The Heat Is Online

Panel Cites Terrorism Potential from Warming

Climate change 'fanning conflict, terror'


Reuters News Service. Jan. 25, 2007


LONDON -- Global warming could exacerbate the world's rich-poor divide and help to radicalise populations and fan terrorism in the countries worst affected, security and climate experts said today.


"We have to reckon with the human propensity for violence," Sir Crispin Tickell, Britain's former ambassador to the United Nations, told a London conference on "Climate Change: the Global Security Impact".


"Violence within and between communities and between nation states, we must accept, could possibly increase, because the precedents are all around."


He cited Rwanda and Sudan's Darfur region as two examples where drought and overpopulation, relative to scarce resources, had helped to fuel deadly conflicts.


Experts at the conference hosted by the Royal United Services Institute said it was likely that global warming would create huge flows of refugees as people tried to escape areas swamped by rising sea levels or rendered uninhabitable by desertification.


Sir Tickell said terrorists were likely to seek to exploit the tensions created.


"Those who are short of food, those who are short of water, those who can't move to countries where it looks as if everything is marvellous are going to be people who are going to adopt desperate measures to try and make their point."


John Mitchell, chief scientist at Britain's Met Office, said al-Qaeda had already listed environmental damage among its litany of grievances against the United States.


"You have destroyed nature with your industrial waste and gases more than any other nation in history. Despite this, you refuse to sign the Kyoto agreement so that you can secure the profit of your greedy companies and industries," al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden wrote in a 2002 "letter to the American people".


Paul Rogers, professor of peace studies at Bradford University, said any attempt by countries to build fortress walls to keep out climate change refugees - what he called the "barbarians at the gate" mentality - was doomed to fail.


"If you just take the example of Bangladesh, if 60 million of 140 million people could not survive in Bangladesh yet they were kept there, you would have A) gigantic human suffering and B) progressive very deep radicalisation - very, very angry people - and that is not in anybody's security interest."


Bangladesh, with a 580km coastline on the Bay of Bengal, is acutely vulnerable to rising sea levels, cyclones and droughts.


Climate scientist Mr. Mitchell said the Mediterranean and Middle East were likely to receive less rainfall as a consequence of climate change, adding to existing tensions over water.


John Ashton, special representative for climate change at Britain's Foreign Office, voiced concern that this could further destabilise a region already beset by conflict.


"Given the volatile nature of that region, given the global consequences of that volatility, yes I'm hugely worried by that," he said.