Climate and Peace Part I

Climate and Peace Part I

The Nobel Peace Prize for 2007 is divided between the UN Climate Panel (own box) and the American environmentalist Al Gore (own box). In recent decades, global climate change has come higher on the agenda, not least as a result of increasingly ominous warnings from the UN Climate Panel. Climate change is perhaps the greatest threat humanity has ever faced, it says. In a way, we sit in all countries in the same boat and are mutually dependent on each other. But this is a skewed interdependence. Some countries and peoples are more likely to cause the problems than others, while those hardest hit are the least likely to cause the problems.

  • How serious are climate change?
  • What is the UN Climate Panel and who is Al Gore?
  • What connection do we find between climate change and security?

But is the effort against climate change peace work? Yes, more and more people are claiming. The dramatic deterioration in the living conditions of vulnerable populations living in the suburbs of the Sahara or in hurricane-prone tropical areas could lead to extensive migration. These in turn will lead to conflicts with the population where the climate refugees arrive. The Tuaregs, one of the proud shepherd and nomadic peoples of the Sahel belt of North Africa, have become involved in a growing number of local conflicts with neighbors over pastures and oases.

From Darfur in the east, via Chad, Niger and Mali, to Mauritania in the west, nomads fight their goats, sheep, camels and cattle against resident farmers who cultivate the patches of land that have access to the precious oases and raindrops. A growing population must feed on less and less arable land and less and less pasture.

Resource scarcity rarely creates war, but existing conflicts can be exacerbated and peace work made more difficult by the struggle for scarce resources.

2: Climate and natural disasters

Climate change is also leading to many more natural disasters than before. Partly the weather is much more extreme now than just 30-40 years ago, and partly many more vulnerable people live in areas that are exposed to natural disasters. Seven times more people now have their homes and livelihoods destroyed by natural disasters than by war. Aid workers have therefore long argued that politicians and business interests must understand that today’s explosive consumption growth has already created climate change where more and more people are having their lives ruined by extreme droughts, hurricanes and floods.

From 2000 to 2004, about 262 million people were affected annually by climate disasters, over 98% of them in the south. The total destruction and loss of life is – as always – greatest in poor developing countries. Within the OECD area, one in 1,500 people was affected by natural disasters in 2006. The corresponding figure for developing countries (south) was one in 19 – a factor difference in risk of 79.

But even in Europe, according to RELATIONSHIPSPLUS, the extreme heat wave of 2003 claimed more than 30,000 lives. The World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that about 150,000 people die each year as a result of ongoing climate change, and that this number is likely to double by 2020. The risk of food shortages, malaria spread and drinking water shortages will increase on all continents, and especially in Africa.

3: Why did we not react before?

We probably would not have experienced the dramatic increase in natural disasters and extreme weather if we had long ago reduced global greenhouse gas emissions, as was agreed as early as 1992 at the Rio de Janeiro Conference on Sustainable Development. The first scientific proof that CO2 emissions will lead to higher average temperatures was presented as early as 1896. The Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius emphasized this in a longer scientific article. It has been several decades since the world’s leading scientists agreed within the UN Climate Panel that there was a need for a dramatic change in politics and behavior.

Even the most optimistic of the panel’s previous predictions, that the average global temperature will rise by only two degrees by 2090, will have enormous consequences. The world’s glaciers will melt, and global sea levels will rise sharply. Several island states, large coastal areas and many port cities will be partially submerged. If Europeans, Americans, Chinese and other major emissions players had started the change work already in the 1980s and 1990s, we would have seen positive results earlier and escaped cheaper.

There are still many climate skeptics, not least in the United States – the country with the largest emissions per capita – who doubt that there is a clear connection between human activity and emissions and climate change. Those who still believe that we are only facing natural fluctuations and periodic changes of weather and wind should climb Africa’s highest mountain, Kilimanjaro. The snow and glacier that have covered the top of the mountain for 12,000 years will have completely melted away by 2020.

Climate and Peace 1