'EU must prepare for waves of climate refugees'

Posted: 17 March 2008

Europe must prepare for increased competition over dwindling resources, waves of climate change refugees and energy wars, the EU's High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana has warned.

Presenting an EU report to the European Council's 13th meeting on March 13/14, he said: "Climate change is already having a profound impact on international security." He said "reductions of arable land, widespread shortages of water, diminishing food and fish stocks, increased flooding and prolonged droughts" would be the drivers of increasingly hostile competition between states for dwindling global resources.

It is expected, therefore, that climate change will fuel existing conflicts over depleting resources. Europe, for instance, faces the potential for conflict with Moscow over resources in the Arctic, according to the EU Commission's report.

The Arctic ice cap is melting at an increasing rate due to a rise in global average temperatures, making commercial exploitation of mineral and other resources in the untapped Arctic a possibility in future. Russian scientists made headlines and startled the international community last year when they placed a flag on the Arctic sea bed in an apparent claim to precious mineral deposits.

Moreover, in coastal regions, such as in China, India, the Caribbean and Central America, sea-level rise and more frequent natural disasters pose a serious threat to the infrastructure and regional economies. Also, receding coastlines and submergence of large areas could result in loss of territory, including entire countries such as small island states.

Africa most vulnerable

Because of multiple stresses and low adaptive capacity, Africa is one of the continents most vulnerable to climate change, the report said. Increasing droughts and rising temperatures will have a significant negative impact on regions highly vulnerable to conflict, such as the Horn of Africa. Due to poor harvests, several areas on the African continent may face food insecurity.

As the UN expects millions of "environmental" migrants by 2020, Europe must anticipate increasing migratory pressure. "The multilateral system is at risk if the international community fails to address these threats," the report warns.

Solana made a number of recommendations for dealing with the problem, including providing greater EU disaster response and conflict prevention capabilities. More 'carbon diplomacy', or cooperation with countries likely to be most affected by climate change, is also recommended. And since rising waters and melting sea ice are expected to have a profound impact on the size and location of existing borders and territories, there is a need to "address the growing debate over territorial claims, exclusive economic zones, and access to new trade routes", he said.

Source: This report is based on information from INS/EurActiv