Tuesday, June 26, 2007

It was climate change wot made me do it

Analysis and discussion of the impacts of climate change on human security (featured as a key note issue in this piece by John Ashton and Tom Burke in the spring 2005 openDemocracy-British Council debate on the politics of climate change) grows and grows. See, for example, a small sample of the news reports across the last few months here, here and here.

Work by military, academic and allied institutions may turn up all kinds of things, some more useful than others. See, for example Culture, Conflict...and Climate?, which notes a provision for the U.S. FY08 intelligence authorization bill to explicitly direct the U.S. intelligence community to consider climate impacts when preparing future National Intelligence Estimates, or How climate change is pushing the boundaries of security and foreign policy, a paper for a conference this week at Chatham House, 'Step-change' needed on climate change.

But there may be at least two 'reality checks' to some of this thinking.

One, climate change is not an excuse for some current behaviour. Responding to Rainfall records could warn of war (New Scientist, 30 May), the International Crisis Group said:
we find the suggestion of a "link between climate change and conflict" overly simplistic. The humanitarian disaster in Darfur results primarily from the Sudanese government's extremely brutal counter-insurgency campaign...resulting in over 200,000 deaths and 2.5 million displaced. Look not to the cloudless skies but to Khartoum.
Two, climate-related insecurity that is a reality today should not be neglected because of concern about the medium to long term future. Responding to an exchange noted here, one correspondent writes:
There is a tendency in some of the debate on climate change to [focus on] an apocalyptic future. While I accept that this future is plausible, what about the human development catastrophes that are emerging less dramatically today in the form of small but rising increments to risks associated with drought, extreme weather, floods etc.? In rich countries, people deal with increased risk through government protection...and private insurance. Having recently spent time talking with farmers in drought prone areas of South Gonder, Ethiopia and Kenya, I can confirm the blindingly obvious insight that social risk insurance is not widely available. As a recent Oxfam report has argued, isn't it time that we addressed head-on how we mobilize support for a campaign for climate justice that includes rich countries paying now for the damage their citizens and governments have chosen to inflict on poor people in poor countries?
P.S. 2pm - the Chatham House meeting also featured Transforming our energy within a generation by the redoubtable Walt Patterson, who puts it (almost) all in a nutshell, partly summarised as:
• Energy is not about commodities but about infrastructure.
• Climate is an energy issue; energy is an infrastructure issue; therefore climate too is an infrastructure issue, demanding policies to match.
• Transforming our energy starts with transforming how we think about it, and can start immediately.

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