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No country will escape climate impacts, warns Ministry of Defence

Rising sea levels, drought and food shortages likely to increase without cut in climate warming gases

Royal Navy Ice Patrol Vessel HMS Protector cuts through the mist in Antarctica (Pic: MOD/Flickr)

Royal Navy Ice Patrol Vessel HMS Protector cuts through the mist in Antarctica, a region set to change as temperatures rise (Pic: MOD/Flickr)

By Ed King

The world’s militaries face a sharp increase in disaster relief and humanitarian work due to climate change, says the Ministry of Defence in a new study.

Compiled by the Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre, a department within the MOD, Global Strategic Trends – Out to 2045 aims to inform government officials developing long term plans.

Few countries will escape the consequences of extreme weather events, with water and food shortages combined with a soaring global population highlighted as a specific concern.

The Arctic could also be a venue for ‘power projection’ say the authors, as the US, Canada, Russia and other states with polar interests seek to protect resources now accessible due to melting ice.

Demand for food, water and better sanitation is likely to grow in the coming decades, and will require more effective international cooperation, said Rear Admiral John Kingwell, Director of the Concepts and Doctrine Centre.

“The growth of cities will provide opportunities to make better use of the world’s resources but will expose many of the millions living in coastal cities to the risks of flooding as rising sea levels and more frequent and destructive weather events begin to test resilience,” he said.

“And climate change and the consequences of warming will affect food and water availability for many.”

North Africa, the Middle East, California and parts of Australia face intense 'water stress' by 2045 (Pic: MOD)

North Africa, the Middle East, California and parts of Australia face intense ‘water stress’ by 2045 (Pic: MOD)

The 172-page report draws on research from a number of international defence departments, including the Pentagon, as well as academia, NGOs and energy companies such as Shell.

It says that without a global consensus on the dangers posed by climate change, global temperature increases will lead to greater instability across the planet.

“By 2045, climate change is likely to have more noticeable effects. Without mitigation, rising sea levels will increase the risk of coastal flooding, particularly in regions affected by tropical cyclones. Droughts and heat-waves are also likely to increase in intensity, duration and frequency.

“Some of these events could precipitate natural disasters which, because of the interdependencies enabled by globalisation, may have consequences far beyond the site where the disaster occurs.”

Security experts appear to be increasingly concerned over the threat posed by climate change, commonly referred to in military circles as a ‘threat multiplier’.

Earlier this year Jamie Shea, Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges, told RTCC that a UN climate deal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is essential for global stability.

At a May Senate hearing Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn, Assistant Secretary of the US Navy said the challenges posed by climate change are “overwhelmingly clear” to Pentagon top brass.

And last month a report authored by Brigadier General Christopher King, Dean at the US Army Command and General Staff College said melting glaciers were likely to exacerbate tensions between India and China over access to water.

Rising global populations and the growth of urban centres could make the human costs of climate change more severe (Pic: MOD)

Rising global populations and the growth of urban centres could make the human costs of climate change more severe (Pic: MOD)

While many developed countries will escape the worst effects of global warming, their economies could suffer, with financial requirements for humanitarian assistance projected to increase by up to 1,600% by 2035.

Heatwaves, droughts, and flooding across North America is expected to cost “billions of dollars by 2045”, say the authors, also noting that moderate climate change could increase yields from rain-fed and irrigated agriculture in some parts of the US and Canada.

The study highlights Africa as an area of specific concern, where water shortages and crop failures could lead to more conflict and state instability.

It also focuses on South East Asia, warning countries with growing populations and high levels of poverty will also have to contend with rising sea levels, placing 270-310 million people at risk from flooding.

“Historically, the flooding in Pakistan in 2010 displaced an estimated 20 million people, and damaged 1.6 million homes. Similarly, some experts believe that a 2.5cm rise in sea levels would displace 50 million people in the coastal regions of India.

“Global sea-levels are likely to rise by between 0.32–0.38 metres by 2050, although larger increases cannot be ruled out.”

The study contains a warning for those proposing to cool the planet through geo-engineering, by spraying aerosols into the upper layers of the atmosphere to dull solar rays, or injecting the oceans with iron to stimulate carbon-absorbing plankton.

“Over-reliance on particular geoengineering technology to mitigate the effects of climate change could also render users vulnerable to catastrophic effects if equipment failed or was sabotaged,” it says.

“It is not clear therefore what, if any, role geoengineering will play by 2045 in countering the effects of climate change, and the extent to which it could heighten international tensions.”

Commenting on the report, Professor Malcolm Chalmers, Research Director at the London-based RUSI military thinktank, said its analysis on wider based trends will be taken seriously as a commentary on global challenges.

He added: “It is less clear how and whether it impacts on current UK policy, perhaps precisely because of its very long term and speculative nature.”

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