The new US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin has declared that climate change would be recognised as a global risk and a major security threat. The contrast with the Trump administration which ignored climate change or actively took measures to make it worse could not be starker. Recognising the problem is the first step to addressing it. Unfortunately, climate change is a major systemic issue which cannot be wished away through policy changes.
Environmental and political groups have long made headlines about climate issues but much less noticed militaries around the world have also been expressing concern and quietly making plans. Climate change is not on its own going to make the world more violent. Instead, it is a threat multiplier, a changing climate will create the conditions that will result in a more dangerous world.
Sea Level Rise
Sea level rise threatens to start destroying many of the world coastal cities in 20 to 30 years time. Thousands of seaside settlements and millions of acres of farmland will be lost to the incoming sea. Migration will start from low level island states in the Pacific. This will be politically explosive as it will effectively mean countries disappearing under the sea and homeless migrants turning up to neighbouring countries.
But the real impact will be felt when megacities like Dhaka, Shanghai and Mumbai start losing their battles with the sea. While some metropolises may try building walls or other defences, ultimately the sea will be unstoppable.
This process is already underway in Jakarta. The wealthy and governments will flee inland or go the new capital planned for the neighbouring island of Borneo leaving the poor to suffer in decaying, drowning cities. The chaos and mass movement of people will cause conflict as people try move to different regions of their homeland or to cross borders in huge numbers creating social upheaval on terrifying scale.
Tensions will flare between newcomers and existing residents, rich and poor. To make matters worse tropical storms and extreme weather will increase in strength creating more disasters which will make living in coastal cities even more undesirable.
Military installations such as naval bases are also vulnerable to rising sea levels and extreme weather. These factors can overcome infrastructure built for different era. It will not have escaped the US Military Command’s attention that a wealthy well developed part of the country, Texas, was devastated by cold weather and snow. The Lone Star State ground to a halt in February 2021 with many losing power and water as result around 80 people died.
The US military has been trying to find ways to cut down on its massive fossil fuel consumption. More use of renewable energy and greater efficiency will cut the bill and reduce carbon emissions and cut energy bills.
Militaries around the world constantly develop scenarios which may occur and test their response. Most obviously this would be war with a rival, but militaries have to respond to many different situations.
All Hell Breaks Loose
One Scenario the Pentagon have imagined is the “All Hell Breaks Loose” where other countries are torn apart by conflict and extreme weather creating overlapping and never-ending disasters. At the same time the military are dealing with trying to provide relief efforts at home.
The US military’s own installations could be at risk. Naval bases are threatened by sea level rises and more frequent storms will mean installations have to be evacuated.
Competition for scarce resources such as water and food are also likely to cause conflict particularly in poorer countries and those with limited resources or that are already experiencing conflict. Covid has squeezed the price of food which has shot up along with many other commodities recently.
Prices will likely fall as the world eventually returns to normal. However, this could take a few years as the world readjusts after Covid which gives plenty of time for unrest or revolution to be encouraged by a hungry fed up population suddenly released from the bonds of Covid isolation. Some analysts linked the Arab Spring to dramatic food prices rises, while this may be simplistic, empty stomachs are a potent reminder of the poor governance and inequities suffered by many.
Food Security and Ethiopia
Covid disruption is one factor then the effects of climate change truly hit home the impacts will be much harsher. Rising temperatures in Africa and the Indian Sub-Continent are likely to reak havoc on agriculture.
Food security are already major concerns in these regions, climate change will make it far, far worse. For example coffee production in Ethiopia and maize growing in Mozambique could be disrupted by 2030 seeing a drop in yields from anywhere between 10 to 25 percent.
The widespread failure of crops will result in food shortages and famines but likely result in export bans which will cause food prices to shoot up across the world. This instability and chaos will put pressure on militaries who might be forced into action to try and stop large scale migrations, act as a humanitarian forces and intervening in conflicts.
As resources such as food and water become scarce, the potential for conflict increases. Egypt and Ethiopia recently came close to war over a dam the Ethiopians were building which threatened to cut the flow of water to the Nile.
Pakistan, India and China face potential conflict over the headwaters of the many rivers which flow from the “third pole” the Himalayas. When disappearing glaciers threaten the flow of the Brahmaputra, Ganges or Indus tensions between the countries facing existential threat could explode into war.
Militaries around the world are waking up to the reality of climate change and threats it poses. While they will not be the biggest advocates for change or mitigation around climate change they could be a group that effectively highlights the risks that a changing climate poses.