Security and Climate Change: the forgotten agenda item?

The issue of security and climate change has, so far, largely slipped under the radar of the mainstream media and the general public. The reasons for this are legitimate.

Climate change has so many wide ranging implications for the fate of ecosystems and habitats it is not surprising that so much attention has been focused on animal conservation or the protection of beautiful landscapes. But amidst the images of melting ice-caps and polluted skies that have come to personify our understanding of climate change are we over-looking the security dimension of climate change?

Climate change will shift the current allocation of resources around the world. Whilst in some areas, this will mean a welcome redistribution of rainfall or sunlight, in other areas that are already suffering from shortages of key resources the redistributive affect of climate change may be detrimental. Beyond the immediate humanitarian effects that a lack of resources brings, it may be a catalyst for future conflicts and may further destabilise regions such as the Middle East that are already highly volatile. One such example of this is Afghanistan. Experts believe that by 2050 Kabul will need six times the amount of water that it has available at present, a target which would be difficult to achieve even without the effects of climate change. However it is predicted that more than half the shallow wells in Kabul will dry up if temperatures continue to rise as expected. Not only will this have a debilitating immediate humanitarian cost but it will also have the knock on effect of further degrading the security and stability of the nation and therefore the region as a whole. The MoD has so far spent tens of billions of pounds in Afghanistan hunting down Taliban leaders and chasing insurgents out of the country in order to stabilise Afghanistan and make way for long term security. However, availability of food and water will increasingly become the overriding factor in deciding the fate of the nation. If the UK government is correct in its assertion that the security of our nation is directly linked to the security situation in Afghanistan surely it is in the national interest, let alone the global interest, to ensure that everyone in Afghanistan has access to food and clean water.

It is unreasonable to expect a nation whose population does not have access to these basic amenities to form a stable and democratic nation state, especially when there is no history or precedent for it. It is unsurprising that extreme elements thrive in societies that do not have access to the basics for life and blame the first world for their unfortunate situation. Afghanistan is just an example of many places in the world where climate change could become the most destabilising factor and largest contributor to violence, conflict and terrorism. The developed world needs to ensure that it is doing everything possible to help the third world avoid climate induced humanitarian disasters, if not from a moral standpoint, because it is also in their national security interest. Instead of spending billions on long range missiles and high altitude spy planes, the MoD may find it more productive to build desalination plants and health clinics.

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