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Report: Climate Change a Potential “Threat Multiplier” for European Security and Foreign Policy

by Jack Rosebro

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana Madariaga has released a report that assesses future effects of climate change on the European Union’s relations with other countries. According to the report’s findings, the EU could face increased competition over dwindling resources, influx waves of environmental refugees, and energy wars.

The report, which is entitled Climate change and international security, is now online, and is scheduled to be presented to European leaders during the Spring European Council, which opens on Thursday.

The Solana report takes note of the Fourth Assessment Report from the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC), which projects that the ability to limit a global temperature increase to 2º C or less, even if global greenhouse gas emissions are limited to 50% of 1990 levels by 2050, is in doubt. Nevertheless, that reduction remains a common goal for many corporate and governmental policymakers.

Rather than focus on mitigation alone, the Solana report recommends a two-pronged strategy of both mitigation and adaptation:

Investment in mitigation to avoid such scenarios, as well as ways to adapt to the unavoidable, should go hand in hand with addressing the international security threats created by climate change; both should be viewed as part of preventive security policy.

In terms of Europe’s security, the report recommends that climate change be viewed as a “threat multiplier” which “intensifies existing trends, tensions and instability,” and threatens to overburden fragile and/or conflict-prone states and regions worldwide. Noting that the majority of 2007’s appeals to the UN for humanitarian aid were climate related, the report nevertheless takes pains to emphasize that the risks have grown beyond humanitarian concerns to include political and security risks that directly affect European interests.

...Because much of the world’s hydrocarbon reserves are in regions vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and because many oil and gas producing states already face significant social economic and demographic challenges, instability is likely to increase. This has the potential to feed back into greater energy insecurity and greater competition for resources.

Climate change is already having a profound impact on international security,” the report states, citing in particular the depletion of essential natural resources. Losses of arable land, widespread shortages of water, and diminishing food and fish stocks are already driving increasingly hostile competition between countries. Increased flooding, prolonged droughts, and uneven rainfall patterns will further destabilize food and water security; available freshwater may be reduced by twenty to thirty percent in some regions.

Threats may include, but are not necessarily limited to the following: resource-driven conflicts; economic damage and risk to coastal cities and infrastructure; loss of territory and resultant border disputes; environmentally-induced migration; governmental fragility; political radicalization; tensions over energy supplies; and pressures on international governance.

Of the latter, the report observes that tensions over climate mitigation policies not only divides North and South but is also likely to create a “South - South dimension ”as China’s and India’s shares of global emissions rise, and come under further international scrutiny.

The report presents examples of such pressures in different parts of the world, which could trigger political instability and increased migration from countries adjacent to European Union borders, as well as impact energy supply routes into the EU:

Africa. Multiple stresses and low adaptive capacity have rendered Africa especially vulnerable to climate change. Climate change is already impacting the conflict in and around Darfur. Reduced rainfall and increased temperatures will have a significant deteriorating effect in the Horn of Africa, a region highly vulnerable to conflict. Droughts in southern Africa are already contributing to poor harvests, which are projected to create food shortages for millions of people.

Migration through Northern Africa, in an effort to reach Europe, is likely to intensify.

In North Africa and the Sahel, increasing drought, water scarcity and land overuse could lead to a loss of three-quarters of arable, rain-fed land. The Nile Delta may be endangered by both sea-level rise and salinization in agricultural areas. Up to a sixth of the delta’s arable land could be lost through sea-level rise in this century.

Middle East. Roughly two-thirds of the Arab world depends on sources outside their borders for water, and those water systems are already under intense stress. The Jordan and Yarmuk river flows may decline considerably.

Water supply in Israel may fall by more than half by the end of the century. Significant drops in crop yields are projected for Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia, affecting stability in a “vitally strategic region for Europe.”

South Asia. Water stress and reduced agricultural productivity will make it difficult for Asia to feed its growing population, who are also likely to be exposed to increased infectious diseases. Changes in the monsoon rains and decrease of meltwater from the Himalayas will affect more than a billion people. Conflicts over remaining resources and unmanaged migration will lead to instability in a region that is an important economic partner of Europe; production and distribution is presently concentrated along vulnerable coastlines.

Central Asia. Water, a key resource for agriculture and a strategic resource for electricity generation, is already in short supply. Glaciers in Tajikistan have lost a third of their area since 1950, while Kyrgyzstan has lost over a thousand glaciers in the last forty years.

Latin America and the Caribbean. Latin American and Caribbean countries, which often suffer from weak governance structures, are already affected by many extreme events associated with the El Niño cycle. In drier areas of Latin America, climate change will lead to salinization and desertification of agricultural land and reduced productivity of important crops and livestock. Sea-level rise may cause flooding in low-lying areas.

Increases in ocean surface temperatures due to climate change are projected to have adverse effects on coral reefs, and cause shifts in the location of fish stocks.

Changing rainfall patterns and disappearing glaciers are projected to significantly reduce access to water for farming, hydroelectric power generation, and especially drinking, as for example in the Andes region.

Independently from Solana’s finding, Peruvian president Alan García announced this week that the country would begin desalinating water from the Pacific Ocean to make up for meltwater reductions. Some mines in Chile and Peru already rely on desalination plants for operating water.

The Arctic. “The scramble for resources will intensify”, notes Solana’s report.

The increased accessibility of the enormous hydrocarbon resources in the Arctic region is changing the geo-strategic dynamics of the region with potential consequences for international stability and European security interests.

Territorial claims and the opening of new maritime trade routes may undermine Europe’s trade and resource interests in the Arctic, as well as its relations with other countries in the region.

The EU’s office of foreign policy is not alone in its concerns over the Arctic. Next month’s North-Atlantic Alliance Summit in Bucharest&madsh;which will be NATO’s 20th biennial summit—will also tackle the issue of energy security in Western Europe, reportedly for the first time.

UK’s Guardian reports that a 150-page document, written by five former chiefs of staff and senior NATO commanders from the US, UK, Germany, France and the Netherlands, points to new potential conflicts triggered by the effects of climate change on the Arctic. Friction between Norway and Russia has already arisen over fishing rights around the Spitsbergen archipelago, which sits on top of large deposits of crude oil and natural gas.

Solana is the European Union’s first and only High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), as well as the Secretary General of both the Council of the European Union and the Western European Union. He previously served as Secretary general of NATO from 1995 to 1999.




Put it this way.

RightWingers have no limit to how much they are willing to spend on "security".

One might even wonder if it makes sense to do deficit spending to pay for it. Since the bill would be footed to future generations. (i.e. the Benefactors of these programs)

John Taylor

Report translation ... There will be shortages of lots of stuff, so if people decide to fight over it, the ones with the biggest military will want to do a resources grab.

If this sort of policy is followed, the wars will be an unmitigated disaster squandering the last of the limited resources on a path to nowhere.

Our only path to a sustainable future is in working together to actually solve world problems, not using military power to bully the less fortunate while destroying the planet.

"I do not know with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones." Albert Einstein
We can add that if we fight a world war over the last resources, the next war will be fought far in the future, by a different species.


Such are the things of a world with 10+ billion people on it. Wars for scarce resources, there will be a few. I can remember when we passed the 3 billion mark, My now 1 year old daughter will see it pass 8 by the time she graduates high school.


...hand wringing.


I do not know about "hand wringing" but I do know about lending a hand and help out. It does no good to ignore a problem nor just worry about it. I think most of the people that are concerned have constructive potential solutions to the problem, but if some claim that there is no problem, then that IS the problem.

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