Story at a glance
- Conflict between Russia and China is likely as previously frozen-over shipping routes open up in the Arctic, defense strategists say.
- Research has found that wars in Syria and Somalia have been worsened by climate change.
- As it prepares for more climate-related battles, the U.S. military is still contributing heavily to climate change and its greenhouse gas emissions in 2017 were higher than that of Sweden.
Climate-driven warfare isn’t as far off as some may think, and military strategists say battles have already begun.
Defense advisors and strategists have identified new climate-related wars that could erupt in Asia, Africa, or even the Arctic, The Daily Beast reported.
Conflict between Russia and China is likely on the horizon as both nations look to utilize new shipping routes through previously frozen waters around Greenland, Iceland and the Arctic Circle, according to a March report from the Atlantic Council. The U.S. and Britain have preemptively reinforced their military and naval presence in the area.
Others say that because both China and Russia are in possession of nuclear weapons, they’re unlikely to fight a long, costly war over the Arctic, and more serious climate battles are more likely to break out in hotter, less stable places like Syria or Somalia.
“They are already hot. Most of them are also a lot poorer. As a result, they’re more likely to suffer acute resource shortages, mass migration of refugees, and political instability,” Matthew Rendall, a researcher at the University of Nottingham focusing on climate change and international relations, told The Daily Beast.
Climate change is already fueling conflict in Somalia, where widespread drought that’s driven food insecurity has forced millions of Somali people into overcrowded cities, refugee camps, or to the ranks of the jihadist group al-Shabab, according to the GroundTruth Project.
A 2015 report from researchers at Columbia University found that the decade-long civil war in Syria was made worse by climate change, which brought heatwaves, drought, and clashes over resources that turned violent.
Experts say militaries across the globe are preparing for more missions stemming from climate warfare.
The U.S. is beginning to see climate change as not just a “threat multiplier” or as a single issue, but as “altering the whole strategic landscape that the United States faces,” Jeff Colgan, a professor of political science at Brown University, and director of the Climate Solutions Lab, told The Daily Beast.
“America will soon have a government that treats the climate crisis as the urgent national security threat it is,” John Kerry, special presidential envoy for climate tweeted following Joe Biden’s election.
But the U.S. government could be making the threat of climate warfare more likely. The Department of Defense consumes up to 80 percent of the federal government’s energy, according to a 2019 report by the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University, and the U.S. military’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2017 exceeded those of the entire country of Sweden.
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