The Heat Is Online

Terrrorism Most Likely Outcome of US Climate Indifference

SECURITY: Climate change could spark more Islamic extremism, report warns

ClimateWire, April 25, 2008

Climate change could spawn the next Osama bin Laden unless industrialized nations aggressively reduce emissions and help those suffering the brunt of weather catastrophes, a new international security report warns.


From Bangladesh to Indonesia, sub-Saharan Africa to the Maldives, Muslim countries are in some of the most water-stressed regions of the world. As sea levels rise, the study from a top U.K. think tank predicts, so will tensions with the West.


"Climate change will be used by extremist groups to bolster existing resentment against developed countries," author Nick Mabey wrote in "Delivering Climate Security: International Security Responses to a Climate Changed World."


Noting that bin Laden already has used the decades of emissions-spewing in the West to stoke resentment, Mabey implored industrialized countries to act quickly on global warming. Failing to do so, he said, could unravel confidence in the international system.


"Protest and direct action movements will increase, especially in developing countries, and these could well result in violent attacks on developed country interests," Mabey said. Globally, he warned, "if uncontrolled, climate change will have security implications of similar magnitude to the World Wars, but which will last for centuries."


Global warming becomes 'global warring'?


The report from the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies (RUSI) is the latest in a growing body of evidence pointing to dire climate-related security risks across the globe.


Recently the German Advisory Council on Global Change issued a sweeping report indicating that failure to address global warming could destabilize dozens of nations, and the U.K. Ministry of Defence also highlighted the issue in a recent survey of future security trends.


Meanwhile, in the United States, Congress is awaiting the results of a national intelligence assessment on the security impacts of climate change. The study is one that Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), along with Sens. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), called for and worked into the Intelligence Authorization Act of 2008 after a group of retired U.S. military leaders found that climate change could provoke serious national security threats.


Markey, who leads the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, described the RUSI report as another alarm bell.


"Ignoring global warming could lead to inevitable global warring," he said in a statement. "Every passing day, month and year we do not act as a nation and as a globe to cut global warming emissions creates another eventual threat to global security."


The RUSI report noted that emissions levels have put in motion climate changes that already are sparking security threats. Rising sea levels and melting ice caps in the Arctic have led to territorial disputes, and fragile government systems in Africa are increasingly overwhelmed by droughts, famines and floods that strain the

availability of resources.


Report author Mabey -- a former senior adviser in the U.K. Prime Minister's Strategy Unit -- noted that the disappearance of small islands could incite tensions in the contested waters of the Indian Ocean, the Pacific and the South China Sea. People fleeing delta regions like Bangladesh, Nigeria and Egypt will face a backlash as other nations seal off their borders -- a scenario, he said that "includes the potential for armed-state conflict."


And then there is the possibility of a nuclear run-up. Mabey warned that curbing the use of fossil fuels could ignite a rapid deployment of nuclear power. Many countries, he warned, will use climate change as a "political mask" for acquiring nuclear technology that will actually be for military purposes.


'Uncertainty abounds'


Meanwhile, elsewhere in the Islamic world, the report argues that drug policies in Afghanistan will crumble under the weight of drought-driven poverty, and Islamic extremism will be fueled by economic failure in North Africa.


"Attempts to build a 'hearts and minds' coalition against Islamist extremism will be crucially undermined when many of the main sources of job creation for young men in North Africa are being undermined by warmer temperatures and declining rainfall," the report notes.


Mabey calls for direct action on reducing emissions, arguing that unless the world stabilizes the emission of greenhouse gases to a safe level, "catastrophic consequences will overwhelm most countries."


He also called for stepped-up investment in clean energy technologies, a shift in energy investment he estimated at more than $20 trillion over the next 25 years. But he offered few options for managing impending security problems and suggested that by the time those crises occur, it may be too late.


"Uncertainty abounds over any choice. But this is a risk management decision -- not an abstract quest for truth," Mabey wrote.


"The critical point to remember is that while choices to invest in a low-carbon future could potentially be reversed if climate change is more benign than expected, once critical climate change tipping points have been passed, climate security can never be regained."