The Movement for the Abolition of War

Climate Change & Military Emissions


Background: Climate Change Causes War and War Causes Climate Change

UN Secretary General sets the scene

The Secretary General of the United Nations has called climate change the defining issue of our time, stating that “almost every day we are confronted by its growing and increasingly pervasive effects. It is no coincidence that those countries most vulnerable to climate change are also liable to conflict and fragility”.

Examples of Conflicts caused by Climate Change

Some see the recent civil war in Sudan’s Darfur region as the first modern climate-change conflict. In 2007 the UN Environment Programme argued that desertification and dwindling rainfall had made supplies of food and water less secure, which may have helped spark the rebellion that Sudan’s government put down with a campaign of genocide and mass rape.

Between 2012 and 2015 it was argued that climate change had been a catalyst or even a primary driver of the civil war in Syria and the primary cause of the waves of refugees reaching Europe. The argument was that human emissions had caused or exacerbated a severe drought in Syria in the late 2000s that triggered mass migration from farmland into cities, contributing to tensions which ultimately led to an interminable war.

Lake Chad in the 70’s was once one of the largest fresh water lake in the world, an oasis and commercial hub in the arid Sahel – now it has shrunk to less than half this size, caused mostly by global emissions from countries many thousands of miles away. As the lake receded, animal herders, farmers and fisherfolk competed for access to the shrunken supply of water in temperatures of over 45C. Poverty and hunger encouraged thousands of young men to join Boko Haram and other terrorist organisations which continue to wreak mayhem in Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon.

The Dutch based ‘Water Peace and Security Partnership’, working with many other organisations, has reported that a third of the world’s people now live in countries that experience high levels of water stress, with droughts affecting around 50 million people, causing more than $5 billion in damage annually, with particular hotspots in Kenya, South Sudan, Zimbabwe, Iraq, Iran-Afghanistan border regions and Bangladesh, many of which have already suffered catastrophic conflicts.

Climate Related Risk Reduction spending is up to 50 times better value than military intervention says the UK government

A report by The Oxford Research Group has established that Ministry of Defence advice to policy makers is governed by the principle that even a 1% chance of a security risk materialising is unacceptable, and justifies more expenditure to “make us safe”, using the outdated mindset that military force is the principal safeguard against external threats. Yet the UK International Climate Finance (ICF), administered by three government Departments (former DFID now FCDO, BEIS and Defra), directly contradicts this strategy and states that “Investing our climate finance today helps reduce costs tomorrow. Every £1 invested well in climate-related risk reduction saves more than £3 (and up to £50) in avoided disaster impacts. Similarly, every pound spent cutting CO2 pays for itself between five- and twenty-fold by offsetting the future costs of climate change. ICF does this by building the resilience of the poorest people and communities. It supports countries to prepare for and adapt to climate change, improving how disasters are managed and reducing the harm they cause and the costs of responding”.

The modest outlays, based on the ICF model above, for preventative action to slow and reverse climate change, represent overwhelmingly better value for money than a securitised military approach that seeks to address only the symptoms of a changing climate in the form of increasing conflict across the Global South.

David Collins, February 2021

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