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Environmental and Climate threats impacts Global Security, Military and Technology role

Climate change is defined as the shift in climate patterns mainly caused by greenhouse gas emissions from natural systems and human activities. So far, anthropogenic activities have caused about 1.0 °C of global warming above the pre-industrial level and this is likely to reach 1.5 °C between 2030 and 2052 if the current emission rates persist.

 

A hotter planet will increasingly lead to security challenges. Changes in climate indicators, namely temperature, precipitation, seal-level rise, ocean acidification and extreme weather conditions have been highlighted in a recent report by the United Nations Climate Change Secretariat (UNCCS). Climate hazards reported included droughts, floods, hurricanes, severe storms, heatwaves, wildfires, cold spells and landslides (UNCCS 2019).

 

In 2018, the world encountered 315 cases of natural disasters which are mainly related to the climate. Approximately 68.5 million people were affected, and economic losses amounted to $131.7 billion, of which storms, floods, wildfires and droughts accounted for approximately 93%. Economic losses attributed to wildfires in 2018 alone are almost equal to the collective losses from wildfires incurred over the past decade, which is quite alarming. Furthermore, food, water, health, ecosystem, human habitat and infrastructure have been identified as the most vulnerable sectors under climate attack.

 

Furthermore, climate risks such as temperature shifts, precipitation variability, changing seasonal patterns, changes in disease distribution, desertification, ocean-related impacts and soil and coastal degradation contribute to vulnerability across multiple sectors in many countries (UNCCS 2019). Sarkodie et al. empirically examined climate change vulnerability and adaptation readiness of 192 United Nations countries and concluded that food, water, health, ecosystem, human habitat and infrastructure are the most vulnerable sectors under climate attack while pointing out that Africa is the most vulnerable region to climate variability (Sarkodie and Strezov 2019).

 

Humidity and heat could make large parts of the tropic zones uninhabitable for at least part of the year. Many of the glaciers in the Himalaya that provide a reliable source of water for more than a billion people are likely to disappear. Many coastal cities risk being submerged. Billions of people may be faced with high levels of water stress or food scarcity, and many may migrate towards more habitable parts of the planet. In the decades to come, and certainly in the second half of this century, climate change will become the biggest challenge humankind has ever faced.

 

Climate change is a risk multiplier of an existential nature, affecting every society around the world, generating new conflicts and potentially affecting our global security. This makes climate change an issue for national and international security – and thus the military.

 

 

Impacts of Environment and Climate Degradation

Recently, the United Nations has estimated that at least 40% of internal conflicts have a direct or indirect link to Natural Resources. Environmental related conflicts breakout for many reasons, such as water sources, land tenure, or land grabbing environment degradation, but also for rare commodities such as, oil, gold, diamonds, wild animals and so on. In addition, according to the Interpol United Nations Environmental Program annual report, illegal activities that are involved with the environment by diversity or natural resources are often lucrative. Hence criminal organizations are motivated to mix their activities with environmental crimes, in order to spread their criminal network and increase their profits. This means, that those who profit of environmental insecurity are likely to have easy access to weapons and international network. Therefore, it’s not surprising that environment emerged as a significant international peacebuilding priority.

 

Although the defense industry creates vast amounts of pollution, it’s most commonly associated with destruction. Conflict is a taker, not a giver. That largely holds true for people and the rest of the natural world. As UN Environment’s then-executive director Erik Solheim said in 2018, war presents “a risk for humanity and other forms of life on our planet. Too many lives, and species, are at stake”. The Costs of War Project documents the costs of post-9/11 military action in Afghanistan and Iraq, along with connected violence in Pakistan and Syria. It asserts that the “wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan have had a serious impact on the natural environments of these countries”. It further states that along with “the degradation of the natural resources in these countries and a radical destruction of forest cover, the animal and bird populations have also been adversely affected”.

 

As the US-focused report’s authors wrote in The Conversation, tackling the climate crisis “demands shuttering vast sections of the military machine. They said this is necessary because “few activities on Earth as environmentally catastrophic as waging war”. The authors argued that it “does no good tinkering around the edges of the war machine’s environmental impact”. Likewise, the Declassified UK report stated that only “a major change in UK military strategy… is likely to lead to low levels of environmental impacts, including low [greenhouse gas] emissions”.

 

Conflicts have an inter-generational effect and the environmental damages affect multiple countries at the same time. Hence, its a thorny topic and it calls for a international effort, because environment does not consider national boundaries. To give a quick view of what environment insecurity might generate, among other things, United Nations as estimated that by 2050 up to 1 billion environmental migrants will move either within their countries and across borders, on a permanent or temporary basis. Currently, in 2017, more than 65 million people were displaced from their home regions due to interstate wars, civil conflicts and natural disasters. Without appropriate pro-policies, environmental migration can turn into a serious socioeconomic concern, also in inflow countries. Government and international agency influence migration patterns through regulations regarding land use, migration policies and migration assistance in receiving areas, but also with environmental security strategies.

 

Approximately 71 million people globally are displaced by conflict and persecution, and this crisis has placed unprecedented strain on displaced individuals, host countries, and the international humanitarian system. Migrants and refugees flooding into Europe from Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia have presented European leaders and policymakers with their greatest challenge since the debt crisis. More than 1 million immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa entered Europe in 2015 alone.  Syrians fleeing their country’s four-and-a-half-year-old civil war made up the largest group (39 percent). Afghans looking to escape the ongoing war with Taliban rebels (11 percent), and Eritreans fleeing forced labor (7 percent) made up the second and third largest groups of migrants, respectively. Assimilation has been both incredibly difficult and expensive. Meanwhile, the immigration issue has created a deep divide in the European polity.

 

The securitization of the environment describes a way of handling environmental issues where threats to the environment are seen as urgent and immediate, requiring a quickly and highly technological response from experts. For instance, while protect the environment, we have to predict and control wide-scale, spontaneous, migration or displacement of huge population masses. From environmentally devastated areas into neighboring regions, in order to avoid social tensions and political instability.

 

In 2015 many politicians expressed doubts that  Islamic State (Isis) militants may be infiltrating migrant boats carrying would-be refugees to Europe. IS has already declared that they will use the migrant tide to flood Europe with 500,000 of their own jihadists. There have been reports that Salafist preachers in Europe are targeting freshly arrived refugees for radicalisation, as well as cases of migrants who went on to apply for asylum and had their request turned down over suspected terrorist ties.

 

Traffickers advertise their services on Facebook like any legitimate travel agency, with dynamic photographs of destination cities and generous offers. Migrants are being helped by Facebook groups like “Smuggling into the E.U.”, “How to emigrate to Europe” and “Smuggle yourself to Europe without a trafficker.” Some are able to complete the journey on their own with a GPS-equipped smartphone and without paying traffickers.

 

Conflict’s influence on the natural world is multi-faceted. Of course, species and biodiverse landscapes – like people – can be at risk of perishing in military assaults and violence. But war also has knock-on effects that can have a major impact. The Rwandan civil war, for example, led to the displacement of nearly 750,000 people into camps near Virunga national park. As The Guardian previously reported, the Worldwatch Institute found that “around 1,000 tonnes of wood was removed from the park every day for two years in order to build shelters, feed cooking fires and created charcoal for sale” as a result. Meanwhile, conservationist Ian Redmond pointed out that “War is bad for wildlife in as many ways as for people. Conservation suffers because rangers often have to flee the fighting, and may be attacked because rebel armies covet their vehicles, radios and guns. Moreover, rebels often feed their troops on bushmeat and finance their ops with ivory, timber, charcoal and minerals from protected areas”.

 

During the 2015 migration crisis, number of refugees died along the way as the journey proved to be arduous, hazardous and expensive. The International Organization for Migration calls Europe the most dangerous destination for irregular migration in the world, and the Mediterranean the world’s most dangerous border crossing. In response, European Union’s planned to triple its funding for maritime search-and-rescue operations in the Mediterranean. The U.N. High Commission for Refugees said that broadening search-and-rescue operations were “important first steps toward collective European action.” But the agency urged the EU to provide other legal channels to protection to prevent refugees’ deaths at sea. But some have said the answer to the crisis is not a more accommodating immigration policy, but better armed patrols to keep migrant boats from leaving Africa for the Mediterranean crossing to Europe.

 

The Ecologist has reported, conflict can also lead to the collapse of institutions tasked with environmental protection. It can further cause an exodus of people, such as conservationists, from militarized areas, leading to a “brain-drain” in those regions.

 

 

Military role and Impact

In a 2019 Town Hall, Joe Biden said that the US military had told him and Barack Obama that climate change was the “greatest danger facing our security.” Similarly, UK military officials have been warning for years that global warming poses a grave threat to security.

 

The Conversation reported in 2019, analysis has revealed that the US military is “one of the largest polluters in history”. The study showed that the “US military is a bigger polluter than as many as 140 countries”. Meanwhile, research carried out for Declassified UK in 2020 found that “Britain’s military-industrial sector annually emits more greenhouse gases than 60 individual countries”. Declassified UK said the emissions produced by the UK’s Ministry of Defense (MoD), along with its supply chain, were up to 11 times more than the government department admits.

 

Military leaders believe climate change seriously threatens U.S. national security. They contend it is stirring up chaos and conflict abroad, endangering coastal bases and stressing soldiers and equipment, which undermines military readiness. But rather than debating the causes of climate change or assigning blame, they focus on how warming undermines security, and on practical steps to slow its advance and minimize damage.

 

The extent to which the military capabilities of countries are affected by climate change is related to whether, and how, countries respond to and integrate climate change impacts into their defence strategies and policies, and more specifically into risk assessment, early warning, surveillance and operational preparations. It is also related to countries’ general efforts in climate adaptation, disaster preparedness and risk reduction, even though some impacts might be difficult or impossible to prepare for entirely.

 

The US and UK militaries have also taken some steps to lower their environmental impact. But neither of them appear to make it particularly easy for others to scrutinize their pollution. The researchers behind the US-focused report detailed in The Conversation said it is “very difficult to get consistent data from the Pentagon and across US government departments” on military emissions. Likewise, the Declassified UK report stated that the MoD is “highly selective in the data and related information on its environmental impacts” that it publishes. In response, the MoD insisted that its “direct CO2 emissions are independently verified each year and reported in our Annual Report and Accounts”.

 

Crucially, neither military appears to be considering the most obvious way to reduce their vast pollution: stop making war. The US’ latest annual defense budget of a massive $740bn, which passed in the House and Senate with substantial majorities, illustrates that well. In November, the UK also confirmed an extra £21.5bn [~$29.1bn] spending on defense over the next four years. This is in addition to the annual defense budget of £41.5bn [~$56.2bn.]

 

Technology role in Environment degradation

The digital technology industry is itself  one of the least sustainable and most environmentally damaging industrial sectors in the modern world. Most of the sector is based on the fundamental concept of replacement rather than repair. Now, many people replace their mobile phones at least every two years. The average mobile creates 55 kilograms of carbon emissions in manufacture, equal to 26 weeks of laundry. 1.9 billion mobile phones were projected to be sold in 2018, and their total carbon footprint in manufacture was at least equal to the Philippines’ annual carbon emissions, a country of over 100 million people.

 

The hardware-software development cycle forces users to upgrade their equipment on a regular basis. Innovation in the digital technology sector means that hardware developments often make old software unusable on newer devices, and new software (particularly operating systems) requires newer hardware on which to run. The net effect is that despite efforts to recycle digital technology, e-Waste remains a fundamental problem for the sector. Much e-waste contains concentrated amounts of potentially harmful products, and this shows little sign of abating.

 

In recent years a substantial trade has developed whereby poorer countries of the world have become dumps for such waste, with severe environmental damage resulting. Whilst waste-processing communities such as Guiyu in China have developed to gain economic benefit from e-waste, and recycling can help provide a partial solution for many materials, the fundamental point remains that the sector as a whole is built on a model that generates very substantial waste, rather than one that is focused inherently on sustainability.

 

Digital technology, almost by definition, must have electricity to function, and as industry and society become increasingly dependent on electricity for production, exchange and consumption, the demand for electricity continues to rise. The overall demand for electricity from the digital technology sector is growing rapidly. Smil goes on to note that ICT networks used about 5% of the world’s electricity in 2012, and this is predicted to rise to 10% by 2020, and to 20% by 2025.

 

Most measures of electricity demand focus on the direct uses of digital technology, such as powering servers, equipment and charging mobile devices (phones, tablets, and laptops), but indirect demand must also be recognised, notably the air-conditioning required to reduce the temperature of places running digital technology.

 

Future projections relating to Smart Cities, 5G and the Internet of Things give rise to additional concerns over energy demand. There is much uncertainty about the environmental costs and benefits of upcoming developments in digital technology, and some efforts are indeed being made to reduce the rate of increase of energy demands.

 

Most digital technologies rely on rare minerals that are becoming increasingly scarce. Many people are unaware, for example, that a mobile phone contains more than a third of the elements in the Periodic Table. Though, the actual exploitation of such resources is often hugely environmentally damaging, and the use of child labour is considered by many as being unacceptable, Mine tailings, open cast mining methods, and waste spillages are all commonplace. Violence and conflict over ownership of the resources is also widespread, as are the negative health implications of many of the mining methods.

 

The impact of the large number of new cell towers and antennae that will be needed for 5G networks, as well as the buildings housing server farms and data centres also have a significant environmental impact.

 

The carbon impact of the digital technology sector is considerably more than most people appreciate. It has been estimated, for example, that the ICT sector emits about 2% of global CO2 emissions, and has now surpassed the airline industry in terms of the levels of its impact.[Others suggest that the digital sector will emit as much as 4% of total greenhouse gas emissions in 2020.

 

A final very important, but frequently ignored, environmental impact is the proliferation of satellites in space. Far too often, space is seen as having no relevance for environmental matters, rather like the oceans were once considered, but in reality space pollution is of very important significance. The environmental impact of rockets that launch satellites into space has until recently scarcely been considered. As noted in a commentary in 2017, “Nobody knows the extent to which rocket launches and re-entering space debris affect the Earth’s atmosphere”

 

The debris from satellites is potentially very hazardous, because every object of a reasonable size from a disintegrating satellite is potentially able to destroy another satellite. The European Space Agency estimates that there are 34,000 objects >10 cm, 900,000 objects <10 cm and > 1 cm, and 128 million objects <1 cm and > 1mm currently in orbit.

 

Technology role in  Climate mitigation

On the eve of the UN Climate Change Conference COP 25 in Madrid (2 – 13 December 2019), a UN report made clear that urgent action is needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which are contributing to global warming. More awareness, better forecasting tools as well as new organisational structures may be needed.

 

There are three main climate change mitigation approaches, First, being the conventional mitigation efforts  that employ decarbonization technologies and techniques that reduce CO2 emissions, such as renewable energy, fuel switching, efficiency gains, nuclear power, and carbon capture storage and utilization. The most prominent technologies include photovoltaic solar power, concentrated solar power, solar thermal power for heating and cooling applications, onshore and offshore wind power, hydropower, marine power, geothermal power, biomass power and biofuels. One of the main technological challenges associated is the intermittent nature/variability in power production. This has been overcome by integrating such technologies with storage as well as other renewable baseload and grid technologies.

 

Whilst the adoption of renewable sources of energy would undoubtedly reduce the carbon impact of digital technologies, their negative side-effects must also be taken into consideration. For example, digital technologies are a crucial enabling element for smart motorways and self-driving electric cars. Unless electricity for these cars and communication networks is produced from renewable sources the replacement of petrol and diesel cars by electric ones will have little impact on carbon emissions. However, the shift to renewable production will lead to a very significant environmental impact through the construction of wine turbines and solar farms.

 

A second route constitutes a new set of technologies and methods that have been recently proposed. These techniques are potentially deployed to capture and sequester CO2 from the atmosphere and are termed negative emissions technologies, also referred to as carbon dioxide removal methods (Ricke et al. 2017).  The technology consists of separating and capturing CO2 gases from processes that rely on fossil fuels such as coal, oil or gas. The captured CO2 is then transported and stored in geological reservoirs for very long periods. The main objective is the reduction in emission levels while utilizing fossil sources.

Policy Brief: negative emissions - Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC)

It is argued that negative emissions technologies should be deployed to remove residual emissions after all conventional decarbonization efforts have been maximized and that such approach should be utilized to remove emissions that are difficult to eliminate through conventional methods .The main negative emissions techniques widely discussed in the literature include bioenergy carbon capture and storage, biochar, enhanced weathering, direct air carbon capture and storage, ocean fertilization, ocean alkalinity enhancement, soil carbon sequestration, afforestation and reforestation, wetland construction and restoration, as well as alternative negative emissions utilization and storage methods such as mineral carbonation and using biomass in construction

 

Finally, a third route revolves around the principle of altering the earth’s radiation balance through the management of solar and terrestrial radiation. Such techniques are termed radiative forcing geoengineering technologies, and the main objective is temperature stabilization or reduction. Unlike negative emissions technologies, this is achieved without altering greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. The main radiative forcing geoengineering techniques that are discussed in the literature include stratospheric aerosol injection, marine sky brightening, cirrus cloud thinning, space-based mirrors, surface-based brightening and various radiation management techniques. All these techniques are still theoretical or at very early trial stages and carry a lot of uncertainty and risk in terms of practical large-scale deployment.

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Technology can also mitigate some of the migration challenges. Technology has shown promise in many ways, such as facilitating the operations of aid organizations and providing a means of communication among displaced people, for example, providing internet connectivity and access, supporting communication with family and friends, providing education and employment opportunities, facilitating distribution of housing and other resources, and providing a record of information about a displaced person’s identity.

 

Nowadays, technology can provide several instruments to predict, avoid, and manage environmental conflicts, environmental migration, and environmental crimes. The negative effect of environmental deterioration and poor management of natural resources have intensified the search for a more comprehensive security concepts in the scientific, political and military community.

 

In this modern migration, smartphone maps, global positioning apps, social media and WhatsApp have become essential tools. Migrants depend on them to post real-time updates about routes, arrests, border guard movements and transport, as well as places to stay and prices, all the while keeping in touch with family and friends. The majority of refugees stated that common platforms, such as Facebook and WhatsApp, were the most important and most frequently used because of their ubiquity, their community groups for refugees, and their low cost. Refugees also used digital technology in seeking health care outside of traditional or official networks. This included using smartphone applications (apps) to find a doctor or to gain information to support self-care.

 

Both adults and children used digital technology to support their education. Adults did so to learn skills and information and to obtain certifications, and children used it to keep up with schooling, especially when their refugee status posed a barrier to formal education. Refugees used digital technology to seek employment opportunities, follow job trends, keep up to date with skills important to their careers, and pursue self-employment and entrepreneurship.

 

Refugees placed a high value on their ability to access the internet, although the vast majority of refugees across all six host countries described limited or irregular access to Wi-Fi and cellular data. Barriers to access included the cost of data plans and hardware, problems accessing SIM cards (subscriber identification modules) for smartphones, a lack of Wi-Fi where refugees were journeying or living, limited understanding of how to use technology, and a lack of language skills.

 

The technology is transforming the ways refugees and international aid agencies interact, even before the refugees enter Europe. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has distributed 33,000 SIM cards to Syrian refugees in Jordan and 85,704 solar lanterns that can also be used to charge cellphones. “For the U.N.H.C.R., there is a shift in understanding of what assistance provision actually is,” said Christopher Earney from the refugee agency’s innovation office in Geneva. Pawel Krzysiek, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Damascus, said smartphones enabled refugees to exchange information and interact with international agencies rather than just receive information passively. “We are at the end of the social network age and are entering the social messaging age,” Mr. Krzysiek said.

 

Aid providers use various technologies to coordinate and manage their activities in supporting refugees, communicate about the availability of assistance, and distribute assistance. They use digital technologies to collect and analyze field and program data, registration data, survey responses, location information, and qualitative data, as well as other information from refugees, partner organizations, and publicly available sources. With the increasing reliance on data in aid operations, there is a need for humanitarian organizations to improve their technical capacity for managing and securing such data. Also of note is the growing use of cash assistance for aid distribution, which can rely on such technologies as blockchain (for recording transactions), biometrics (for identity), and credit card systems.

 

The current refugee crisis may offer a chance for defense firms to capitalize on an expanding market in border control and surveillance, according to Pieter Wezeman, a defense industry expert at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). EU may consider enhanced funding to surveillance systems including olfactory sensors, border patrol robots , drones, reconnaissance aircraft, satellites, to monitor Europe’s external borders. “The European arms industry has faced significant problems in the declining demand for defense projects,” said Wezeman. From 2005 to 2014, defense budgets in Western and Central Europe fell by 8.3% in real terms, according to SIPRI’s analysis.

 

References and Resources also include:

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10311-020-01059-w

https://www.onegreenplanet.org/environment/the-defense-industry-an-overlooked-environmental-villain/

https://www.ictworks.org/digital-technologies-climate-change-problem/#.YAOF6zmSlPY

 

 

 

 

About Rajesh Uppal

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