"Climate change may worsen instability"

The Financial Times reports today on a report prepared by 11 retired US admirals and generals on the security implications of global warming. The authors concluded that global warming would worsen regional conflicts, worsen living standards, and undermine stability. These findings are consistent with earlier reports that discussed the large-scale dislocation that would result from climate-induced mass migration.

This story, sadly, isn’t getting the attention it merits. It was relegated to a mere short energy blog post in the Wall Street Journal. And the FT article notes that the special UN security council meeting for which this report was commissioned will lower representation than usual.

From the FT:

Climate change threatens to prolong the war on terrorism and foster political instability that some governments will be unable to cope with, an influential panel of 11 retired US generals has warned.

“On the simplest level, it has the potential to create sustained natural and humanitarian disasters on a scale far beyond those we see today,” said the panel, which includes retired General Anthony Zinni, former commander of US forces in the Middle East, in a new study.

“The US must commit to a stronger national and international role to help stabilise climate change at levels that will avoid significant disruption to global security and stability.”

Their urgent warning comes on the eve of a special UN Security Council meeting on the security implications of climate change, convened by the UK in an attempt to bring home the wider ramifications of global warming.

But many Security Council members have expressed scepticism at the link, and only a handful of foreign ministers will attend Tuesday’s meeting despite appeals by Margaret Beckett, the UK foreign secretary. The US will be represented only by its UN ambassador.

The new US military report, however, which was commissioned by the government-financed Center for Naval Analyses, lays out strong support for the link.

It describes climate change as “a threat multiplier for instability in some of the most volatile regions of the world”, which will “seriously exacerbate already marginal living standards in many Asian, African and Middle Eastern nations, causing widespread political instability and the likelihood of failed states”.

Making matters worse, the military experts warn that climate change offers a challenge much more complex than conventional security threats because of its potential to create “multiple chronic conditions, occurring globally within the same time frame”.

As governments fail, they say, the US may be drawn more frequently into unstable situations abroad, and at home could experience “mounting pressure to accept large numbers of immigrant and refugee populations”.

Admiral T. Joseph Lopez, the former commander-in-chief of US Naval Forces Europe and of Allied Forces, Southern Europe, said: “Climate change can provide the conditions that will extend the war on terror. In the long term we want to address the underlying conditions that terrorists seek to exploit, but climate change will prolong those conditions. It makes them worse.”

Jonathan Pershing, a director at the World Resources Institute, an environmental think-tank in Washington, said the report marked a “major shift in thinking. It will garner attention to climate change in policy arenas that have not looked at these issues in the past, which is very important”.

Douglas Johnson, research professor of national security affairs at the Strategic Studies Institute, said: “A few years ago, no one gave a flip … Now, [climate change] is becoming a serious possibility, so we ought to have a plan for it.”

“We will pay for this one way or another,” said Gen Zinni.

“We will pay to reduce greenhouse gas emissions today, and we’ll have to take an economic hit of some kind. Or, we will pay the price later in military terms. And that will involve human lives. There will be a human toll.”

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