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NATO: Climate Change Is Significant Security Threat and 'Its Bite Is Already Being Felt'

Climate

Faced with the mounting security threat of climate change, senior representatives from NATO states are adding their voice to the growing call for action ahead of the UN climate talks in Paris this December.

The latest call from NATO reflects a growing understanding of the risks posed by our changing climate. Photo Credit: Creative Commons / U.S. Army

In a resolution set to be approved by the NATO Parliamentary Assembly today, 250 senior members of parliament from member states warn that climate change is a significant security threat and “its bite is already being felt.”

French Parliamentarian Philippe Vitel and the NATO Parliamentary Assembly’s special rapporteur of the Science and Technology Committee said:

"If the world wants to stop irreversible damage to the planet, all governments must agree in Paris to clear, fair and ambitious targets to reduce emissions … The security of alliance members is at stake, climate change is increasing the risk of violent conflict by exacerbating known sources of conflict, like poverty and economic shocks. The time to act is now."

Climate risks represent “threat multipliers,” as rising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns increase competition for food and water supplies, change migration patterns and refugee flows and threaten public health.

They also exacerbate existing social tensions, in turn “increasing the risk of violent conflict.” For example, mounting evidence shows the role drought and food insecurity played in the 2011 Arab Spring and the continued conflict in Syria.

Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti said:

"Addressing the pressing security challenges NATO is facing today, especially around the southern and eastern flanks of the alliance, must be the immediate priority. But, at the same time, to be an effective security organization there needs to be an eye to future threats. Amongst these threats is the impact of a changing climate, including the risks posed to geopolitical stability and global wellbeing."

Today’s resolution calls on NATO to increase its own consultations on climate change and examine how security strategies can take such risks into account.

It urges NATO governments to enhance planning for climate risks; make a greater commitment to green defense policies and intensify co-operation with partners in the Arctic, Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia and other regions particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Lieutenant General Tariq Waseem Ghazi, a member of the Global Military Advisory Council on Climate Change and former defense secretary of Pakistan said:

"Growing competition for natural resources, heightened migration pressures, erratic water and food availability and increasingly frequent natural disasters are just a few of the ways that humanitarian impact from climate change is transforming the security agenda. Exacerbating conflict, changing livelihoods and forcing people into poverty, its bite is already being felt. It is imperative that we see a strong, coordinated response across borders."

The latest call from NATO reflects a growing understanding of the risks posed by our changing climate.

UK and U.S. military officials have long integrated climate threats into security planning and earlier this year, G7 foreign ministers also recognized that climate change "poses a threat to the environment, to global security and economic prosperity."

Today’s NATO resolution carries a clear message for governments: “Clear, fair and ambitious” emissions targets are vital to tackling climate risks.

It represents a strong call for governments to back an “ambitious” global climate agreement, that keeps “the rise in global average temperature to below 1.5C or 2C above preindustrial levels” and includes “regular reviews to encourage states to raise their ambitions.”

Lord Jopling, vice president of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and former UK minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said:

"We need legally binding rules with regular reviews to encourage states to raise their ambitions. Far too often, governments promise grand commitments, but when you examine them later, very little is done about it."

The call from the security world adds growing weight to the global chorus of voices from all walks of life demanding strong climate action ahead of the UN climate talks to be held in Paris this December.

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On Thursday, the U.S. Drought Monitor said nearly 60 percent of the state was abnormally dry, up from 46 percent just last week, according to The Mercury News in San Jose.

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"Given what we've seen so far this year and the forecast for the next few weeks, I do think it's pretty likely we'll end up in some degree of drought by this summer," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported.

Another alarming sign of an impending drought is the decreased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The National Weather Service posted to Twitter a side-by-side comparison of snowpack from February 2019 and from this year, illustrating the puny snowpack this year. The snow accumulated in the Sierra Nevadas provides water to roughly 30 percent of the state, according to NBC Los Angeles.

Right now, the snowpack is at 53 percent of its normal volume after two warm and dry months to start the year. It is a remarkable decline, considering that the snowpack started 2020 at 90 percent of its historical average, as The Guardian reported.

"Those numbers are going to continue to go down," said Swain. "I would guess that the 1 March number is going to be less than 50 percent."

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NOAA said Northern California will continue deeper into drought through the end of April, citing that the "persistent high pressure over the North Pacific Ocean is expected to continue, diverting storm systems to the north and south and away from California and parts of the Southwest," as The Weather Channel reported.

As the climate crisis escalates and the world continues to heat up, California should expect to see water drawn out of its ecosystem, making the state warmer and drier. Increased heat will lead to further loss of snow, both as less falls and as more of it melts quickly, according to The Guardian.

"We aren't going to necessarily see less rain, it's just that that rain goes less far. That's a future where the flood risk extends, with bigger wetter storms in a warming world," said Swain, as The Guardian reported.

The Guardian noted that while California's reservoirs are currently near capacity, the more immediate impact of the warm, dry winter will be how it raises the fire danger as trees and grasslands dry out.

"The plants and the forests don't benefit from the water storage reservoirs," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported. "If conditions remain very dry heading into summer, the landscape and vegetation is definitely going to feel it this year. From a wildfire perspective, the dry years do tend to be the bad fire years, especially in Northern California."

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