French MPs: Diplomacy, military slow to address climate change as driver of armed conflict

"Climatic disruptions threaten international security. They are considered by the vast majority of researchers and international players as threat multipliers," explained MP Alain David. EPA/STEPHEN MORRISON [EPA/STEPHEN MORRISON]

Diplomats and armed forces have been slow to address the security consequences of climate change, a French parliament fact-finding mission concluded on Wednesday (27 January). EURACTIV France reports.

While the co-rapporteurs of the fact-finding mission, socialist MP Alain David and centrist MP Frédéric Petit (MoDem), pointed out that no armed conflict caused by climate change has so far occurred at the international level, their report clearly shows the extent to which climate change is causing serious international tensions, both for the people and states.

These tensions are likely to lead to armed conflicts “in the near future”, they warned.

“It is a matter of anticipating these conflicts, in particular by preparing our armies,” said the chairman of the foreign affairs committee, MP Jean-Louis Bourlanges (MoDem).

“The French and European armies are lagging far behind the Americans, who created a State Secretary of Defence for Environmental Security as early as in 1993,” he said.

Sprawling consequences

According to the World Meteorological Organisation, 2020 was one of the three warmest years on record with the 2010s being the warmest decade.

The UN intergovernmental body on climate change, known as the IPCC, also announced at the end of 2019 that sea levels could rise by up to 1.10 metres by 2100 if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise at a high rate.

Desertification, coastal flooding, current climate disruptions are reaching unprecedented levels, and extreme weather events such as heatwaves, cyclones or floods are also increasing in number and intensity, causing considerable human and material damage, stressed the authors of the report.

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“Climatic disruptions threaten international security. They are considered by the vast majority of researchers and international players as threat multipliers,” explained MP Alain David.

“They increase the risk of conflict on two levels: by promoting internal and, to a lesser extent, cross-border migration, which leads to tensions between communities and states which, when added to pre-existing tensions, contribute to the outbreak of conflicts. Climate change is also increasing pressure on resources,” he added.

Access to water, food, or mineral resources is made more difficult by these population displacements and the consequences of climate change itself.

In the Sahel region in particular, desertification is causing economic and social difficulties, and “in Bangladesh, cross-border climate migration with India is very likely and tensions between the two countries are already very high”, MP Frédéric Petit said.

For example, according to the IPCC, a rise in sea levels alone could displace 280 million people.

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What are the solutions? 

The co-rapporteurs also observed that diplomats and the armed forces have been slow to address the security consequences of climate change and there is, therefore, much room for improvement in this regard, both at the strategic and operational levels.

Among the 36 recommendations made to the government, the two MPs first call for a stronger mobilisation of French and European diplomacy to tackle the root of the problem.

Their suggestions include boosting mitigation measures, raising the Paris Agreement targets at the COP26 climate conference, and reforming climate financing. The aim is also to encourage international research and cooperation on this issue, via the new UN Climate and Security Mechanism or a new Security Council resolution.

Concerning migration, the two MPs also considered it essential to create a more protective legal framework for climate-displaced people, and also called for a fair sharing of natural resources “by all available diplomatic means”.

Finally, the rapporteurs recommended launching a high-level strategic debate on the issue as soon as possible to adapt the armed forces to climate change and train them accordingly.

Late but early recognition

While the United States Army War College published a report in October 2019 on the implications of climate change on the US military, Europe is not lagging behind either.

Last November, the European External Action Service (EEAS) presented a roadmap to address the links between climate change and defence, proposing, in particular, to integrate this parameter into EU defence actions, including as part of the Common Security and Defence Policy.

In operational terms, the roadmap aims to improve military preparedness in environments affected by climate change.

In addition, an International Military Climate and Security Council (IMCCS) was launched in February 2019, bringing together senior military officials, experts and security institutions from 30-odd states such as Germany, Sudan, the UK, Italy and the US. The organisation is dedicated to anticipating, analysing and addressing security risks related to climate change.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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