26th Oct 2016


Global warming – the greatest security threat

  • Each of us must petition our governments to acknowledge the crisis and to act (Photo: Richard Power)

The greatest security threat to all of us is not terrorism or bird flu but global warming.

Global warming has profound security implications, which are too often overlooked and underestimated. This is a planetary crisis that confronts us with both direct threats and threat-enhancing factors.

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These include:

Severe weather: Hurricanes and typhoons will increase in strength, length of duration and frequency, so will drought, floods and heat waves.

Infrastructure failures: As extremes of heat and cold impact densely populated regions, massive blackouts (such as the one that hit 50 million Italians in 2003) and other forms of infrastructure failure, will increase.

Food security: Global warming will significantly impact grain yields, particularly in developing countries and low-latitude regions. Lower yield will result in tens of millions (if not hundreds of millions) more hungry human beings, as well as escalating food prices globally.

Water wars: John Reid, UK defence secretary, recently acknowledged that the British armed forces should prepare for violence and political conflict as global warming quickens looming confrontations over dwindling water resources.

Collapse of governments and disintegration of societies: Climate change will stretch some governments and societies to breaking point. Several African nations and Afghanistan offer painful examples of what happens when governments collapse and societies disintegrate.

Displacement and migration of populations: Societies, which are either not directly impacted, or only marginally impacted, in the early stages of global climate change will nevertheless encounter serious difficulties in coping with mass influxes of human beings fleeing drought, famine, rising sea levels and mega-storms.

Increased geopolitical tensions over energy security issues: The issues of global warming and renewable energy resources are inextricably intertwined, but not simply because human burning of fossil fuels is accelerating and aggravating global warming; but also because of the double trouble poised by the voracious demand for more energy and the end of peak oil production.

Economic Security: The economic impact of coping with climate change, in regard to food security, energy security, disaster recovery and relief will itself become a powerful threat-enhancing factor.

Spread of diseases and pests: Climate change is increasing the threat from tropical diseases (such as dengue fever and malaria) at lower latitudes and spreading them to higher latitudes. Pests that threaten agriculture, forests and whole animal species are growing stronger.

Travel Security: Global warming means heightened danger to business and holiday travellers. Travelling to and operating in some countries that already pose a heightened security risk will almost certainly become even more problematical.

Submersion of island nations and major cities: In the long-term, the fates of whole nations (for example, the Maldives) hang in the balance, as well as the fates of great cities, such as London.

Europe must lead the way

These threats and risks demand the attention of all of us. It is important to understand that climate change is already underway, and is occurring much faster than most scientists projected.

While it may take a decade or two for the rise in sea levels to pose a direct threat to island nations, such as the UK, or countries with long, low-lying coasts, such as the Netherlands; the rise of mega-storms in the Caribbean offers a compelling example of some of the issues involved including displacement of large populations, disruption of industry and toxic spills.

All organizations, both public and private, need to develop crisis management and business continuity capabilities, implement travel security protocols, and empower their workforce through awareness and education programmes.

Each of us must petition our governments to acknowledge the crisis and to act.

National commitments to both the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the UN Millennium Goals are critical, but it is also vital that governments adopt sweeping independent measures to re-tool domestic economies.

Sweden, for example, has vowed to turn its back on both fossil fuels and nuclear energy and run on renewable energy within the next 15 years. It is the most audacious effort undertaken by any advanced Western economy, and if they succeed they will probably become the world’s first country to be almost wholly independent of fossil fuels.

It is important to remember that going green and re-orientating commerce, industry, life style and transportation toward renewable energy is not only an environmental imperative, it is also an economic and national security imperative.

The EU, and its member states, must lead the way, politically, economically and technologically in this extraordinary challenge to global security.

Richard Power ( is a journalist and adviser to governments, businesses and humanitarian organizations. You can reach Richard Power via e-mail at:


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