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Climate change is the one of the biggest existential threat, important driver of global conflicts and future wars

Compelling evidence for rapid climate change

This period is now the warmest in the history of modern civilization. The global surface temperature has increased faster since 1970 than in any other 50-year period over a least the last 2,000 years. For example, temperatures during the most recent decade (2011–2020) exceed those of the most recent multi-century warm period, around 6,500 years ago, the report indicates.  According to NASA, the current warming trend is of particular significance because most of it is very likely human-induced and proceeding at a rate that is unprecedented in the past 1,300 years.

 

Meanwhile, global mean sea level has risen faster since 1900, than over any preceding century in at least the last 3,000 years.  Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the acidity of surface ocean waters has increased by about 30 percent.

 

An international research team including scientists from ETH Zurich has shown that almost all the world’s glaciers are becoming thinner and losing mass’ and that these changes are picking up pace. Between 2000 and 2019, the world’s glaciers lost a total of 267 gigatonnes (billion tonnes) of ice per year on average — an amount that could have submerged the entire surface area of Switzerland under six metres of water every year.  Among the fastest melting glaciers are those in Alaska, Iceland and the Alps. The situation is also having a profound effect on mountain glaciers in the Pamir mountains, the Hindu Kush and the Himalayas.

 

The international group led by Raphael Neukom of the Oeschger Center for Climate Change Research at the University of Bern in an study published  in the well-known scientific journal Nature  conclude, “What we didn’t know until now is that not only average global temperatures in the 20th century are higher than ever before in at least 2,000 years, but also that a warming period is now affecting the whole planet at the same time for the first time. And the speed of global warming has never been as high as it is today.”

 

The IPC 2021 document shows that emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities are responsible for approximately 1.1°C of warming between 1850-1900, and finds that averaged over the next 20 years, global temperature is expected to reach or exceed 1.5°C of heating.  In 2019, atmospheric CO2 concentrations were higher than at any time in at least 2 million years, and concentrations of methane and nitrous oxide were higher than at any time in the last 800,000 years.

 

Climate change is one of the biggest existential threat

“The situation in the Himalayas is particularly worrying,” explains Romain Hugonnet, lead author of the study and researcher at ETH Zurich and the University of Toulouse. “During the dry season, glacial meltwater is an important source that feeds major waterways such as the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Indus rivers. Right now, this increased melting acts as a buffer for people living in the region, but if Himalayan glacier shrinkage keeps accelerating, populous countries like India and Bangladesh could face water or food shortages in a few decades.

 

Scientists also point out that evidence of observed changes in extremes such as heatwaves, heavy precipitation, droughts, and tropical cyclones, and their attribution to human influence, has strengthened.  Climate change is increasing the frequency and magnitude of many of extreme weather phenomena that occur naturally including Droughts, wildfires, heatwaves, and intense rainstorms. For example, climate change is intensifying the natural production of water – the water cycle. This brings more intense rainfall and associated flooding, as well as more intense drought in many regions.

 

Extreme weather events in a warmer world have the potential for greater impacts and can compound with other drivers to raise the risk of humanitarian disasters, conflict, water and food shortages, population migration, labor shortfalls, price shocks, and power outages. As rising sea levels, coupled with extended droughts that lead to failed crops and food shortages, hit poorer nations, millions of people are expected to go on the move to regions faring better. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said the world needs to become carbon neutral by 2050 to prevent global temperatures from rising 1.5 degrees Celsius, which would lock in many of the most catastrophic effects of climate chang

 

India was the seventh worst-hit country due to extreme weather events in 2019, shows a global Climate Risk Index, released in Sep 2021, ranking countries according to their vulnerability both in terms of fatalities and economic losses. The top six most vulnerable countries in the Climate Risk Index (CRI) 2021 ranking are Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Bahamas, Japan, Malawi and Afghanistan. India, however, improved its ranking from fifth in CRI 2020 to seventh in CRI. Scientists and environmentalists say global warming is also endangering India’s rivers like the Ganges, and note that rising temperatures are causing Himalayan glaciers, which provide water to some of these rivers, to recede.

 

Though India topped the dubious list in terms of having highest number of fatalities (2,267) and the biggest economic loss (68,812 million USD) in 2019, its overall CRI ranking figured at number seven due to low fatalities per one lakh of inhabitants and losses per unit of GDP due to climate change-induced extreme weather events such as storms, floods, heatwaves, and cyclones.

 

The report, released by Germany-based think tank Germanwatch, shows that over 4,75,000 people had lost their lives as a direct result of more than 11,000 extreme weather events globally and lost around 2.56 trillion USD (in purchasing power parities) in the past 20 years between 2000 and 2019. Puerto Rico, Myanmar and Haiti were the top three most affected countries during the 20-year period with India figuring at number 20 in the long-term CRI. Eight of the ten countries most affected between 2000 and 2019 are developing countries with low or lower middle income per capita

 

The US’s intelligence agencies warned on that climate change and other environmental trends “are likely to fuel economic and social discontent—and possibly upheaval—through 2018.” While there may not be indications of an abrupt and cataclysmic event on the immediate horizon, the trends are already visible, they said in a statement presented to the Senate Intelligence Committee at a hearing where the Trump administration’s top intelligence officials testified.

 

Climate Change as driver of Conflict and Voilence

Climate change is the one of the biggest existential threat faced by entire world and also one of the major driver of current and future global conflicts.  The United Nations’ IPCC, in a landmark report, also warned that growing competition for resources in a world under climate change could lead to conflict. Climate change is an important catalyst for war, terrorism and major migration patterns, Dutch armed forces chief Tom Middendorp has told a conference in The Hague.

 

Craig Anderson, the Iowa State University Distinguished Professor of psychology and Andreas Miles-Novelo, an ISU graduate student and lead author, have  identified three ways climate change will increase the likelihood of violence, based on established models of aggression and violence. Their research is published in the journal Current Climate Change Reports. Anderson says the first route is the most direct: higher temperatures increase irritability and hostility, which can lead to violence. The other two are more indirect and stem from the effects of climate change on natural disasters, failing crops and economic instability. A natural disaster, such as a hurricane or wildfire, does not directly increase violence, but the economic disruption, displacement of families and strain on natural resources that result are what Anderson finds problematic.

 

One indirect way natural disasters increase violence is through the development of babies, children and adolescents into violence-prone adults, he said. For example, poor living conditions, disrupted families and inadequate prenatal and child nutrition are risk factors for creating violence-prone adults. Anderson and Miles-Novelo noted these risk factors will become more prevalent as a result of climate change-induced disasters, such as hurricanes, droughts, floods, water shortages and changing agricultural practices for efficient production of food.

 

Another indirect effect: Some natural disasters are so extensive and long term that large groups of people are forced to migrate from their homeland. Anderson says this “eco-migration” creates intergroup conflicts over resources, which may result in political violence, civil wars or wars between nations. “This is a global issue with very serious consequences. We need to plan for ways to reduce the negative impacts,” Anderson said. “An inadequate food supply and economic disparity make it difficult to raise healthy and productive citizens, which is one way to reduce long-term violence. We also need to plan for and devote resources to aid eco-migrants in their relocation to new lands and countries.”

 

Anderson fears the third effect he and Miles-Novelo identified – eco-migration and conflict – could be the most destructive. He says we are already seeing the migration of large groups in response to physical, economic or political instability resulting from ecological disasters. The conflict in Syria is one example.  Differences between migrants and the people living in areas where migrants are relocating can be a source of tension and violence, Anderson said. As the level of such conflicts escalates, combined with the availability of weapons of mass destruction, the results could be devastating.

 

“Although the most extreme events, such as all-out war, are relatively unlikely, the consequences are so severe that we cannot afford to ignore them,” Anderson said. “That is why the U.S. and other countries must make sure these regional conflicts and eco-migration problems don’t get out of hand. One way to do that is to provide appropriate aid to refugees and make it easier for them to migrate to regions where they can be productive, healthy and happy.”

 

Senior military figures from around the world have warned that climate change is expected to cause a major refugee crisis, and that this will represent one of the greatest security threats ever faced. It has already been identified as a factor contributing to the current migrant crisis dominating Europe at the moment.

 

Climate change also has great impact on military on one hand it increases the number of conflicts it needs to confront with , the character of conflicts also  require change in its strategy as more disaster management tasks it has to undertake. On the other hand it degrades military effectiveness by degrading the environment it has to operate.

 

 

Climate Change leading to Increasing the Risk of War in Africa

In a study published in Science, researchers Tamma Carleton and Solomon Hsiang, both from the University of Berkeley, say that rising temperatures in sub-Saharan Africa since 1980 have raised the risk of conflict by 11%.

 

“Although climate is clearly not the only factor that affects social and economic outcomes, new quantitative measurements reveal that it is a major factor, often with first order consequences,” they wrote in their study, which reviewed more than 100 other studies on the social and economic impacts of climate change.

 

Their conclusion is based on statistical analysis of data from a 2009 study that also claimed the risk of armed conflict will rise roughly 54%, or an additional 393,000 battle deaths, by 2030, if future temperature trends bear out.

 

Earlier researchers Marshall B. Burke and his colleagues from several American universities found from regression analysis of historical data, that there is a relationship between past internal conflict in sub-Saharan Africa and variations in temperature (but not precipitation) and that there are “substantial increases in conflict during warmer years”.

 

In their paper “the first comprehensive examination of the potential impact of global climate change on armed conflict in sub-Saharan Africa, ” they predicted in numerical terms, a 1% increase in temperature leads to a 4.5% increase in civil war in the same year and a 0.9% increase in the following year. By the year 2030, based on averaged data from the 18 climate models used, this will translate to approximately a 54% increase in armed conflict incidence in the region.

 

The researchers argue that conflict will derive from economic uncertainties resulting from temperature-related yield declines in societies heavily dependent upon agriculture. This is because research to date has found that “economic welfare is the single factor most consistently associated with conflict incidence”.

 

Syrian drought contributed to conflict in Syria

Study by Earth scientists at Columbia University, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found: “Climate change is implicated in the current Syrian conflict”.

 

There is evidence that the 2007−2010 drought contributed to the conflict in Syria. It was the worst drought in the instrumental record, causing widespread crop failure and a mass migration of farming families to urban centers. For Syria, a country marked by poor governance and unsustainable agricultural and environmental policies, the drought had a catalytic effect, contributing to political unrest

 

Century-long observed trends in precipitation, temperature, and sea-level pressure, supported by climate model results, strongly suggest that anthropogenic forcing has increased the probability of severe and persistent droughts in this region, and made the occurrence of a 3-year drought as severe as that of 2007−2010 2 to 3 times more likely than by natural variability alone. We conclude that human influences on the climate system are implicated in the current Syrian conflict.

Climate Change may lead to future War in Arctic

The Arctic is warming faster than the rest of the globe. In the past 100 years, average Arctic temperatures have increased at almost twice the global average rate. In 2012, Arctic sea ice reached its smallest extent in recorded history, 1.3 million square miles. The reduction in ice extent has led to an increase in human activity, in resource extraction,fishing, and tourism.

 

As the Global warming is melting the Arctic ice, and opening up new shipping trade routes and real estate, intense resource competition over an estimated $1 trillion untapped reserves of oil, natural gas and minerals has started. Russia is acting quickly to become dominating Geostrategic and Military power in the Arctic. Russia’s new military doctrine signed into effect on December 26, 2014, identified Arctic as one of three geopolitical arenas that Moscow has deemed vital to national security.

 

US has intensified its intelligence activities in Arctic, through U.S. spy satellites orbiting overhead, Navy sensors deep in the frigid waters. Most of the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies have assigned analysts to work full time on the Arctic. The U.S. intelligence focus is chiefly aimed at Russia’s military buildup in the far north under President Vladimir Putin.

 

Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft warned that Russia was militarizing the Arctic and accused Moscow of “saber-rattling” by conducting unannounced military drills in the Arctic area involving thousands of troops. Adm. Mark Ferguson, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe, expressed similar concerns about aggressive Russian activity in the Arctic, noting that Russian submarine activity was at its highest point in 20 years.

 

Though the Region is regulated with international rules regarding territorial jurisdiction of the coastal states, Nevertheless, there remains a disputed and undivided geographical area around the North Pole with potentially substantial hydrocarbon sources. Thus, there is potential for interstate conflict in the Arctic area related to unresolved border issues, control of the maritime routes, and demarcation of the resource-rich continental shelves under the Arctic Ocean.

 

Malthusian Overpopulation theory of War

Annalee Newitz and Joseph Bennington-Castro have compiled the 10 most important theories about why we make war. One of the theory proposed by Thomas Malthus’ was population theories, which suggests simply that war is the inevitable result of an expanding population with scarce resources.

 

Stanford economist Ran Ambramitzky explains this idea quite simply in a paper. The human population increases at a geometric rate, faster than the food supply. Voluntary “preventative checks” try to keep population growth down, such as when people make rational decisions about the number of kids they are going to have based on their income, etc. When these checks fail, “positive checks,” including war, famine and diseases, reduce the population and balance it with resources. Malthus believed that as long as humanity didn’t come up with decent preventative checks, the positive check of war would ensure that population didn’t outstrip food supply.

 

This idea overlaps a bit with the “ecological imbalance” theory of war, in which “conflict flash points” are the result of ecological stress from humans exploiting too many resources from the land. When resources run out, conflicts arise.

 

But not everyone agrees that there is a direct link between climate change and increased conflict, Dr. Vesselin Popovski, Senior Academic Programme Officer and head of the United Nations University Institute of Sustainability and Peace’s Peace and Security Section, argues that there is an indirect link between climate change and conflict.

 

“There is no doubt that impoverishment and human insecurity may arise as a result of climate change, if preventive measures are not undertaken. However, there is missing evidence that global warming directly increases conflict.”

 

Popovski cites a prominent study by scholars from the International Peace Research Institute, Oslo that claims that “the causal chains suggested in the literature have so far rarely been substantiated with reliable evidence”

 

“The causes of conflict are primarily political and economic, not climatic. Warlords — who foster conflict — may exploit draught, flooding, starvation, agricultural or natural disasters in their strategies, like they did in Somalia and Darfur. But what will drive their fight is not the rain, the temperature, or the sea level — they will always fight for the same goals of power, territory, money, revenge, etc.”

 

Popovski questions the idea that increased resource scarcity always leads to conflict. He suggests that scarcity of water or other critical resources might do the opposite, encourage cooperation, as it has done in the Lake Chad or Nile Basins.

 

Therefore although it has not been comprehensively established through serious evidence that climate change is cause of present and future conflicts, but everyone agrees it may be one of the most important driver of future conflicts, which in combination with other drivers may lead to conflicts and war unless properly managed.

 

Conflicts and war further contribute to climate change

Armed conflicts often halt or reverse economic development. Because of this, it is generally assumed that they lead to reductions in the emissions that contribute to climate change. But as Eoghan Darbyshire and Doug Weir explain, as we learn more about the societal and environmental changes that occur in insecure and conflict-affected areas, it’s becoming clear that economic output alone does not tell the whole story.

 

Emissions during conflicts are typically a function of how and where conflicts are fought, as well as their intensity. Oil production, storage or transportation infrastructure is often a target of fighting, as has been the case in Colombia, Libya, Syria and Iraq. Fires and spills generate emissions, and at times oil infrastructure is actively weaponised. It has been estimated that the 1991 Gulf War’s oil fires contributed more than 2% of global fossil fuel CO2 emissions that year, with distant and long-lasting consequences. This includes pollution from the fires contributing to the accelerated melting of Tibetan glaciers due to the soot deposited on the ice.

 

Vegetation can also be a target of warfare, with the carbon it stores released when it is removed. The historic use of chemical defoliants and mechanical clearance in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos had the military goal of eliminating forest cover, with between 14-44 % of Vietnam’s forest lost. More recently, forest was burnt in Nagorno-Karabakh – likely to aid drone warfare, crops have been attacked in north east Syria, and protected areas set alight in Israel by incendiary kites.

 

Significant resources are required to deliver food, water and shelter to civilians affected by conflict, and the humanitarian sector has a large carbon footprint. Fuel use is particularly high – in 2017 costing an estimated $1.2 billion, or 5% of aid expenditure – mainly for logistics and to power the generators delivering vital electricity. Displaced persons camps can also release carbon following landscape changes, for example the deforestation near the Rohingya camps in Bangladesh, something donors and agencies have sought to address through Nature-based Solutions.

 

As a conflict becomes protracted or frozen, some significant sources of anthropogenic emissions can become locked in. Under-development, a lack of external investment and weak governance can result in old polluting technologies remaining in use, where they might otherwise have been replaced.

 

Military activities can also lead to long-lasting land use changes. In eastern Ukraine and Nagorno-Karabakh we see vegetation clearance along the lines of contact, while very significant changes were caused in Myanmar’s Rakhine State due to a deliberate scorched earth policy. The development of fortifications and installations can also impact fragile areas, for example in Kuwait, and in Iraq, where the increase in dust over military bases can be observed from space. Top soils, and their carbon storage potential, are commonly affected by conflict. Soil erosion and desertification linked to warfare has been identified in Syria, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan. Both desertification and soil erosion can accelerate the loss of carbon from soils and reduce their potential to be effective carbon sinks.

 

Conflicts can also influence emissions from the marine environment, for example where oil spills impact coastal ecosystems, through increasing waste water discharge due to urban damage or through increased sediment runoff following deforestation or land degradation.

 

 

References and Resources also include:

https://ceobs.org/how-does-war-contribute-to-climate-change/

About Rajesh Uppal

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