poor. But on the Continent's borders are regions, such as North Africa and the Middle East, that are both political fragile and acutely vulnerable to climate change.