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From migration to geoengineering, climate risks threaten more conflict

by Laurie Goering | @lauriegoering | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 7 June 2021 16:28 GMT

Honduran migrants Kami, 5, and her aunt Mariana listen as other migrants discuss hygiene norms within the migrant camp, at a makeshift camp at the El Chaparral border port of entry with the U.S., in Tijuana, Mexico April 22, 2021.REUTERS/Toya Sarno Jordan

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Military and security experts warn new international rules to deal with global warming-related threats are urgently needed

By Laurie Goering

LONDON, June 7 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - New global rules are urgently needed to tackle climate-driven migration and regulate emerging "geoengineering" technologies that could potentially be used to deal with runaway warming, military and security officials said on Monday.

Without coordinated policies on both issues, the world "risks more contestation and conflict without any mechanism for addressing that at the international level," said Erin Sikorsky, deputy director of the Washington-based Center for Climate and Security.

So-called "solar geoengineering" techniques, in which particles could be sprayed into the planet's stratosphere to deflect more sunlight away from a heating Earth, are of particular concern, she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"When we ask security professionals what they're worried about, this issue is coming up more and more," she said by phone. "The concern is the science is moving ahead of the rules of the road."

In a report released on Monday, experts from the International Military Council on Climate and Security (IMCCS), called for swifter action to curb planet-heating emissions and greater efforts to deal with the consequences of climate change.

"The increasing pace and intensity of climate hazards will strain military and security services around the world as they are called on to respond to climate-driven crises," they warned.

Military forces' own infrastructure is increasingly at risk from climate impacts such as rising sea levels and worsening storms, they said.

From a record drought in the U.S. West to harsher hurricanes and cyclones around the world and surging Central American migration linked to storms and failed crops, climate impacts are already presenting security risks, they said.

"Climate change is no longer a 'future' risk that will strike decades from now. Warming temperatures and climate impacts are already actively shaping the security landscape for all countries," said Kate Guy, deputy director of the IMCCS.


The experts said military forces around the world now agree climate change is a security risk, but that steps to address the issue through changes to development strategy, diplomacy and international defence accords were only starting to emerge.

"The actual number of implemented measures is small," said Sherri Goodman, former U.S. deputy under-secretary of defense and the IMCCS's secretary-general, in a statement.

"The transition from concepts of climate security to implementation is critical and urgently needed," she added.

Analysts said they hoped that NATO countries meeting on June 14 might agree for the first time to push ahead with a climate action plan aimed at addressing some of the issues.

With U.S. President Joe Biden pushing for climate action, "it's time to seize the initiative and not miss this moment", Sikorsky said.

She said climate risks are starting to be integrated into peacebuilding efforts, with a climate adviser appointed to a peacekeeping mission in Somalia and language about climate change in peace agreements in West Africa.

"But there's way more to be done. Practices are still one-off and not happening everywhere," she said.

Francois Bausch, Luxembourg's defence minister and deputy prime minister, said too much military attention is still focused on traditional threats.

"In the 21st Century, an understanding of security needs to include non-traditional risks," he said during the report's online launch, adding that threats including climate change required assessment, preparation and mitigation measures.

David van Weel, NATO's assistant secretary general for emerging security challenges, said the possible implications of geoengineering technologies had so far been "insufficiently looked at".

Sikorsky noted that when it comes to preparing for more climate migration and possible geoengineering deployment, "we need to get the international community talking and coming to agreement ... and we need to start now".

Related stories:

Climate change: 5 places where global warming is a security risk

Extreme weather the biggest reason people fled homes in 2020

Foreign ministers flag climate change as major spark for conflicts

(Reporting by Laurie Goering @lauriegoering; Editing by Helen Popper; (Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate)

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