Mon, Feb 25, 2019 - Page 7 News List

Prepare for accelerating climate change threats, military officials warn

By Laurie Goering  /  Thomson Reuters Foundation, THE HAGUE, Netherlands

Militaries must prepare now to deal with more frequent disasters, new conflicts and other risks as accelerating climate change brings threats that could draw in troops at home and abroad, military and defense officials have said.

“The threats are real. We already see them. And the threats will grow as the temperature rises,” said James Clayden of the Dutch Ministry of Defense, speaking at a conference on climate change and security at the Hague, Netherlands, last week.

About 1,000 Dutch troops, for instance, were called out for a month to provide humanitarian help and security when powerful Hurricane Irma slammed into Sint Maarten, a Caribbean island that is part of the Netherlands, in 2017.

That was manageable — but as hurricane disasters become more frequent and devastating, as warming oceans spur larger storms, the pressures on military resources will grow, as will the costs, Clayden said.

Jane Neilson, a senior policy analyst for the New Zealand Ministry of Defense, said her country’s military forces regularly turn out to help South Pacific island neighbors hit by disasters.

However, New Zealand officials worry that the country’s relatively small forces could struggle to cope with bigger, harsher and more frequent disasters, or the threat of several crises happening at once.

“Our worst nightmare” is another big earthquake hitting New Zealand just as a Category 5 hurricane hits the South Pacific, she said.

“Globally, militaries are going to be more stretched with operations deriving from climate-induced impacts,” she said, calling climate change “the single greatest threat to the security, livelihoods and well-being of people of the Pacific.”

For many nations, threats at home are also growing.

The Hague sits 3m below sea level, protected by a system of dikes and pumping stations, said retired general Tom Middendorp, a former Dutch defense chief.

Dutch forces already spend about 25 percent of their efforts supporting civil authorities, including by protecting the anti-flood systems, Middendorp said.

However, if sea level rises significantly — by 1m or more by the turn of the century, under some scenarios — “imagine the impact it could have. The military needs to be ready for that,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“It’s crucial in any country that the civil responders and military sit together and do risk analysis, see how they will cope in an emergency and translate that into standing arrangements,” Middendorp said.

In the US, such preparations have been difficult, despite worsening floods, wildfires and storms, because US President Donald Trump’s administration has been reluctant to accept climate change as a risk, military officials said.

The White House is readying a presidential panel that would question US military and intelligence reports showing human-driven climate change poses risks to national security.

However, retired US Navy rear admiral Ann Phillips, who sits on the advisory board of the US-based Center for Climate and Security, said that climate threats — including to the country’s military facilities — are clear, and the forces are already addressing them.

That includes preparing bases for expected sea level rise and providing better flooding protections, as well as working to cut emissions from military operations.

“We are moving forward on this issue. We are being impacted by it and we can’t deny it,” she said, pointing to bases on the US’ eastern and Gulf coasts already hard hit by floods and storms.

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