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Climate change could lead to conflict, instability: UN report

The wars in Sudan and the surrounding region have already seen the impact of drought and famine impact political events leading to increased conflicts.
by Staff Writers
Nusa Dua, Indonesia (AFP) Dec 10, 2007
Global warming could lead to internal conflict, regional unrest and war, with North Africa, the Sahel and South Asia among the hotspots, a report issued at a global climate change forum said Monday.

The warning by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) came just hours ahead of ceremonies in Oslo to award the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize to US climate campaigner Al Gore and the UN's top scientific panel on the greenhouse-gas problem.

UNEP called for a twin-pronged approach, tackling the carbon emissions that stoke global warming and helping vulnerable countries shore up defences against its impacts.

"If global warming is not confined, fragile, vulnerable states which have already now fairly bad governance might implode under the pressure of global warming and then send shock waves to other countries so that you will have spillover effects," said one of the authors, Hans Schnellhuber, a professor at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research near Berlin, Germany.

If warming rose by five degrees Celsius (nine degrees Fahrenheit) "we might have something like a global civil war," said Schnellhuber.

According to the Nobel-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), by 2100 global average surface temperatures could rise by between 1.1 C and 6.4 C (1.98 and 11.52 F) compared to 1980-99 levels.

The UNEP document, issued on the sidelines of the December 3-14 meeting of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), is the starkest warning yet by a United Nations agency on the security risks that flow from climate change.

These perceived risks -- also shared by a growing number of political and military think-tanks -- stem from competition over dwindling water resources as well as tensions arising from the aftermath of major storms, failed harvests or other cataclysms.

The report, "Climate Change as a Security Risk," placed the spotlight on a number of "regional hotspots," including:

-- NORTH AFRICA: Worsening water shortages, dwindling crop yields, galloping population growth and "poor political problem-solving capabilities" will intensify the potential for political crisis and migratory pressure. The Nile delta will be at risk from rising sea levels and salinisation of farmland.

-- SAHEL: Climate change will exacerbate the the problems of a region characterised by weak states, civil wars and refugee flows.

-- SOUTH ASIA: India, Pakistan and Bangladesh face "especially severe" risks from climate change, led by glacial retreat in the Himalayas that will threaten the water supply for millions of people. Sea-level rise and cyclones will threaten the coastline of the Bay of Bengal and changes to monsoon rains will hit agriculture.

"These dynamics will increase the social crisis potential in a region which is already characterised by cross-border conflicts (India/Pakistan), unstable governments (Bangladesh/Pakistan) and Islamism," UNEP said.

-- CHINA: Higher temperatures will worsen heatwaves and drought, driving desertification and water scarcity in some parts of the country, which is already struggling with chronic environmental problems. On China's thriving, highly populated eastern coast, the peril will come from sea-level rise and tropical cyclones.

"The government's steering capacities could be overwhelmed by the rapid pace of modernisation, environmental and social crisis and the impacts of climate change," says the report.

The assessment is the latest, but most emphatic, in a series of analyses of the link between climate change and instability.

The Stern Review, a 2006 assessment on the economics of climate change authored by British economist Sir Nicholas Stern, quoted estimates of as many as 150-200 million "permanently displaced" environmental refugees by mid-century.

According to a US State Department report in June, more than a billion people in Asia could face reduced water availability by mid-century.

In September, Britain's International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) predicted fears about stability are bound to rise to the top of the agenda.

"The security dimension will come increasingly to the forefront as countries begin to see falls in available resources and economic vitality, increased stress on their armed forces, greater instability in regions of strategic import, increases in ethnic rivalries, and a widening gap between rich and poor," it said.

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