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Climate Emergency Exacerbating Risks to International Security

The climate emergency generated by global warming, is exacerbating existing risks to international peace and security, while also creating new ones, a senior United Nations (UN) official told the UN Security Council on July 24, making the case for swift climate action on multiple fronts.

“The climate emergency is a danger to peace”, said Miroslav Jenča, the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Europe, Central Asia and the Americas, as he called on peace and security actors to play their role and help speed up implementation of the landmark Paris Agreement on climate change.

“The failure to consider the growing impacts of climate change will undermine our efforts at conflict prevention, peacemaking and sustaining peace, and risk trapping vulnerable countries in a vicious cycle of climate disaster and conflict”, he said.

Jenča briefed the Council at the start of an open video-teleconference debate on climate and security, one of the key themes of this month’s German presidency of the 15-member body.

Noting that the consequences of climate change vary from region to region, he said the fragile or conflict-affected situations around the world are more exposed to – and less able to cope with – the effects of a changing climate.

“It is no coincidence that seven of the 10 countries most vulnerable and least prepared to deal with climate change, host a peacekeeping operation or special political mission”, he said.

Differences exist between regions, within regions and within communities, with climate-related security risks impacting women, men, girls and boys in different ways, he added.

In the Pacific, rising sea levels and extreme weather events pose a risk to social cohesion. In Central Asia, water stress and reduced access to natural resources can contribute to regional tensions. Across sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America, climate-driven population displacement could undermine regional stability.  And in the Horn of Africa and the Middle East, the effects of climate change are already deepening grievances and escalating the risk of conflict – providing fodder for extremist groups.

Outlining some actions that countries can take together, Jenča said that new technologies must be leveraged to strengthen the ability to turn long-term climate foresight, into actionable, near-term analysis.

He also recommended stronger partnerships that would bring together the efforts already being made by the UN, individual countries, regional organizations and others, to identify best practices, strengthen resilience and bolster regional cooperation.

Jenča’s comments follow a warning by Margaret Dene at the Foreign Policy Research Institute who says that the issue is no longer a future problem as the security implications of climate change are already being felt today.

Terrorist recruiters are watching agriculture industries, from farm workers to processing plant owners. Climate change puts this industry at high risk and those who earn a living from the fields may need to seek a new source of income. In many regions, there is no alternative, something terrorist group recruiters are very aware of.

The previous decade saw maritime pirates capitalize on the lack of suitable earning opportunities in coastal Somalia, attracting young and old alike with promises of wealth and status. Such a scenario could be played out on a global scale if jobs are lost as a result of climate change.

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Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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