Climate-Related Security Predictions Coming True in Pakistan
Analysts have been warning for several years that the impacts of
climate change directly relate to the national security of the U.S. and
other countries, but the link has never been so clear as it is today
in northwest Pakistan.
The security implications of climate change first got official U.S.
government attention this February, in the Quadrennial Defence Review, a
four-yearly report from the Pentagon on the direction of national
Noting rising sea levels, water shortages,
melting Arctic ice, and extreme weather events, the review said that
"while climate change alone does not cause conflict, it may act as an
accelerant of instability or conflict, placing a burden to respond on
civilian institutions and militaries around the world."
implications had been discussed by other experts much earlier. Most
notable was a 2007 report from the think tank Center for a New American
Security (CNAS), which found that, when compared to other national
security challenge, climate change "may represent a great or a greater"
test. Their conclusions, however, were based on scenarios and
In Pakistan, where unprecedented floods have killed 1,500 people and displaced millions more, those scenarios are now reality.
floods swept through the country in late July, they pushed some
desperate refugees right into the arms of militant groups in the
northern regions of the country, where government aid was too slow or
The same phenomena occurred in the wake of the 2005
earthquake in Pakistan, leading to greater legitimacy for militant
groups. This might happen again, with implications for not only Karachi
but the security interests of every country with interests in the
This displacement of people and stress on government
resources and legitimacy was predicted in earlier models of climate
A report by the Congressional
Research Service on "security and the environment in Pakistan,"
released Aug. 3 - before the floods reached the level of international
disaster - listed some potential ways in which climate change has been
predicted to undermine security. Among the threats were stress on weak
and fragile states, rising tensions form refugee migration and the
creation of conditions that "foment extremists or terrorists".
do have a fragile governmental situation [in Pakistan] and this flood
poses risks to the central government system," former U.S. Senator and
Secretary of the Navy John Warner told IPS in a phone interview. "And
this indeed affects our national security" because of the close links
between the U.S. and Pakistan.
In the past week, Pakistan has
reportedly tried to clamp down on charities tied to Islamic militants,
while those militants have threatened to attack international aid
The massive migrations and displacement right now in
Pakistan are occurring in the midst of an ongoing "battle for the
hearts and minds of Pakistani citizens, especially in northern
Pakistan," says Jay Gulledge, senior scientist at the Pew Center on
Global Climate Change and a non- resident fellow at CNAS.
don't know yet what the outcome is, but we are seeing pieces of these
security predictions play out, and it's disconcerting," says Gulledge,
who was a co-author on the 2007 report detailing the security
implications of climate change.
Whether these outcomes can
ultimately be attributed to climate change is still a matter of some -
though increasingly less - debate.
For Warner, it's "a bit early to ascribe this flood situation to the increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere."
"Let's just wait for the scientists to judge that," he says.
Many of those scientists already have.
floods, as well as the heat wave in Russia, have been attributed by
some meteorologists to a dome of high atmospheric pressure which has
diverted the jet stream further south than usual.
dropping the rain where it normally would in Russia the jet stream came
down to Pakistan," explains Gulledge. Combined with the rainfall from
the seasonal monsoon in south Asia, this meant too much rain for
Pakistan and too little for Russia.
"The question is: is that
the kind of thing we would think would be a more common event because
of climate change, and my answer is yes...We've seen these kinds of
things happen in models," he told IPS.
Indeed, reviews of the
climate science, such as that by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change, have found that in a climate change-affected world there will
be a sharp increase in incidences of extreme weather events.
so it's not surprising that you would see this when the world is
having its warmest year on record," says Gulledge. "It's not
unequivocal but the pattern is what we would expect to see."
connections between climate change-induced events and security issues
go beyond the potential for bolstering militant groups. Reports out of
Pakistan Wednesday said that supply routes for NATO forces in
Afghanistan were significantly disrupted by the floods.
And the connections can be seen in other places around the globe.
who works with the Pew Project on National Security, Energy and
Climate on the climate change-security link, points to Darfur, where
the ongoing conflict is often attributed to drought, and to rising sea
levels threatening not only low-lying island countries but strategic
military bases on those islands.
"You can move around the world and find instances like these," he says.
Pakistan, the floods - often linked in part to increasing glacier melt
from the Himalayas - are expected to be followed by drought as that
glacier melt gets smaller. This could lead, somewhat ironically, to
conflict over scarce water resources in the region, especially between
Pakistan and India, according to a Jun. 1 Congressional Research
Service report on key developments in Pakistan.
The next place
where this sort of situation might emerge, though, could be Yemen,
Gulledge says. Yemen cannot afford desalinisation like Saudi Arabia
can, and is running out of groundwater to pump, but being able to
provide that water is a "great service and source of credibility for
CIA analysts said Tuesday that al Qaeda
offshoots in Yemen currently pose the most direct threat to U.S.
security. "If al Qaeda can find ways to get water to people then they
are going to win that battle for the hearts and minds," Gulledge says.