OSLO - Droughts, floods and rising seas linked to global warming could spur conflicts in coming decades, experts said on Monday, the eve of a first U.N. Security Council debate on climate change.And the poor in tropical regions of Africa and Asia are likely to suffer most, perhaps creating tensions with rich nations in the temperate north which are likely to escape the worst effects of warming widely blamed on use of fossil fuels.
"Global warming increases the potential for conflict," said Janos Bogardi, head of the U.N. University's Institute for Environment and Human Security in Bonn.
"The most imminent effect is probably desertification and land degradation," he told Reuters. His group has projected that climate change might force hundreds of millions of people from their homes in the long term.
Bogardi said the conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan, where 200,000 people have died, was "probably the most prominent example" of a conflict partly caused by land degradation.
In the longer term, rising seas caused by melting icecaps and glaciers could swamp large tracts of countries such as Bangladesh, forcing millions to migrate and raising the chances of conflicts over shrinking land.
"Climate change has the potential to be a huge security issue," said Paul Rogers, professor of peace studies at Bradford University in England. Still, he said disputes over oil were now more likely to cause war than climate change.
The U.N. Security Council will discuss climate change on Tuesday for a first time. Britain, which holds the rotating presidency, is spearheading the debate but has not won strong backing from nations including the United States.
Even so, a report to be released on Monday by a group of 11 retired U.S. generals and admirals will look at how "changing global climate may present serious threats to U.S. national security and to American armed forces at home and abroad."
A study by the world's top climate scientists on April 6 warned that climate change could cause water shortages and hunger for millions of people, mainly in Africa and Asia. In turn, that could bring migrations and spread disease.
"Environmental problems should be included as part of an expanded concept of security," said Paal Prestrud, head of the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo.
Bogardi said global warming could worsen the divide between rich and poor. The April 6 U.N. report said nations such as Canada, Russia and many in Europe might get some benefits from moderate climate change, such as higher crop yields.
"Countries such as India and China, and Africa are likely to be the losers. This creates a further imbalance of resources and standards of living that could trigger conflict," he said.
And 'climate refugees' may be unable to go home, for instance if deserts expand in sub-Saharan Africa. People living on island states such as Tuvalu in the Pacific risk seeing their homes disappear below the waves if seas rise. Political refugees, by contrast, can return if a dictator is toppled.
And environmental damage could also be a source of terrorism. Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden accused the United States in 2002 of destroying "nature with your industrial waste and gases more than any other nation in history."
© Reuters 2007