Climate change can triggers wars, warns expert

August 22nd, 2008 - 11:27 am ICT by IANS  

Washington, Aug 22 (IANS) Climate change-induced damage to global ecosystems and resulting competition for natural resources may trigger wars and conflicts in the future, an expert has warned.Jürgen Scheffran, a scientist at the University of Illinois, reviewing recently published research, concluded that “the impact of climate change on human and global security could extend far beyond the limited scope the world has seen thus far.”

Scheffran is working with the Program in Arms Control, Disarmament and International Security and the Center for Advanced BioEnergy Research at the university.

“The associated socio-economic and political stress can undermine the functioning of communities, the effectiveness of institutions, and the stability of societal structures. These degraded conditions could contribute to civil strife, and, worse, armed conflict,” he wrote.

In fact, “large areas of Africa are suffering from scarcity of food and fresh water resources, making them more vulnerable to conflict. An example is Sudan’s Darfur province where an ongoing conflict was aggravated since droughts forced Arab herders to move into areas of African farmers.”

Other regions of the world - including the Middle East, Central Asia and South America - also are being affected, he said.

Scheffran’s review included a critical analysis of four trends identified in a report by the German Advisory Council on Global Change as among those most possibly destabilising populations and governments.

They include degradation of freshwater resources, food insecurity, natural disasters and environmental migration.

In his analysis, Scheffran noted that the number of world regions vulnerable to drought was expected to rise. Water supplies stored in glaciers and snow cover in major mountain ranges such as the Andes and Himalayas also are expected to decrease, he said.

“Most critical for human survival are water and food, which are sensitive to changing climatic conditions,” Scheffran said.

The degradation of these critical resources, combined with threats to populations caused by natural disasters, disease and crumbling economic and ecosystems, he said, could ultimately have “cascading effects”.

“Although climate change bears a significant conflict potential, it can also transform the international system toward more cooperation if it is seen as a common threat that requires joint action,” he said.

One of the more hopeful, recent signs on that front, he said, was the 2007 Bali climate summit that brought together more than 10,000 representatives from around the world to draft a climate plan.

In addition to global cooperation, Scheffran believes that those occupying the earth now can learn a lot about the future by studying the past.

“The great human civilisations began to flourish after the last ice age, and some disappeared due to droughts and other adverse shifts in the climate.

“The so-called ‘Little Ice Age’ in the northern hemisphere a few hundred years ago was caused by an average drop in temperature of less than a degree Celsius.

“The consequences were quite severe in parts of Europe, associated with loss of harvest and population decline,” Scheffran said. “Riots and military conflicts became more likely, as a recent empirical study has suggested.”

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