Monday, October 25, 2004

Environmental degradation: emerging factor for conflicts

Rising sea levels force millions of Bangladeshis into
India, fuelling ethnic and religious tensions that end
in bloody riots.

In Africa, crops wither in the parched landscape of a
once-lush nation, bringing strife to the countryside and
leading citydwellers to clash with the army as they loot
shops for food.

As Russian lawmakers ratified the Kyoto protocol on
climate change after years of dithering, grim scenarios
like these may have been on the minds of some.

A growing number of analysts argue that global warming
linked to greenhouse gas emissions is not just a "green

They argue it might eventually top terrorism on the
global security agenda, provoking new conflicts and
inflaming old ones.

"The biggest security problem from global warming would
be forced migrations, the dislocation of people because
of flooding or drought," said Steve Sawyer, climate
policy adviser for environmental group Greenpeace.

"Or drastic ecosystem change could change the resource
base and uproot rural people. Forced migrations of
people almost always cause problems."

Former Canadian Environment Minister David Anderson said
earlier this year that global warming posed a greater
long-term threat to humanity than terrorism because it
could force hundreds of millions from their homes.

Russia's ratification of Kyoto cleared the way for the
long-delayed climate change pact to come into force

Kyoto obliges rich nations to cut overall emissions of
heat-trapping carbon dioxide to 5.2 percent below 1990
levels by 2008-12, by curbing use of coal, oil and
natural gas and shifting to cleaner energies like solar
or wind power.

The United Nations projects that temperatures may rise
by 1.4-5.8 Celsius by the year 2100. That could raise
sea levels, swamp low-lying states, and bring
desertification or floods.

Even if fully implemented to 2012, Kyoto would only curb
the projected rise in temperatures by 0.15 Celsius.
Anything more would require far deeper cuts likely to
cost trillions of dollars.

Climate change is taking its worst toll on the
developing world, although the bulk of greenhouse gas
emissions stem from rich nations.

Global warming may already be a source of violence in
heavily populated central Nigeria, where nomadic cattle
herders and peasant farmers have been locked in conflict
over scarce land for decades as the Sahara Desert creeps

"The frequency and impacts of natural disasters are on
the rise, driven in part by an unpredictably changing
climate. The poor are the most threatened by these
catastrophes and the least equipped to recover," says
the International Institute for Sustainable Development.

"Evidence is emerging that many conflicts around the
world are driven by natural resource scarcity or
inequitable access and benefit-sharing."

A United Nations and Organisation for Security and
Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) report looked at the
ecological roots of conflict in the tension-ridden
Southern Caucasus region, which includes Chechnya.

"Environmental degradation and the use of natural
resources are identified as factors that could deepen
contention in areas of existing conflicts as in
Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Nagorno-Karabakh and
adjacent regions of Azerbaijan," it said.

Another recent study, the Southern African Millennium
Ecosystem Assessment (SAMA), stressed that many
conflicts in Africa were driven by land degradation.

Some analysts see global warming contributing to
conflict over dwindling water supplies. But one U.N.
study found that 3,600 water agreements had been
recorded over the past 4,500 years -- suggesting that
people can cooperate when it comes to this vital

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