The U.S. Defense Department earlier this month in its once-every-four-years strategic review, called climate change a “threat multiplier” to go with poverty, political instability and social tensions worldwide. Warming will trigger new problems but also provide countries new opportunities for resources and shipping routes in places such as the melting Arctic, the Pentagon report says.
After the climate panel’s 2007 report, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon wrote that along with other causes, the conflict in the Darfur region of western Sudan “began as an ecological crisis, arising at least in part from climate change. ” While the IPCC report this year downplays global warming’s role in that particular strife, saying other issues were far more influential, the report’s drafts do add that there is “justifiable common concern” that climate change increases the risk of fighting in similar circumstances.
“Climate change will not directly cause conflict — but it will exacerbate issues of poor governance, resource inequality and social unrest,” retired U.S. Navy Adm. David Titley, now a Pennsylvania State University professor of meteorology, wrote in an email. “The Arab Spring and Syria are two recent examples.”
The report has an entire 63-page chapter on security problems, but most leaders will read the handful of paragraphs summarizing it, and that’s where there may be some issues, according to Jeff Severinghaus, a climate scientist at the Scripps Institution for Oceanography who isn’t part of this climate panel.
The chapter on national security says there is “robust evidence” that “human security will be progressively threatened as climate changes.” It says it can destabilize the world in multiple ways by making it harder for people to make a living, increasing mass migrations, and making it harder for countries to keep control of their populations.
Titley holds out hope that if nations deal with climate change jointly, it can bring peace instead of war to battling regions.