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Old Thursday, February 14, 2013
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Default The coming wars

The coming wars
By Meera Ghani

“Changes in our environment and the resulting upheavals – from droughts to inundated coastal areas to loss of arable lands – are likely to become a major driver of war and conflict” – Ban Ki Moon (2007)

There is no doubt that climate change is a reality and that it’s caused by human activity. And people who claim to the contrary are simply deluding themselves. It was easy to deny science when it was physicists, climatologists and environmental activists raising the alarm but now its organisations like the International Energy Agency and the World Bank that warn in their latest report that we’re headed for a 4 degree Celsius world.

The consequences are alarming; not only will there be more deadly floods, hurricanes, super storms, droughts and heatwave but also declining food stocks, extreme water scarcity and loss of human life. This is not talk about some distant future – this could all happen in our lifetime. And if that wasn’t enough, climate change will certainly exacerbate conflicts and impact global security.

If countries fail to act and greenhouse gas emissions aren’t reduced drastically starting 2015 we are dooming our future generations to a life where resources are scarce and millions of lives are under threat either through disease, loss of livelihood, displacement or possible war.

The time to act is now. It is important that nations realise the urgency and understand the dangerous trajectory we’re headed towards; and leave politics behind to start taking responsibly for their actions. Historically, it’s the developed countries that need to reduce their collective emissions by 40-50 percent by 2020 if we are to survive a catastrophic future.

Climate change isn’t just about reducing gas emissions but human dignity and social justice as well. It’s about how we live and sustain ourselves; how we ensure that the most poor and vulnerable amongst us are protected; how we address complex issues in a manner that doesn’t lead to more injustice, and how we manifest this responsibility that is upon us.

Unabated and unchecked runaway climate will surely strengthen the drivers of conflicts, with countries scrambling to ensure control over global resources such as water, land, oil and food. Studies show that a continuing increase in population and food consumption, and decreased yield crops and agricultural land as well as decreased rates of water extraction will severely impact regions that will be particularly exposed to climate change, such as small islands and densely populated coastal ‘megadeltas’ in Asia and Africa.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), tens to hundreds of millions of people will be at risk of hunger simply because they won’t be able to afford food. Climate change is a ‘threat multiplier’ that interacts with various sources of vulnerabilities and other risk drivers.

Consequently, the institutional and political weaknesses of fragile states like Pakistan also make them more susceptible to conflict arising from resource scarcity and climate change.

A 2007 report by Smith and Vivekananda (‘A Climate of Conflict: The Links Between Climate Change, Peace and War’) found that 46 countries, with an estimated 2.7 billion people, will experience a “high risk of violent conflict” as an impact of climate change on economic, social and political problems, while in a further 56 countries with 1.2 billion citizens “the institutions of government will have great difficulty taking the strain of climate change on top of all their other current challenges”.

And it doesn’t help when some in the more affluent regions of the world not only deny the impact of their actions but also refuse to help in any way to control this impending disaster. The desire for corporate power, and control over resources has led to a war against nature and the most poor in these countries.

As Justin Kilcullen stated in his article last year on climate change research and the Rio+20 conference, “...across Africa, Asia, and Latin America, hundreds of millions are struggling to adapt to their changing climate. In the last three years, we have seen 10 million people displaced by floods in Pakistan, 13 million face hunger in east Africa, and over 10 million in the Sahel region of Africa face starvation.

“Even those figures only scrape the surface. According to the Global Humanitarian Forum, headed up by former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, climate change is responsible for 300,000 deaths a year and affects 300 million people annually. By 2030, the annual death toll related to climate change is expected to rise to 500,000 and the economic cost to rocket to $600 billion.”

It is a very good sign that, in realising the imminent threat climate change poses for our region, especially Pakistan, the country took the bold step of convening a meeting on the ‘security dimensions of climate change’ at the UN Security Council tomorrow (Feb 15).

This meeting will be the fourth in a series of meetings. The first was initiated in 2007, the second in 2009 by the Pacific Small Island Developing States (SIDS) that led to the adoption of a resolution and a report by the secretary general, which was presented to the 64th UNGA in September 2009.

The 3rd debate resulted in a presidential statement that expressed concerns over the possible adverse effects of climate change which could, in the long-run, aggravate certain existing threats to international peace and security. They could also lead to the loss of territory in some states due to a rise in sea level, particularly in small low-lying island states, with possible security implications.

The debate this month will seek to address the large-scale displacement of people across borders. It will also try and discuss issues such as stateless citizens due to loss of land, cooperative management of water resources due to excessive glacial melt, competition over resources and negation of the impact of climate change on existing conflicts and international tensions. The meeting is being co-hosted by the UK government with eminent speakers such as UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon.

According to the 2012 risk assessment by Maplecroft, Pakistan is the 7th most vulnerable nation when it comes to water security. Given our security issues around terrorism, regional conflicts, constant political instability and energy, climate change will have a compounding affect on the daily lives of the people, and on their livelihoods.

This is why the debate couldn’t have come at a more perfect time. There is hope it leads to fuelling resolve to further action on climate change and preventing any future wars.

The writer is a climate change specialist, has worked for international NGOs and also advises the Pakistan government on climate change. She tweets @MeeraGhani
"Nay! man is evidence against himself. Though he puts forth his excuses." Holy Qur'an (75:14-15)
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