The tragic deaths in the Mediterranean are precisely in line with the predictions of climate security analysts, without urgent action they could herald an era of mass migration and international tension
There is a school of thought among climate change campaigners that argues that as storms, floods, droughts and wildfires hit with increasing frequency and intensity, the scientists and meteorologists who are wheeled into the TV studios to answer questions about whether climate change is to 'blame' need a new approach. Instead of opening their response with the technically accurate but inadvertently reassuring disclaimer about how 'no single event can be attributed to climate change' as is the case now, they should declare that 'this is what climate change looks like - this is precisely the kind of extreme event we expect to see happen more often and with more intensity'. Both lines are technically accurate and both should be included in any response, but by opening with a clear reminder of how climate warnings are increasingly being borne out the urgency of the challenge becomes much clearer.
I was reminded of this climate communications debate while watching the news last night with its latest heart-breaking reports from the Mediterranean on the countless hundreds, perhaps thousands, who have died in the past few weeks. For this is what climate crisis looks like - this is precisely the kind of extreme event climate security analysts from the Pentagon to the MoD to the world's top insurance firms expect to see happen more often and with more intensity.
Now, of course, the disclaimers and caveats are still extremely important. The tragedy of people smugglers exploiting the desperation of some of the world's most vulnerable communities and sending men, women, and children to their deaths, while governments trapped between narrow political pressures and basic humanitarian impulses fail to work out how best to respond is not a direct result of climate change, in much the same way that no single typhoon is a direct result of rising global temperatures.
Sectarian tensions, corrupt governments, terrorism, the EU's scaling back of search operations, and, despite all the disgracefully confected outrage over Ed Miliband's foreign policy speech today, the tendency of Western governments to engage in conflicts in North Africa and the Middle East without any serious plan for the post-conflict period have all played their role in fuelling the current crisis.
But there are other macro-trends at play here that are driving thousands of people to risk their lives attempting to cross the Mediterranean, of which climate change is undoubtedly one.
We know that states tend to fail when they cannot feed themselves. We know that climate change increases the risk of disruption to food supplies in a region. We know that numerous societies throughout history have collapsed due to their failure to adapt to environmental change. We know that in 2007 UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described the war in Darfur as the world's first climate change conflict. We know there is evidence that the violence triggered by the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011 were in part fuelled by protests over soaring food prices. We know recent research has suggested climate change played a role in sparking the Syrian War that in turn has played such a big role in fuelling both the rise of ISIS and the humanitarian crisis off Europe's southern coast.
Most of all though, we know that even if climate change is not the primary factor behind the current tragedy this humanitarian disaster and the seemingly intractable geopolitical challenges, nationalist tendencies, and crushing grief it invokes is precisely the kind of disaster security analysts expect to see worsen in a world afflicted by escalating climate change.
When the world's political and business leaders gather in Paris later this year to discuss the urgent need to slash global greenhouse gas emissions and enhance climate resilience they will be motivated by the compelling financial reasons for averting dangerous climate change and shifting to a greener and healthier global economy. But there is another reason. Without a rapid and successful global effort to tackle this existential threat the heart-breaking scenes of the past week and the sadness and rancour they unleash will only become more commonplace. After all, this is what climate crisis really means.
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