Global Warming Seen as Security Threat
JOHANNESBURG Rising sea levels force millions of Bangladeshis into India, fueling ethnic and religious tensions that end in bloody riots.
In Africa, crops wither in the parched landscape of a once-lush nation, bringing strife to the countryside and leading city dwellers to clash with the army as they loot shops for food.
As Russian lawmakers ratified the Kyoto Protocol on climate change recently after years of dithering, grim scenarios like these may have been on the minds of some.
A growing number of analysts argue that global warming linked to greenhouse gas emissions is not just a "green issue." They argue it might eventually top terrorism on the global security agenda, provoking new conflicts and inflaming old ones.
"The biggest security problem from global warming would be forced migrations, the dislocation of people because of flooding or drought," said Steve Sawyer, climate policy adviser for environmental group Greenpeace. "Or drastic ecosystem change could change the resource base and uproot rural people. Forced migrations of people almost always cause problems."
Former Canadian Environment Minister David Anderson said earlier this year that global warming posed a greater long-term threat to humanity than terrorism because it could force hundreds of millions from their homes.
Russia's ratification of Kyoto cleared the way for the long-delayed climate change pact to come into force worldwide.
Kyoto obliges rich nations to cut overall emissions of heat-trapping carbon dioxide to 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by 2008-12, by curbing use of coal, oil, and natural gas and shifting to cleaner energies like solar or wind power.
The United Nations projects that temperatures may rise by 1.4 to 5.8 Celsius by the year 2100. That could raise sea levels, swamp low-lying states, and bring desertification or floods.
Even if fully implemented to 2012, Kyoto would only curb the projected rise in temperatures by 0.15 Celsius. Anything more would require far deeper cuts likely to cost trillions of dollars.
Poor Bear the Brunt
Climate change is taking its worst toll on the developing world, although the bulk of greenhouse gas emissions stem from rich nations.
Global warming may already be a source of violence in heavily populated central Nigeria, where nomadic cattle herders and peasant farmers have been locked in conflict over scarce land for decades as the Sahara Desert creeps southward.
"The frequency and impacts of natural disasters are on the rise, driven in part by an unpredictably changing climate. The poor are the most threatened by these catastrophes and the least equipped to recover," said the International Institute for Sustainable Development. "Evidence is emerging that many conflicts around the world are driven by natural resource scarcity or inequitable access and benefit-sharing."
A United Nations and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe report released recently looked at the ecological roots of conflict in the tension-ridden Southern Caucasus region, which includes Chechnya.
"Environmental degradation and the use of natural resources are identified as factors that could deepen contention in areas of existing conflicts as in Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Nagorno-Karabakh and adjacent regions of Azerbaijan," it said.
Another recent study, the "Southern African Millennium Ecosystem Assessment," stressed that many conflicts in Africa were driven by land degradation.
Some analysts see global warming contributing to conflict over dwindling water supplies. But one U.N. study found that 3,600 water agreements had been recorded over the past 4,500 years suggesting that people can cooperate when it comes to this vital commodity.