Combating Climate Change Amid a Sea of Global Security Challenges

By Martha Molfetas - 14 October 2014

Martha Molfetas asks what room there is to tackle climate change when a host of crises demand attention.

As another summer comes to pass, the world seems engulfed in flames. Climate change is on the tip of everyone’s tongues, conflicts around the world abound, insurgent groups loom large, and somehow the world reacted too late to an Ebola crisis in West Africa. Funding for Syrian refugees is starting to dry up, meanwhile the entire region is suffering from the spill over effects of prolonged violence and turmoil by way of ISIS/ISIL. In fact, UN funding for all kinds of disaster and conflict relief is not meeting the needs of those impacted, and is projected to continue on this path. As a lifelong student of international relations and security and peace studies, the conflicts of today have become numbing. They are ever-present and somehow cast adrift in a sea of turmoil, making the variety and shear complexity of individual skirmishes blend together into one tapestry.

It’s not that these issues are not worth the global communities’ attention. Indeed, an inability to come together and provide action early on to quell unrest has made these arenas even more important. In tandem with these violent uprisings we are perhaps the last generation to both see the effects and potentially be capable of making a serious contribution towards climate mitigation efforts. An inability to deal with climate change and adapt to new policy paradigms could have disastrous effects for generations to come, and increase already stressed resources available to the international community.

Climate change is omnipresent, and has begun to be viewed as a catalyst for Arab Spring conflicts due to prolonged droughts and decreased agricultural yields. Water access is becoming a new existential crisis for millions in developed countries, let alone those in developing states. Already, millions have been displaced by climate change. Alongside all the problems of today, climate change has played a tertiary or even direct role. As summers continue to warm into falls and winters, human kind will have a heavier cross to bear as our climate debt piles onto the trash heap of problems we are leaving future generations. Dealing with climate change deserves just as much if not more attention than any other crisis our world faces. Like most other issues our global community faces, it is a man-made calamity, and it is one we can take measures to remediate before it is too late.

This necessary action will not come without a cost, whether it’s through instituting a carbon tax, divesting from fossil fuels, repositioning government subsidies from fossil fuel industries towards sustainable energy solutions, or getting rid of taxes on carbon-neutral goods, or instating a carbon-free energy reality before 2030 – all of these initiatives will cost money. But what we need to keep in mind here is what is the cost of doing nothing? Billions in low lying coastal communities displaced, sharp reduction in food production due to drought, and flooding in other areas; more warming and an increase in mosquito borne illnesses, and increased conflict over livelihood resources like water and arable land. If we fail to cope with the climate challenges of today, the other security challenges we face will become dwarfed. The conflicts of today and challenges over sovereignty, combating insurgency and terrorism, and coping with major public health crisis will only be exacerbated by a warming future.

The recent Climate Summit at the United Nations in New York was more or less an opportunity for nations to state their broad, heart-felt aims prior to the UN Summits in Bonn, Lima and most importantly – COP-21 in Paris 2015. In the lead up to these Summits, can world leaders take home these inspired talking points and create impactful policies?

If we don’t ask ourselves what kind of future we’re leaving for future generations, then we’ll never change the game. It’s not that the other woes of the world are less important, but without a viable planet that can support us, what’s the point?

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