In a speech to Spanish lawmakers and military leaders, Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations climate office, said that climate change-driven drought, falling crop yields and competition for water were fueling conflict throughout Africa and elsewhere in the developing world. She warned that unless nations took aggressive action to reduce emissions causing global warming such conflicts would spread, toppling governments and driving up military spending around the world.
“It is alarming to admit that if the community of nations is unable to fully stabilize climate change, it will threaten where we can live, where and how we grow food and where we can find water,” said Ms. Figueres, a veteran Costa Rican diplomat and environmental advocate. “In other words, it will threaten the basic foundation – the very stability on which humanity has built its existence.”
Rising food prices were a factor in the January riots that unseated Tunisia’s longtime president, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, although decades of repression and high unemployment also fed the revolution. The link between food and resource shortages and Egypt’s revolution is less clear.
But Ms. Figueres said that long-term trends in arid regions did not look promising unless the world took decisive action on climate change. She said that a third of all Africans now lived in drought-prone regions and that by 2050 as many as 600 million Africans would face water shortages.
“On a global level, increasingly unpredictable weather patterns will lead to falling agricultural production and higher food prices, leading to food insecurity,” she said in her address. “In Africa, crop yields could decline by as much as 50 percent by 2020. Recent experiences around the world clearly show how such situations can cause political instability and undermine the performance of already fragile states.”
She said that rising sea levels, more frequent and severe natural disasters, pandemics, heat waves and widespread drought could lead to extensive migrations within countries and across national borders. Military leaders around the world, including those in the United States, have warned that such effects of a changing climate can serve as “threat multipliers,” adding stresses to nations and regions that already face heavy burdens of poverty and social insecurity.
“All these factors taken together,” Ms. Figueres concluded, “mean that climate change, especially if left unabated, threatens to increase poverty and overwhelm the capacity of governments to meet the basic needs of their people, which could well contribute to the emergence, spread and longevity of conflict.”
Article by JOHN M. BRODER, New York Times