Red Cross/ Red Crescent Climate Centre

‘From Iraq and Pakistan to the Caribbean, climate change is driving threats of new insecurity and violence, security analysts say’

21/02/2019 - by Laurie Goering, Thomson Reuters Foundation, in The Hague

(This story appeared first on Tuesday on the website of the Thomson Reuters Foundation; it has been edited slightly here for length.)

Climate change threats – from worsening water shortages in Iraq and Pakistan to harsher hurricanes in the Caribbean – are a growing security risk and require concerted action to ensure they don’t spark new violence, security experts warned Tuesday.

“Climate change is not about something in the far and distant future. We are discussing imminent threats to national security,” said Monika Sie Dhian Ho, General Director of the Clingendael Institute, a Dutch think tank.

The drying of Africa’s Lake Chad basin, for instance, has helped drive recruitment for Boko Haram among young people unable to farm or find other work, said Haruna Kuje Ayuba of Nigeria’s Nasarawa State University.

“People are already deprived of a basic livelihood,” the geography professor said at a conference on climate and security at The Hague. “If you give them a little money and tell them to destroy this or kill that, they are ready to do it.”

Iraq, meanwhile, has seen its water supplies plunge as its upstream neighbours build dams and climate change brings hotter and dryer conditions to Baghdad, said Hisham Al-Alawi, Iraq’s ambassador to the Netherlands.

“Overall we are getting less by nearly 40 per cent of the water we used to get,” he told the conference.

Shoring up the country’s water security, largely by building more storage and cutting water losses, will take nearly US$ 80 billion through 2035, he said.

‘Existential crisis’

The threat of worsening violence related to climate change also extends to countries and regions not currently thought of as insecurity hot-spots, climate and security analysts at the conference warned.

The Caribbean, for instance, faces more destructive hurricanes, coral bleaching, sea-level rise and looming water shortages that threaten its main economic pillars, particularly tourism.

“We’re facing an existential crisis in the Caribbean,” said Selwin Hart, the Barbados-born Executive Director of the Inter-American Development Bank.

Ninety per cent of the region’s economic activity – particularly tourism, fishing and port operations – takes place on the threatened coastline, he said.

Hurricanes, in recent years, have flattened the economies of some Caribbean nations, with Hurricane Maria in 2017 costing Dominica about 225 per cent of its GDP, according to World Bank estimates.

But as the global emissions that drive climate change continue to rise, “there’s not a realistic chance of achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement”, Hart suggested.

The failure to cut emissions means the Caribbean, while doing what it can to become more resilient to the growing risks, also needs “to plan for the worst-case scenario”, Hart said.

It is trying to do that by building coordination and assistance networks among Caribbean states and looking to shore up access to food and water, among other changes, said Ronald Jackson of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency.

Often that work requires persuading officials from very different ministries – finance, tourism, agriculture, water, energy and security, for instance – to sit down together and coordinate plans, said Jackson, the group’s executive director.

Changing risks

And the work has to be done quickly, he said. Last October the world’s climate scientists warned that to hold global temperature hikes to 1.5 degrees Celsius, energy systems would have to dramatically shift in the next dozen years.

“Before the 1.5 degree report came out we were looking at a much longer time frame” for change, Jackson said. “But now it’s the 2020s, early 2030s. We’re out of time. We have to act now.”

Military officials around the world have increasingly recognized the risks associated with climate change, and moved to shore up bases against sea-level rise, curb military emissions, adopt clean energy and analyse changing risks.

At the Planetary Security Conference at The Hague on Tuesday, they announced the creation of a new International Military Council on Climate and Security, made up of senior military leaders from around the world.

The panel aims to help build policy to address climate security risks at national, regional and international levels, its backers said.

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In the organization’s first intervention on climate at the Security Council, the ICRC’s Permanent Observer at the UN, Robert Mardini, late last month said war deepened community vulnerability to climate change, the Climate Centre’s Julie Arrighi adds from The Hague.

Speaking for the whole Red Cross Red Crescent Movement, Mr Mardini said the international community “must consider how the simultaneous shocks of climate change and armed conflict affect people’s livelihoods in shaping our response.”

Mr Mardini, a former director of the International Committee’s Middle East operations, said that “in situations of armed conflict…countries, communities and populations are the least prepared and the least able to protect themselves and adapt.”

ICRC President Peter Maurer (pictured with 8-year-old Ali in Mosul) said during a visit earlier this month that rebuilding Iraq’s social fabric is key to ensuring the country can leave its violent past behind. Conditions had to be right for displaced people to return home, including housing, health care, livelihoods, the clearing of unexploded ordnance, and also drinking water supplies now threatened by climate impacts. (Photo: Ibrahim Sherkhan/ICRC)