Climate change has been a growing concern in the past century
and, according to John Cook et al. (2016), more than 97% of climate scientists
agree that anthropogenic forces have increased its rate; and this could lead to
inter and intra national conflicts all over the world as it applies pressure on
natural resources and enhances natural disasters.
The aim of this essay is to describe the primary ways in which climate change
can be a major cause of violent conflict and examine what solutions governments
could take into consideration to slow down the terrible consequences.
Starting with the rise of storm surges and the inadequate
safety measures adopted by governments; the melting of glaciers (with a
particular note to the Arctic glaciers) and its social and political
(specifically trade related) consequences; finally going through the
unsustainable use of energy and water resources (too often improperly
associated with overpopulation) and their management.
This essay is therefore going to try and demonstrate that
climate change is affecting international relations and is often cause of
violent conflict, but with the right measures it is possible to prevent the
worst and look into creating stable and sustainable global communities.
In “The Art of War”, Sun Tzu states that five factors
must be taken into consideration before any military action: climate, field,
discipline, politics and command.
It is already obvious, then, in military circles how important of a factor the weather
is, so that in 2007 a group of retired U.S. admirals and generals in their
“National security and the threat of climate change” report conclude that
‘climate change acts as a threat multiplier for instability in some of the most
volatile regions of the world’ and ‘climate change poses a serious threat to
America’s national security.’ (CNA Corporation, 2007)
in each area of the world will have consequences in the neighbouring countries,
because the truth is that everything is connected, especially with the size of
today’s global trade system as the 2008-2009 American financial crisis has shown.
being the tragedy that happened in the summer of 2005 due to a series of
hurricanes, in particular Hurricane Katrina, that led to a political, social,
economic and security crises in the United States, with consequences that
branched to everywhere else in the Globe. A disaster that the rest of the world
studied from the outside trying to determine how a hurricane no stronger than a
category 3 hitting a vulnerable area, became one of
the costliest natural disasters, and
one of the five deadliest hurricanes in the
history of the United States. (Blake, E. S., et al., 2011)
With 1,833 fatalities, $41.1
billion in insurance claims, more than one million people in the Gulf region (area
where 50% of the population lives by the coast) were displaced by the storm and
in New Orleans it soon went out of control.
Anarchy spread, gun battles and rapes were plaguing the hurricane
afflicted areas, and this led to the questionable order given by Senator
Kathleen Blanco to the National Guard to “shoot to kill” if confronted with
violent offenders. After
this the Gulf of Mexico (which sees the production of over a quarter of U.S.
oil and close to 15% of U.S.’s natural gas) bore the consequences of Hurricane
Katrina and the consequential flooding, causing the destruction of 113 oil
platforms and the damage of 457 pipelines. (U.S. Department of the Interior Minerals
Management Service, 2006) This
led oil prices to spike above $70 per barrel
all around the globe. (Pan, E., 2005)
Such an unprecedented impact on the American industry that
did not leave the rest of the world unshook. A lot of questions have been
raised after such an event by their allies and enemies; how prepared are the
U.S. for emergencies? How dependent is the rest of the world on the U.S.? Is an
alliance with the U.S. with interest in its resources going to create potential
As Paskal C. states in her book ‘Global Warring’, climate change is not
the only thing to be blamed for what happened in New Orleans. Trying to
restrain climate change without adapting our societies in areas like
infrastructure planning, water management
and disaster response won’t stop other hurricanes from happening but will certainly
avoid it transforming into a catastrophe of this magnitude.
importance of trade has already been stated above in this essay, but another
point worth looking at is the timeless importance for nations to have control
People are capable of a lot of things in order to have more power and control and
the examples are numerous throughout history both in Europe and the U.S. like
the 1956 Suez crisis and the 1989 Panama invasion.
Canal, that the Americans managed to keep control over until 2000, sets an
important change in global interests, moving in fact away from security and
shifting towards commercial by handing such an important chokepoint back to Panama.
examples aimed to prove the importance carried by strategic chokepoints around the globe, as 7.5% of world
trade passes through the Suez and with the 9300 miles saved by the Panama Canal
for ships traveling between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans by not having
to route down around the tip of south America.
Europeans created the Suez Canal and the American created the Panama Canal, it
is Climate change that is opening the Northwest passage and the opportunity for
new powers to take control over world trade.
Figure 1 (taken from BBC bitesize)
The diagram above shows the changing levels of
Arctic sea ice over a 30-year period. Due to climate
change, glaciers have been melting, opening a
sea route that connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans through the Canadian
over these waters are contested between Canada, claiming its location in
Canadian internal waters, and the U.S. (backed up by various European and Asian
countries), asserting that the Northwest Passage
is an international strait and should therefore allow freedom of navigation,
essential for the United States naval activities worldwide. (Carnaghan, M. and
Goody, A., 2006)
Control over this passage by the Canadians would mean more security for
all North America by having the power to control and search every vessel passing
through but less freedom of movement having to sign treaties and compromise
with Canada. An ice-free Arctic would also open the doors to new undiscovered
oil and gas reserves as an estimate says the area contains as much as 40 percent of world oil and gas
reserves (Chalecki, E. L., 2007). The more viable the passage the more
conflicts we’ll see as all Denmark, Russia, Norway, Canada and the United
States have all used various interpretations of the Law of the Sea to forward
territorial demands to parts of the Arctic sea, in order to take advantage of
their considerable oil and natural gas reserves (Chalecki, E. L., 2007).
to the other problem that is the unsustainable use of energy and water resources.
the population burst together with the breakthrough of new advanced
technologies has created an ever-increasing demand for oil and water. To keep
up with such a demand, countries carry on an inappropriate exploitation of such
resources which in turn leads to increased emissions of carbon
dioxide and other greenhouse gases, leading to warmer temperatures and other less obvious
alterations of the global environment.
improper use and management of resources can also lead to health risks through
contamination via drilling, processing
and refining the oil or gas, or disposing of wastewater. Climate change can
make access to resources more difficult in places like water.
The biggest disaster of this kind is the Kuwaiti oil
fires of 1991 which caused Saudi Arabia to suffer environmental, economic and military
The fires were started by Iraqi military forces setting fire to a reported 605 to 732 oil wells right after Iraq’s invasion
of Kuwait in 1990. The fires have been
linked with “Gulf war syndrome” (a
chronic disorder afflicting veterans and civilian workers in the neighbouring
An obvious question comes to mind at this
point: are the existing institutions of global governance adequate for
addressing climate change??
countries, like the U.S., the UK and many others are putting their efforts into
trying to find solutions to Climate change, but results are still far from
Global societies are too concerned with economic interests rather than their
security and that there should have been more social awareness and planning
than infrastructure investments to improve climate adaptability.
climate change may not affect today’s generations, it is ethically correct to
try our best and take action to avoid the destruction of civilization as it is.
The aim of
this essay was to show how different shades of climate change can all lead to
global violent conflict.
How a rise in storm surges would
cause intranational emergency at first, just to result into a worldwide crisis;
and if not handled with the right measures the frequency of these disaster will
It has been discussed the importance of chokepoint and
sea passages in today’s “trade-centred” society, and the way financial gain is
being prioritised over security interests. Thus leading to new conflicts over
the opening of the Northwest passage due to climate change
To then conclude the essay with interest regarding energy
and water resources and the improper management of both as it is also true that
the extraction of one will cause the waste of the other. Defining a new era of
selfish resource extraction that’s leading day by day to a fast decrease of
such resources and an increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and
pollution in our waters.
But it is essential to state that successful climate adaptation is not
only about new technologies. Governance is primal. It takes effective
government administration to regard complex problems, such as water management
and transportation planning, at a subnational scale. It is
therefore fundamental to understand that the severity and rapid climate change
unset by human activity can lead to climate conflict, just this way it is going
to be possible to face the problem and be ready for the consequences.