Militaries must prepare now to deal with more frequent disasters, new conflicts and other risks as accelerating climate change brings threats that could draw in troops at home and abroad, military and defence officials said.
"The threats are real. We already see them. And the threats will grow as the temperature rises," warned James Clayden, of the Netherlands Ministry of Defence.
About a thousand Dutch troops, for instance, were called out for a month to provide humanitarian help and security when powerful Hurricane Irma slammed into Sint Maarten, a Caribbean island that is part of the Netherlands, in 2017.That was manageable - but as hurricane disasters become more frequent and devastating, as warming oceans spur larger storms, the pressures on military resources will grow, as will the costs, Clayden said.
Retired General Tom Middendorp, a former Dutch defence chief explained thatm Dutch forces already spend about 25 percent of their efforts supporting civil authorities, including by protecting the anti-flood systems.But if sea level rises significantly - by a metre or more by the turn of the century, under some scenarios - "imagine the impact it could have. The military needs to be ready for that," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. Middendorp said it's key for countries to understand that it will not be only poorer and more vulnerable nations hard hit by climate change. "It will affect all countries with a coastline, all islands. Countries that up until now have been very peaceful will now be in harm's way," the general warned. "Climate change was always a left-wing issue and security was a right-wing, hard-liner issue. We were completely different worlds – but we've learned to appreciate each other," he said. Now, looking at both issues together is "of essential importance to everyone, regardless of your political background. We should de-politicize this," he urged.
Jane Neilson, a senior policy analyst for the New Zealand Ministry of Defence, said her country's military forces regularly turn out to help South Pacific island neighbours hit by cyclones and other disasters.bBut New Zealand officials worry that the country's relatively small forces could struggle to cope with bigger, harsher and more frequent disasters, or the threat of several crises happening at once.
"Our worst nightmare" is another big earthquake hitting New Zealand just as a Category 5 hurricane hits the South Pacific she said."Globally, militaries are going to be more stretched with operations deriving from climate-induced impacts," she said, calling climate change "the single greatest threat to the security, livelihoods and well-being of people of the Pacific".
Climate change threats - from worsening water shortages in Iraq and Pakistan to harsher hurricanes in the Caribbean - are a growing security risk and require concerted action to ensure they don't spark new violence, security experts warned Tuesday.
"Climate change is not about something in the far and distant future. We are discussing imminent threats to national security," said Monika Sie Dhian Ho, general director of the Clingendael Institute, a Dutch think tank.
The drying of Africa's Lake Chad basin, for instance, has helped drive recruitment for Islamist militant group Boko Haram among young people unable to farm or find other work, said Haruna Kuje Ayuba of Nigeria's Nasarawa State University.
"People are already deprived of a basic livelihood," the geography professor said at the conference on climate and security at The Hague. "If you give them a little money and tell them to destroy this or kill that, they are ready to do it."
Iraq, meanwhile, has seen its water supplies plunge as its upstream neighbours build dams and climate change brings hotter and dryer conditions to Baghdad, said Hisham Al-Alawi, Iraq's ambassador to the Netherlands.
"Overall we are getting less by nearly 40 percent of the waters we used to get," he told the conference. Shoring up the country's water security, largely by building more storage and cutting water losses, will take nearly $80 billion through 2035, he said. Faced with more heat and less rain, "we need to be wise and start planning for the future, as this trend is likely to continue," he said.
The threat of worsening violence related to climate change also extends to countries and regions not currently thought of as insecurity hot spots, climate and security analysts at the conference warned. The Caribbean, for instance, faces more destructive hurricanes, coral bleaching, sea-level rise and looming water shortages that threaten its main economic pillars, particularly tourism.
"We're facing an existential crisis in the Caribbean," said Selwin Hart, the Barbados-born executive director of the Inter-American Development Bank. But as the global emissions that drive climate change continue to rise, "there's not a realistic chance of achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement", Hart suggested. The failure to cut emissions means the Caribbean, while doing what it can to become more resilient to the growing risks, also needs "to plan for the worst-case scenario", Hart said.
Ninety percent of the region's economic activity - particularly tourism, fishing and port operations - takes place on the threatened coastline, he said. Hurricanes, in recent years, have flattened the economies of some Caribbean nations, with Hurricane Maria in 2017 costing Dominica about 225 percent of its GDP, according to World Bank estimates.
Ronald Jackson, of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency, explained, "Before the 1.5 degree report came out we were looking at a much longer time frame. "ut now it's the 2020s, early 2030s. We're out of time. We have to act now."
Military officials around the world have increasingly recognised the risks associated with climate change, and moved to shore up bases against sea-level rise, curb military emissions, adopt clean energy and analyse changing risks. At the Planetary Security conference at the Hague on Tuesday, they announced the creation of a new International Military Council on Climate and Security, made up of senior military leaders from around the world. The panel aims to help build policy to address climate security risks at national, regional and international levels, backers said.
"Climate change fuels the roots of conflict around the globe and poses a direct threat to populations and installations in coastal areas and small islands," said Middendorp, who will chair the new council. "It should therefore be taken very seriously as a major security issue that needs to be addressed. The military can and should be part of the solution," he said.