UN climate head calls on military to turn forces on climate change battle
Christiana Figueres, head of the UN climate secretariat, warned of the destabilizing effects created by growing water stress, declining crop yields and damage from extreme storms in some of the world's poorest countries, which could set off mass international migration and regional conflicts.
Speaking to Spanish legislators at the national defense college in Madrid, Figueres said the world's military budgets grew by 50 percent in the first nine years of this century. Rather than continue that growth in weaponry, she said, the generals should invest in preventative budgets to "avoid the climate chaos that would demand a defense response that makes even today's spending burden look light."
Specifically, she said the impact of global warming would increase poverty and governments would struggle to meet the basic needs of their citizens.
"No nation can flourish if its citizens are faced with climate change impacts and increasing prospects for conflict," she said. "The voice of the defense establishment is one of the strongest voices of persuasion at national level, so I urge you to invest in a way that can lead us all towards a peace based on co-operation rather than conflict."
Scientists and defense think tanks have warned for years of the heightened military risks created by global warming. In 2007, the UN panel of climate scientists said hundreds of millions of Africans will face persistent drought and food insecurity over the next decades that could prompt many to abandon ancestral homes.
Other UN academics reported last year that in 2008 alone, 20 million people were displaced by sudden climate disasters, at least temporarily, and gradual climate changes over the next 40 years could cause 200 million people - and perhaps up to 1 billion - to migrate.
Figueres said much of the funding that pays for the growth of armies today could help curb carbon emissions that fuel global warming. It also could help poor countries in the most vulnerable and unstable parts of the world to protect themselves from the most devastating effects of climate change.
The armed forces should pursue their historic role as technology innovators, she said. "This is an opportunity for the military industry to become the cutting edge of clean technologies that are urgently needed."