by Thusitha Bulathgama
Published on The Morning on 04th September 2023
Climate change has emerged as one of the most pressing issues of our time, not only because of its environmental and humanitarian impacts but also due to its implications for global security. As the planet's climate rapidly changes, the consequences extend beyond environmental concerns, affecting various aspects of our society, including the security related infrastructure. The changing climate is posing unprecedented challenges that threaten peace, stability, and human well-being worldwide. Per Z. Kanga’s “Climate change is a national security issue”, the worldwide threat analysis issued by the former Director of National Intelligence of the United States (US), Daniel Ray Coats mentioned that “global environmental and ecological degradation, as well as climate change, are likely to fuel competition for resources, economic distress, and social discontent”.
Climate change is widely regarded as one of the greatest threats to peace and security in the 21st century. The lives and livelihoods of people all around the world are being impacted by prolonged droughts, rising sea levels, more frequent and violent storms, and global warming. Additionally, climate change will lead to many issues such as energy shortage, food and drinking water shortage, the proliferation of numerous diseases, which in their turn, will lead to a large number of migrations, the increased number of failed States, the empowerment of violent non-State actors, and overall instability in the world. Due to these interconnected issues, this article aims to raise awareness about the significant implications of climate change on global security and to highlight the urgent needs for concerted actions to address this multifaceted challenge.
Security Threats posed by Climate Change
Climate change has already made many people leave their homeland and move to other countries to obtain a better life. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change identified that migration will be one of the main repercussions of climate change. Every year, 20 million people are displaced by natural disasters, especially weather-related events. One in 10 houses in the US were affected by natural disasters in 2021. Property damage from these catastrophes cost US Dollars ($) 56.92 billion in total. These natural disasters, which have rocked the country more frequently than ever, include hurricanes ($ 33 billion in property damage), wildfires ($ 1.46 billion in property damage), severe weather like tornadoes, hailstorms, and wind events ($ 7.46 billion in property losses), and winter storms ($ 15 billion in property damages). Climate change is threatening the livelihoods of many people. Extreme weather events, slow onset environmental changes like soil salinisation and the rising of the sea level have long term effects for the income, health and safety of those residing in the areas affected. By 2050, the World Bank (WB) predicts that 216 million people will migrate within their own countries due to climate change.
Additionally, another primary security risk associated with climate change is environmental insecurity driven by resource related scarcity. Extreme weather events cause crop failures, water shortages, and population displacement as they become increasingly frequent and intense. These circumstances may exacerbate competition for scarce resources like food, water and arable land which could increase the likelihood of violence within the nation as well as between them.
Yemen, a country heavily dependent on agriculture, which contributes to 17% of its total gross domestic product, has seen drought, poverty and violence. Apart from that, per F. Wehrey and N. Fawal’s “Cascading climate effects in the Middle East and North Africa: Adapting through inclusive governance”, conflict over scarce resources and agricultural land has been connected to prolonged droughts in places like the Middle East and the Sahel in Africa. Similar to how territorial disputes and immigration issues could exacerbate the tension in sensitive areas, the rising sea level endangers the sustainability of small island nations. Because small islands are becoming more vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change and there is nowhere to go as the sea rises, there is nowhere to hide when extreme weather events such as hurricanes arrive. In addition to that, the balance between freshwater and the nearby sea is fragile, and if fishing decreases, economies that depend on the oceans could be severely harmed. These examples highlight how social, economic and political instability are sparked by climate change, endangering global security.
Furthermore, climate change can also create fertile ground for extremism and terrorism. Communities are more vulnerable to radicalisation as a result of the effects of climate-related disasters, economic problems and resource-related scarcity. Extremist organisations frequently use this feeling of hopelessness of people to attract new members and carry out violent acts. As per the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, competition over scarce resources has been linked to civil war in places like the Lake Chad Basin, where it is evident that climate change has made the situation worse. Climate change is referred to as a potential “threat multiplier” in security studies. As the waters of Lake Chad recede, fish stocks decrease, agricultural land disappears and other economic opportunities are also lost. However, it is crucial to identify that while climate change can indirectly impact social and political situations, it is just one of several factors contributing to the complex issue of terrorism. Economic disparities, political grievances and cultural tension also have significant roles to play in this complicated issue.
In the context of Sri Lanka, per J. Selvachandran’s “Preparing for the impact of climate change in Sri Lanka”, the country is relatively well-positioned to meets its obligations in combatting climate change. Besides that, for Sri Lanka, as one of the top 65 countries at high risk from climate change’s effects, doing nothing would put the country’s environment, health and education at risk. This report also advocates immediate and efficient actions. In addition to that, another report by the WB has identified that Sri Lanka is especially vulnerable to climate change’s impacts, due to the collection of political, geographic and social factors. Among these effects are rising temperatures, which are predicted to have the greatest impact on Sri Lanka's most vital industries, including manufacturing, commercial agriculture, and tourism. On top of that, the country will be more susceptible to unanticipated catastrophes due to an increase in the spread of diseases and natural disasters. Concerning the above facts, the country is easily affected by fast changes in the climate, and it is in danger of facing security problems like economic crisis, political uncertainty and social instability.
The Way Forward
To mitigate the challenges arising from climate change and its effects on migration, resource-related scarcity and extremism, it is imperative to implement a range of effective actions across different levels of society. When it comes to migration, strengthening disaster preparedness and response is a must. To protect communities, making investments in early warning systems to identify natural disasters, evacuation strategies and robust infrastructure is essential. Apart from that, supporting vulnerable communities impacted by climate change should be provided with development assistance, opportunities of employment, and access to healthcare and education and other services, which will empower them to withstand climate-related challenges.
Promoting the sustainable management of natural resources, such as water and arable land, is one of the best ways to manage resources and protect scarce resources. Water conservation and forest preservations and responsible agriculture also can be used as a factor of encouragement with regard to resource management. Additionally, international-aid-based cooperation is another effective solution to resource management. Developed countries can offer vulnerable nations financial and technical support to help them build resilience and deal with the effects of climate change.
On the other hand, tackling the root causes of extremism and terrorism including poverty, inequality, and the lack of opportunities will help to ease the situation. This could be done by countering radicalisation by strengthening community engagement and making dialogue.
Moreover, many countries undergo climate-related risks and since the topic at hand is interconnected to other sectors such as the economy and politics, therefore, immediate and efficient actions to protect the environment will also strengthen public health and the economic sector to an extent. To reduce the impacts induced by climate change, several measures can be taken such as enhancing the health and disease control mechanism to mitigate the potential increase in the spread of diseases due to climate change, educating communities regarding climate change resilience, the adaptation of strategies and sustainable practices to prevent potential consequences and to strengthen social safety nets to support vulnerable populations during climate-related crises and natural disasters.
In conclusion, climate change is a serious security threat that must be addressed seriously. It is not merely an environmental issue. Also, climate change is a complex and multifaceted challenge, requiring a comprehensive and integrated approach. Realising how critical this situation is, makes it obvious that climate change is not just an environmental issue but also a serious security concern that needs to be addressed on a worldwide scale. As we stand at this crossroads, it is incumbent upon us to weave together the threads of cooperation, innovation and sustainable practices to safeguard not only the planet that we live but also the stability and prosperity of future generations. The repercussions of inaction are too serious to ignore, thus the time to act is now. Let this moment serve as a starting point for profound shifts and a testament of resiliency for the times to come.
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* Mr. Thusitha Bulathgama is a Research Assistant at the Institute of National Security Studies (INSS) the premier think tank on National Security established under the Ministry of Defence. The opinion expressed is his own and not necessarily reflective of the institute or the Ministry of Defence.
-The Ministry of Defence bears no responsibility for the ideas and views expressed by the contributors to the Opinion section of this web site-