Climate change could be 'catastrophic' in 20 years with risks to global security - report

13 February 2020, 13:32 | Updated: 14 February 2020, 09:47

The 2020 Munich Security Conference will open with a warning of how climate change is affecting global security.

The report, launched on the eve of the annual gathering, warns of "imminent and dire" risks and urges military leaders to "climate-proof" security infrastructure.

Commenting on the release of the report, Tom Middendorp - the chair of the International Military Council on Climate and Security General - said: "Climate change poses significant risks to global security, which could become catastrophic in the next two decades.

"The security community therefore has a responsibility to prepare for and prevent these threats, including through climate-proofing international security at all levels."

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The report highlights water-shortages as one key area of concern and finds that rising authoritarianism, sharpened global competition and national agendas are hampering the needed cooperation among nations to address the security risks of climate change.

Louise van Schaik, a member of the report committee, said: "It is striking that climate change does not only have implications for military missions abroad and threat analysis, but also directly undermines military capabilities at home, because of the need to act more often as first responders in the case of wildfires, floods and ice storms.

"Militaries therefore must also climate-proof themselves."

More than 150 world leaders and officials will gather in Munich for the three-day conference, including French President Emmanuel Macron, Canadian PM Justin Trudeau, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the foreign ministers of Russia, Iran, Qatar and the UAE.

Other attendees include the NATO Secretary General, heads of the World Bank and World Food Programme, and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

The UK has faced criticism for not sending any secretaries of state this year after Downing Street cancelled plans for Defence Secretary Ben Wallace to attend.

Foreign Office minister Andrew Murrison will instead represent the government.

Climate change is being increasingly spoken about in security terms, particularly in relation to the Sahel region of Africa where severe fighting is threatening the lives of millions in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.

Analysts suggest Senegal could be the next flashpoint.

Last year, the United Nations identified climate change as the driving force behind conflict in the region.

The international body estimates 80% of the Sahel's farmland has been degraded by climate change, causing scarcity of food for people and livestock.

Temperatures are rising 1.5 times the global average, leading to more frequent and longer droughts and flooding.

Because borders tend to be porous, the violence spreads easily from country to country and extremist groups like al Qaeda and Islamic State have taken root in ungoverned territory.

In the Arctic, warming temperatures and melting ice means previously frozen sea routes are opening.

This has created a race for ownership and dominance of the high north, with Russia spending billions re-opening arctic military bases and upgrading aircraft and ships.

NATO has made the arctic region an area of focus as Norway, the US, Canada and Denmark push back against increasingly threatening Russian activity.