Leaders from the African Union,the European Union
, NATO, and the United Nations have agreed unanimously that climate change threatens international peace and security
, and urged that the time for action is now.
In Copenhagen Tuesday, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the secretary-general of NATO; Jean Ping, the chairperson of the Commission of the African Union; and Helen Clark, the administrator of the UN Development Programme, were joined by Carl Bildt and Per Stig Møller, foreign ministers of Sweden and Denmark respectively, to take part in a remarkable public panel discussion organized by the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The leaders agreed climate change could hold serious implications for international security, both as a “threat multiplier” of existing problems and as the cause of conflict, under certain conditions.
Møller suggested there is evidence that higher temperatures in Africa could be directly linked to increases in conflict. Ping emphasized that African emissions make up only 3.8 per cent of the climate problem, though Africa will likely suffer some of its most serious impacts. Fogh Rasmussen warned of the dangers of territorial disputes over the Arctic as the sea ice recedes. “We need to stop the worst from happening,” said Clark.
While there was broad agreement on the seriousness of the challenge, the participants differed on what should be done. Responding to a question from the audience, Bildt argued that Europe should not necessarily throw open its doors to climate migrants, but that the bloc needed to help countries deal with climate change so people can stay at home. Clark argued that enlightened migration policy could meet two sets of needs: reversing declining populations in the North while providing a destination for unemployed workers from the South.
Fogh Rasmussen said militaries can do much to reduce their use of fossil fuels. He noted that 170 casualties in Afghanistan in 2009 have been associated with the delivery of fuel. There is no contradiction, he argued, between military efficiency and energy efficiency.
However, the real significance of the climate-security event lay not in what these leaders said, but that they were there to say it at all. Not many issues can gather the heads of the AU, NATO, and the UNDP on the same platform, alongside the foreign ministers of Sweden and Denmark. This event proved that climate change has become a core concern of international policymakers.
The only way to tackle global problems, as Ping argued, is to find global solutions. And a clear understanding of the potentially devastating security implications of climate change might be one way to bring about those global solutions.
“We are all in the same ship, and if that ship sinks, we will all drown,” said Ping.
Oli Brown is senior researcher and program manager at the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD). Read more of IISD’s postings on its blog.
Photo: Courtesy United Nations Photo.