April 24, 2013

Earth Day 2013: How climate change will impact global security

By Nancy Brune

Source: CBS News

It's hard to imagine what life would be like if the United States had to start looking for water sources in other locations, or if the weather changed so drastically that crops would not grow. What might seem like a far-off idea for Americans is actually happening in other areas of the world and making living in those places much more unstable.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Earth's average temperature has risen by 1.4 degrees over the past century, and is projected to rise another 2 to 11.5 degrees over the next hundred years, as direct result of the human population and their lifestyles.

"It is estimated that already in India 600,000 children die every year from dirty water and that rural industry is suffering because of a lack of access to water. As the climate changes and becomes more volatile, some areas that enjoyed lots of rain will get drier, areas that enjoyed little rain may get more and temperature fluctuations will grow more severe," environmental advocate Philippe Cousteau told CBSnews.com. Cousteau is the founder of EarthEcho International and created the non-profit organization with his mother and sister in honor of his father, Philippe Cousteau Sr., famous son of the legendary explorer Jacques Yves Cousteau. "What happens when people do not have fresh water? Or enough food? If they have the option, they will leave their homes in search of it. Witness the genocide in Darfur, essentially that was a water crisis driven by the encroachment of deserts and a shifting climate," he said.

The Pew Project on National Security, Energy and Climate explains on their website that the United State's dependence on foreign sources of energy constitute a serious threat "militarily, socially and economically" as they are all interrelated global challenges. The group believes that climate change will create "environmental refugees" of people leaving to find better conditions.

Cousteau believes that the impact climate change will have our global system is simple. The climate controls our fundamental sources of water, and can change our atmospheric conditions, therefore preventing our current agriculture systems to continue in the same way. People will need to change the way they live in order to adapt to what is going on globally.

It's not just environmentalists that feel this way; many experts see any climate change as a direct threat to global security as a whole. In fact, the U.S. State Department requested a report on how water problems alone could impact the security of the United States in the next 30 years.

The 2012 report by the United States Office of the Director of National Intelligence suggested that the already unstable areas of North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia could face the most trouble.

"During the next 10 years, many countries important to the United States will experience water problems -- shortages, poor water quality, or floods -- that will risk instability and state failure, increase regional tensions, and distract them from working with the United States on important U.S. policy objectives," the report found.

The report goes on the acknowledge that the changes in water resources might not cause problems on their own, but when combined with "poverty, social tensions, environmental degradation, ineffectual leadership and weak political institutions," water scarcity can "contribute to social disruptions that can result in state failure."

"Climate change and its related extreme weather events are best understood, particularly among security analysts, as a 'threat multiplier' or an 'accelerant of instability,' which acknowledges that climate related weather events may exacerbate underlying social and political tensions, inequalities, grievances and demographic conditions that are already putting pressure on governments and resources," explained Dr. Nancy E. Brune, a scholar at the Center for a New American Security, in an email to CBSNews.com. "Climate change and extreme weather events put pressure on the supply of resources that communities depend upon like water and food production."

At the G8 Foreign Ministers' meeting earlier this month, the group recognized climate change as a contributing factor to increase economic and security risks globally. The group explained in a statement that they "remain fully committed" to having a new climate change agreement by 2015, that would be implemented by 2020. They state that there must be "international cooperative initiatives" with full transparency.One of the biggest struggles facing climate change experts is how to not only stop the damage that will happen in the future but to also lessen the impact of what has already changed.

The EPA believes that while climate change is "inherently" a global issue, it still will impact countries across the globe in different ways and they are doing many things to help alleviate these problems, such as collecting emissions data and working with private companies to come up with a solution.

Kathleen Rogers, the president of Earth Day Network, told CBSNews.com that you do not even have to believe in climate change to notice that it's going to happen, and that it's crucial to "mitigate" the damage before it happens as these changes are going to have a huge impact on how our world interacts. "It's not just super storms, it's not just the Sandys that makes the world unstable and broke, it's the fact that in some places you are going have heavier rain fall and flooding and some places there will be droughts," she said. "From a national security point of view its not just the end of icebergs, it's not just reduced numbers of polar bears, but were going to have to adapt to the changes. In addition to stopping the damage, were going to have to adapt to higher temperatures, in some cases lower temperatures, but to adapt to what the world will look like in fifty years."

  • Nancy Brune