Climate change to catalyse security challenges

A Master’s graduate in International Law and Relations, Olivier Jacquemet blogs on Conflicts, Peace and Defence policies on his blog, After several experiences, he is currently seeking employment.

As past summits, Rio+20 illustrates the lack of political will to invest in sustainable development, despite the fact that failure to finance and set up new ways of consuming will likely have a huge impact on ecosystems and societies.

Short term responses to economic and debt crises fill every available room on our leaders’ agendas.

Investments needed to develop a sustainable model of development ($1.9 trillion per year over the next 40 years, according to the UN in the World Economic and Social Survey 2011) seem astronomical compared to a major environmental crisis whose effects are not known with certainty, or at least, will appear long after the end of present political mandates.

However, failure to adapt our way of production and consumption might have actual and tangible effect on our societies as climate change or excessive exploitation of raw materials is likely to increase the threats and dangers our societies experience.

A refugee camp as big as Dabaab (440,000 refugees in August 2011) needs resources, such as water, food, wood, sometimes land for cattle). As far as NGOs and the UN cannot provide all this resources, refugees have to get them from their environment, sometime at the expense of local populations, which can trigger conflicts, or at least tensions.

Part of population growth of refugee camps in the Horn of Africa is explained by the 2011 droughts. Droughts that have higher probability of occurring as a result of climate change. Hence, States and international organisations should prepare themselves to experience an increase in refugee fluxes fleeing droughts or sea level rise, and get ready to handle more tensions between communities at local level.

Global warming could also trigger new sources of tensions. As the Arctic ice cap melts, maritime roads and Exclusive Economic Zones become more and more accessible, leading bordering nations to assert their sovereignty thanks to military capabilities building and deployment in the Arctic sea.

At international level, in spite of some “hotspots”, States do not rely on war anymore to access resources as it is less costly to purchase them. However, exploitation of resources at local level keeps on being a conflict factor between communities. Moreover, raw materials prices stay unstable, which had triggered social unrest a few years ago.

A social unrest several Arab countries are experiencing because of dictatorship, economic gloom and a generation gap. However, one can also point out the fact that climate change might be among the factors that led to uprisings in these countries.

Climate change, overexploitation of resources or pollutions will not necessarily trigger new kind of dangers or threats, but they will surely not help in curbing the existing ones.

States and international organisations can prepare themselves by developing their capabilities or prospective cells: NATO created an “Emerging Security Challenges” division whose topics of interest include climate change. The British Ministry of Defence develops and publishes a Climate Change Strategy, and the United States Department of Defense has been known for its prospective in this field (as well as for the “green fleet” project of its navy) for a decade.

However, our governments should take the opportunity to invest in green growth. This heavy investment should create jobs and stimulate the economy, thus help in defusing social discontent. Taking steps to prevent human activity to further damage our environment could also contribute to stop some crises, which are conflict catalysers, from escalating in intensity and/or frequency. More than ever, prevention is better than the cure..

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