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28th May 2022

EU must boost military capabilities in face of climate change

  • As the Arctic melts, there will be a new scramble for resources affecting European security, EU foreign policy chiefs warn (Photo: NN - norden.org)

The European Union should boost its civil and military capacities to respond to "serious security risks" resulting from catastrophic climate change expected this century, according to a joint report from the EU's two top foreign policy officials.

The EU and member states should further build up their capabilities with regards to civil protection, and civil and military crisis management and disaster response instruments to react to the security risks posed by climate change, reads a paper by EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and external relations commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner.

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The seven-page paper, to be submitted to EU leaders at a summit in Brussels later this week, warns of a range of stark scenarios, in particular the threat of an intensified "scramble for resources" – both energy and mineral – in the Arctic "as previously inaccessible regions open up."

The rapid melting of the polar ice caps is seen as a great opportunity for far-northern economies, as the "increased accessibility of the enormous hydrocarbon resources in the Arctic region" mean new waterways and international trade routes open for business where once there was only ice.

But this does not come without certain hazards. The report highlights the threat to Europe from Russia. "The resulting new strategic interests are illustrated by the recent planting of the Russian flag under the North Pole."

Eco-migration

Additionally, the report suggests that Europe will come under increasing pressure from so-called eco-migration.

"Europe must expect substantially increased migratory pressure," says the report. "Populations that already suffer from poor health conditions, unemployment or social exclusion are rendered more vulnerable to the effects of climate change, which could amplify or trigger migration within and between countries."

The document notes that the UN has predicted that there will be millions of environmental migrants by 2020, and warns that the pressure will not only come from beyond Europe's borders, but that climate change "is also likely to exacerbate internal migration with significant security consequences."

Other worries include water shortages and the consequent food price increases that result from lower crop yields, all of which could lead to civil unrest, particularly in the Middle East. This in turn puts pressure on energy security.

"Significant decreases [in crop yields] are expected to hit Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia and thus affect stability in a vitally strategic region for Europe," predicts the report, while "water supply in Israel might fall by 60 percent over this century."

The document also warns of major changes to landmass leading to territorial disputes, political radicalisation in poorer regions of the world, and the effects that sea-level rises and increases in the frequency and intensity of natural disasters would have on port cities and oil refineries.

For the most part, however, much of the climate-change-based security risks mentioned in the report have been listed elsewhere. What is new is the proposal of the incorporation of risks resulting from climate change into European defence policy thinking.

The report also proposes an intensification of the EU's research, monitoring and early warning capacity regarding climate-change-based security risks and an improvement of the bloc's early response capacity to disasters and conflicts.

The two foreign policy chiefs would furthermore like to see a focus on climate security risks at the international level - in particular within the UN Security Council and the G8 – and within EU regional strategies such as the European Neighbourhood Policy, the EU-Africa Strategy and Middle East and Black Sea policies.

Specifically, the pair say that there should be a development of regional security scenarios for the various possible levels of climate change envisaged.

But some are worried about the direction proposed in the document.

"Some of these recommendations may well be sensible, but there's no way of knowing until they're fleshed out. The devil is in the detail. It's important to know what powers the EU will assume in the event," said Tony Bunyan, head of civil liberties group Statewatch.

He referred to a "nexus of powers" that may at some point be assumed by either the EU or member states.

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