Thursday, July 16, 2015

We Should Address Climate Change the Same Way We Approach the Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons

There has been a great deal of talk about the national security threat posed by the nuclear capabilities of states like Iran, however we should be equally if not more concerned about climate change. This message was echoed by the UK's foreign minister, who said that the threat of climate change needs to be assessed in the same comprehensive way as nuclear weapons proliferation.

In his commencement address at the United States Coast Guard Academy President Obama also portrayed climate change as a grave national security threat.  This was the main message in a complimentary document released by the White House. This document draw on federal reports like the Third National Climate Assessment.

There have been a host of US national security officials who have spoken out about the risks posed by climate change.  In 2013 the Department of Defense came forward with its Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap (CCAR).

The national security threats associated with climate change include obvious things like heat, extreme weather and sea level rise. However there are also a range of indirect threats from climate change including Arctic shipping, health impacts, food shortages, climate refugees, social tensions, conflict and even terrorism.  

All of these climate related concerns are corroborated in a new UK foreign office report titled, Climate Change A Risk Assessment. As reported in The Guardian, minister of state, Baroness Joyce Anelay, warned about the impacts of global warming in the foreword to the new report.

The report was led by the UK’s climate change envoy, Prof Sir David King and it was written by experts from the UK, US, China and India. In 2004, King, then the government’s chief scientific adviser, warned that climate change is a more serious threat to the world than terrorism.

The report states that existing plans to curb carbon emissions would heighten the chances of the climate passing tipping points “beyond which the inconvenient may become intolerable”.

As Anelay explained, “assessing the risk around [nuclear weapon proliferation] depends on understanding inter-dependent elements, including: what the science tells us is possible; what our political analysis tells us a country may intend; and what the systemic factors are, such as regional power dynamics...The risk of climate change demands a similarly holistic assessment.”

The report indicates that extreme weather events, food shortages, water scarcity and climate migration, could overwhelm the international communities capacity to provide humanitarian assistance.

The report concludes: “The risks of climate change may be greater than is commonly realised, but so is our capacity to confront them. An honest assessment of risk is no reason for fatalism.”

Climate change is already with us and we know that these impacts are destined to get far worse in the future. Now that Iran has signed a deal that should curb its nuclear ambitions and may even help turn the country into a global renewable energy superpower. If the possibility of an nuclear armed Iran warranted so much concern, surely we need to address the far greater threats from climate change. 

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