global warming melting ice

Military Experts: Global Warming Could Spark 'Epic' Humanitarian Crisis

As we reach the beginning of the end for 2016, military news has been focused on the election of Donald Trump and what that could mean for...

global warming melting ice

As we reach the beginning of the end for 2016, military news has been focused on the election of Donald Trump and what that could mean for defence.

But just as important has been news from Chatham House (the Royal Institute of International Affairs) in recent months on how global warming could affect the armed forces.

Military experts have warned that climate change could prompt a "humanitarian crisis of epic proportions", causing mass migration, war and threats to national security.

Refugees in Europe

(Image: Freedom House)

The former Commander of UK Maritime Forces and Government Climate and Energy Security envoy, said more UK forces would have to be deployed for conflict prevention and resolution, and to respond to more frequent humanitarian disasters.

His warning is being backed by military experts.

Syrian civil war refugees

Za'atri camp in Jordan for Syrian refugees

Brigadier General Stephen Cheney, chief executive of the American Security Project and member of the US Department of State's foreign policy affairs board, said: 

"Climate change could lead to a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions. We're already seeing migration of large numbers of people around the world because of food scarcity, water insecurity and extreme weather, and this is set to become the new normal".

The impacts of rising temperatures, such as droughts, are acting to increase instability on Europe's doorstep and there were direct links to climate change in the Syrian war, the Arab Spring and the Boko Haram terrorist insurgency in Africa, he said.

Islamic terrorist groups

Boko Haram in 2015 (top); IS (bottom; image: Day Donaldson) - experts say climate change has played a role in the emergence of both groups

Unless countries tackled the root causes of global warming and cut greenhouse gas emissions, the national security impacts would be "increasingly costly and challenging".

Major General Munir Muniruzzaman, former military adviser to the president of Bangladesh and chairman of the Global Military Advisory Council on Climate Change, warned South Asia could see the first "water war".

He said a combination of water scarcity in one of the most water-stressed regions in the world and political conditions had made the right brew for a potential conflict.

He also warned Bangladesh was the "ground zero" of climate change, and with one metre (3ft) of sea level rise the country could lose 20% of its land mass.

Hurricane Sandy Bangladesh Dhaka 2004 floods Hurricane Sandy

Floods in Dhaka, Bangladesh, 2004 (left; image: dougsyme); Assateague Island National Seashore in the US after Hurricane Sandy (right; image: NPS Climate Change Response)

"We're going to see refugee problems on an unimaginable scale, potentially above 30 million people," he said.

The impact has the potential to destabilise not only Bangladesh but the whole region.

Concerns have also been raised about the rapid melting of the Arctic, which is increasingly bringing nations into confrontations over shipping and the exploitation of newly available resources.

polar bear swimming submarine

Polar bears encounter the USS Honolulu (left) - climate change has made it easier for submarines to surface through Arctic ice; a polar bear swims (right) - reduction in sea ice also means polar bears must swim increasingly long distances (image: Mbz1)

Even if countries keep a commitment to limit warming to no more than 2C above pre-industrial levels, coping with the impacts will not be cheap, according to Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti.

He has called climate change a “threat multiplier”:

"Climate change is a strategic security threat that sits alongside others like terrorism and state-on-state conflict, but also interacts with these threats… It is complex and challenging; this is not a concern for tomorrow, the impacts are playing out today".

Melting ice sheets ice caps

(image: WWF Climate Change Program)

More: ‘Climate Change Threatens To Expose Cold War Secrets’