CLIMATE SECURITY: German scientists call climate change globe's gravest security threat (04/02/2008)
Lisa Friedman, ClimateWire reporter

Two leading German climate change scientists are moving through the United States this week, seeking to convince policymakers and politicians that rising temperatures will cause dire international security consequences.

From border disputes to large-scale migration to the collapse of governments and rampant religious radicalization, Dirk Messner and Meinhard Schulz-Baldes are sounding the alarm that left unchecked, global warming threatens to destabilize the world.

"Climate policy is not only environmental policy. It's preventive security policy," said Schulz-Baldes, secretary general of the German Advisory Council on Global Change.

The two are among the authors of "World in Transition: Climate Change as a Security Risk." Published last year, the 213-page report -- of which the scientists presented a scaled-down version to officials in New York and Washington this week -- is considered one of the leading international studies on the threats climate change poses to governments. Achem Steiner, executive director of the U.N. Environment Programme, called it the group's "flagship report."

But with all eyes on the United States as the 2009 climate change talks in Copenhagen approach, the question remains: Are U.S. policymakers buying the link?

Beginning of international destablilization 'only a decade away'

Schulz-Baldes and Messner acknowledged that in meeting with House and Senate lawmakers, ambassadors and U.N. officials over the past several days, they have been largely preaching to the converted. Still, they said, the message is one that bears repeating -- particularly because change, if it is going to happen, needs to occur quickly.

If the earth's temperature goes up between 2 and 6 degrees Celsius in the next century, Schulz-Baldes noted, "it is the difference between today and the Ice Age." Without a giant step toward lowering emissions now, he warned, the beginning of international destabilization is only a decade away. Higher temperatures might not materialize until the later part of the century, but by then, he said, the rising sea levels, food and water shortages and increases in frequency of both floods and droughts will already have been set in motion.

"In 10 or 15 years it will be unmanageable," he said.

The report identifies six threats climate change presents to international stability, and migration is at the top of the list. With rising sea levels poised to displace as many as 7 million people in the towns and urban areas in the north of the Nile Delta, and with 100 million people endangered in Bangladesh alone, Messner said it is only a matter of time before developed nations have to address massive global migration.

"Politically it's very sensitive. Nobody wants to talk about a new migration regime because it's political suicide," he said. But, he noted, for the United States the implications will be critical.

'People are going to be on the move'

"People are going to be on the move from the north," he said. "The destabilization of regions throughout the world is a threat to the United States."

The findings of the German report are not entirely new in the United States. Last year, a group of retired American military officers issued a similar warning of the threats climate change could pose to international stability. Meanwhile, E.U. leaders earlier this month pledged to put climate change's impact on global security high on the international agenda.

"We need to develop a better understanding of the implications of climate change for European foreign and security interests," British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said.

Schulz-Baldes and Messner said they do think that the international community can be mobilized, united possibly by the looming threat to global security.

Still, said Schulz-Baldes, "we have to start now."