Tue, Apr 24, 2007 - Page 9 News List

There is no doubt now: Global warming is a threat to everyone

The debate on climate change at a meeting of the UN Security Council was a sign that the big powers are at last beginning to see sense after years of denial

By Jonathan Freedland  /  THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

That, when it happens, will be a massive, international infrastructural project. But if governments approached it with the degree of urgency, will and wherewithal they apply to traditional national security threats -- with the seriousness and money-no-object commitment Bush and Blair showed to the "war on terror" -- then suddenly it would look eminently possible.

So this makes political sense: cast global warming as an environmental or science issue, and it will be given a budget to match. Cast it as a problem for the big boys, on a par with nuclear proliferation or international terror, and then it should get a big-boy budget and attention.

Not that that requires any stretching of the facts. Bill McGuire of University College London's Hazard Research Center says climate change compares to terrorism in the way a "huge festering sore compares to a pimple." To call it a threat to our safety is not a public relations trick, it is a statement of the truth.

In the most direct way, the overheating of the Earth promises danger -- including threats the Security Council would immediately recognise. If land becomes uninhabitable through flooding as glaciers melt and sea levels rise, or through drought as things get hotter, the people now living on that land will move.

Credible forecasts speak of 200 million people displaced by the middle of the century. Some of that movement will be within countries, but some will be across international borders -- and we all know the strains that can produce. There will be clashes over limited resources as people compete over fertile land and drinkable water. Darfur, where conflict has been caused in part by a shift in rainfall and the resulting clash between nomadic herders and settled pastoralists, could be a glimpse of the shape of things to come.

It might be scarce crops or reduced fish stocks, it could be a humanitarian disaster caused by a hurricane or flooding, or it could be a fight over energy itself, over oil or gas. There is no shortage of threats our changing climate could pose, either sparking conflict directly or taking an existing area of tension and pushing it over the edge into outright war.

That's not entirely in the future. Already the issue is acquiring the more familiar shape of an international relations problem. Note the description by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni of rising emissions as "an act of aggression" by the rich nations against the poor. We pollute for decades; they pay the price in lost landscapes and lost lives. (Uganda derives 80 percent of its energy from hydro-electric power: drought means there's now no water behind the dams and a massive energy crisis in the country.)

As the consequences of global warming become more visible, and more felt, that sentiment will grow -- along with the conflict, or even international terrorism, that it might bring.

UN's debate is a sign that this penny is beginning to drop. Maybe not in Russia, whose UN ambassador warned against overdramatizating the problem of global warming, nor in the White House, which offered the Security Council an empty statement on April 17, in keeping with the Bush administration's shaming record of denial. Still, and in defiance of all that, two US senators, Republican Chuck Hagel and Democrat Dick Durbin, have tabled a bill that would demand all US agencies come together to produce a national intelligence estimate of the threat of climate change. Such exercises were once reserved for the Soviet nuclear arsenal or the state of the Middle East.

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