General: EU faces 40 years of terror and migration, aggravated by climate change

Climate change will spark further migration crises, says Brigadier General Dennis Murphy. [International Organization for Migration/Flickr]

Europe faces 40 years of terrorism and migration crises, which will be aggravated by unchecked global warming, Brigadier General Dennis Murphy told EURACTIV.

Climate change has already contributed to the war in Syria, which led to the rises of ISIS and to the recent terrorist outrages in Paris, where the UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) is being held, he said.

Brigadier General Dennis Murphy (Ret.), Serving as infantry officer in the Irish Defence Forces for 43 years, General Murphy was seconded to General Secretariat of the EU as a member of the EU Military Staff with special responsibility for the Middle East region and Transnational Terrorism in 2001-2004. His specialty lies in climate change in conflict zones and how terorrists exploit areas affected by climate change & resource scarcity in times of conflict.

He spoke to EURACTIV deputy news editor James Crisp. You can listen to the Soundcloud file, or read the transcript below.

What security challenges does climate change pose, particularly for the EU?

The issue of climate change is very complex, especially in relation to terrorism-related activities. I wouldn’t say there was a direct challenge for the EU in terms of climate change and security. It is a question of indirect factors, like migration.

Ok, then let’s discuss terrorism and migration. The current crisis can’t really be attributed to climate change, so you’re talking about future crises?

Not necessarily. In my view, the climate has had an impact on the conflict in Syria, which has resulted in the migration crisis. Syria has undergone a population boom and in the last decade has suffered from severe droughts, leading to significant crop failure and huge losses in livestock. Their agrarian economy has been hard hit by these factors. Figures vary, but something like 1 million people have been forced to move into the cities, leading to rising tensions, water and food shortages, and civil strife. The climate has played a big part in the situation we find ourselves in today.

Would you say then that climate will act as an aggravating factor in similar situations in the future?

I would. Especially in countries that are very much dependent on agriculture and fishing. Even the slightest change in temperature is going to have a major impact. Over the next 30 years, it’s going to be hugely problematic. Huge displacements of people will be more regular and this’ll be the case for the next 30-40 years.

Poverty must be fertile ground for radicalisation.

Absolutely. In these particular situations, there is a mixture of stresses, from working, quality of life etc. Many governments, particularly in weak or fragile states, are under huge pressure. When you add terrorism into the mix, it’s quite easy for people to be exploited. In countries where the government is not in complete control of its territory, terror groups can manoeuvre quite easily. And marginalise disaffected people. In my experience, terrorists can often be the first-responders to a situation, arriving to provide aid and services to people, in return, receiving support and even recruits.

Is this something we can deal with? NATO, superior forces?

That’s a difficult question to answer. Especially after the attacks in Paris. We have a very open society and its something we have always aspired to. I would say that the vast majority of migrants and refugees pose no threat to us whatsoever. They are just looking for a better life for themselves. That’s quite understandable. This vast movement of people provides terrorists with a big opportunity. The Schengen agreement is under enormous pressure right now as a result of this. Migration is not going to stop in the next six or 12 months and the numbers involved are going to be huge. This is only taking into account Africa and the Middle East. When you factor in South-East Asia, which will probably be hardest hit by climate change, those figures are only going to go up. Dramatic climate hazards could have an unimaginable effect on the 1-billion plus people that live in the Indian subcontinent. There are 20 million people in the Bay of Bengal that will have to move.

Why has nothing been done until now?

I think it was a case of people not wanting to know or thought that it wasn’t going to happen. It’ll happen elsewhere or further down the line. The consequences are going to reach all of us.

Do you think world leaders appreciate this link between the climate and security?

Yes I do. President Hollande has outlined his stance that global warming and terror are intertwined and cannot be separated.

Are there any COP countries that are more ‘difficult’ on this issue?

Yemen has a huge population that is overflowing their borders. There have been numerous conflicts and there will be huge humanitarian crises in the future. This will have to be backed up by serious financial commitment. The amount money that migration will potentially cost us means that we have to go into the countries of origin and help them at source. To help them provide a better life for their citizens. Population growth is a huge factor in this. A lot of people have said that Syrian refugees will go back to their country once the conflict settles down and there is a change of government. I’m not so sure.

So surely bombing the country is only going to cause more people to leave.

I’m afraid so. Having lived and worked in Syria, it’s clear to me that the entire situation has been handled extremely badly. Bombing can only do so much and we will have to confront ISIS eventually with boots on the ground. If the civil war had not been going on, then I’m a sure than ISIS would not have been able to expand into Syria the way it did. Vacuums are there to be exploited, as has happened in Yemen and Mali.

What about the military’s carbon footprint?

It’s very large. I think that, especially in the USA, that has been acknowledged and a lot of development has been put into new transport systems in order to reduce it.

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