Could climate change aggravate terrorism?

As policymakers meet in Bali, security analysts warn that climate-induced displacement could cause instability, especially in places like flood-prone Bangladesh.

As representatives from 130 countries gather in Bali this week, observers are warning them to consider closely the impact of climate change on terrorism and security. And Bangladesh, an impoverished nation recently devastated by cyclone Sidr, is seen as a particularly troubling flash point.

An opinion piece in The International Herald Tribune this week sounds a warning:

We are not talking about terrorists targeting the United States for its contributions to climate change or its failure to come up with a global solution. Nor are we referring to the fact that the Middle East stands to become even more volatile in the years ahead due to water shortages. Climate change will exacerbate global terrorism by increasing both migration and the likelihood of state failures - two factors that have been known to have a major impact on the threat of radicalization.

The fallout has global implications, say the authors, Alexander T. J. Lennon and Julianne Smith, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies:

While climate-induced migration could lead to instability in any corner of the globe, the impact will be most pronounced in the developing world. As Northern Africa, South Asia, and possibly the Middle East become increasingly unpleasant or unbearable environments, some of these refugees will flee northward along existing migration routes to Europe. Europe's longstanding challenge to integrate Muslim immigrants and the resulting impact it has on radicalization could easily worsen. Home to over 20 million Muslims, Europe has struggled in recent years to find ways to incorporate growing groups of foreign nationals into society at large.

Stemming the tide of global warming is not necessarily an antidote to terrorism, but Mr. Lennon and Ms. Smith argue that "we can no longer afford to think of climate change either as a unidimensional challenge, reserved for climatologists, or as a problem in the distant future."

They call particular attention to Bangladesh, where "the combination of deteriorating socioeconomic conditions, radical Islamic political groups, and environmental insecurity brought on by climate change could prove volatile."

Bangladesh, a nation of 144 million, is considered ground zero for the fallout of global warming, writes Dan Shapley, in the Daily Green, an online magazine on the environment published by the Hearst Corp.

Mr. Shapley points out that Bangladesh, being extremely flat and situated on the world's largest delta, is highly susceptible to flooding and inclement weather. It has already met with grief from nine of the world's 13 worst hurricanes.

Citing a recent report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Center for a New American Security on the security implications of climate change, Shapley suggests that when the floods hit, millions will have to look for housing and livelihood elsewhere, overwhelming already strained political and social response systems.

Bangladesh is expected to grow in population by a staggering 100 million people in the coming decades -- the same time frame during which those storms that make landfall will be more destructive.
… [According to the report, Bangladesh] will be threatened by devastating floods and other damage from monsoons, melting glaciers, and tropical cyclones that originate in the Bay of Bengal, as well as water contamination and ecosystem destruction caused by rising sea levels.

Cyclone Sidr destroyed more than 500,000 homes and affected more than 8.5 million people when it touched down last month, the Associated Press reported.

It is the biggest challenge the country's military-backed government has faced since seizing power and could delay the elections that were to restore democracy, said the AP in another report.

The storm poses a huge challenge in terms of disaster recovery efforts, while threatening to aggravate the already high inflation rate and high cost of basic necessities as well as slow down economic growth.

This week's meeting in Bali, observers say, is a good starting point to address the problems of nations that are on the frontline of global warming. In an editorial published in The Salt Lake Tribune, Israel President Shimon Peres highlights the threats posed by global warming and calls for measures to reduce the potential impact.

This starting point is a crucial building block in developing meaningful and effective global mandatory commitments to reduce greenhouse gas concentrations to the level scientists tell us is necessary to avoid the most severe consequences of global warming.
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