Conflict over water resources in Ethiopia. Climate change intensifies security threats by increasing competition
for resources and causing more natural and humanitarian disasters, such as the current droughts and famine in Africa.
Photograph: Dean Krakel/Getty Images
Climate change will lead to an increased threat of wars, violence and military action against the UK, and risks reversing the progress of civilisation, the energy and climate secretary Chris Huhne will say on Thursday, in his strongest warning yet that the lack of progress on greenhouse gas emission cuts would damage the UK’s national interests.
“Climate change is a threat multiplier. It will make unstable states more unstable, poor nations poorer, inequality more pronounced, and conflict more likely,” Huhne is expected to say in a speech to defence experts. “And the areas of most geopolitical risk are also most at risk of climate change.”
He will warn that climate change risks reversing the progress made in prosperity and democracy since the industrial revolution, arguing that the results of global warming could lead to a return to a “Hobbesian” world in which life is “nasty, brutish and short”.
Huhne believes the UK and other countries must act urgently to prepare for the threat. “We cannot be 100% sure that our enemies will attack our country, but we do not hesitate to prepare for the eventuality,” he plans to say. “The same principle applies to climate change, which a report published by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has identified as one of the four critical issues that will affect everyone on the planet over the next 30 years.”
His comparison of climate change and terrorism echoes Sir David King, the former chief scientific adviser to the government who warned in 2004 that global warning posed “a bigger threat than terrorism”. The warning so incensed the then US president George W Bush that he phoned Tony Blair to ask him to gag the scientist.
Huhne argues that it is clearly in the UK’s national interest to cut carbon dioxide emissions sharply, and persuade other nations to join in the effort.
His speech comes at a delicate time for the prime minister, David Cameron, who was embarrassed earlier in the week by an open revolt over climate issues staged by his members of the European parliament. MEPs were voting on whether to adopt more ambitious emissions reduction targets that would raise the goal from a 20% cut in carbon by 2020, compared with 1990 levels, to a tougher 30% cut.
Despite Downing St intervention, more than two-thirds of Tory MEPs rebelled against the party line, to support the tougher target. Their revolt was instrumental in defeating the proposal, part of a complex series of votes in the parliament.
Green campaigners hope to revive the issue in future votes, and with member states and the European commission, but the vote revealed the depths of climate scepticism within the Tory party.
Huhne has scored key victories in recent months in his attempts to put climate change at the centre of coalition policy. He helped to persuade Cameron to accept the “fourth carbon budget” – a plan that would see the UK halve emissions by 2025, the stiffest target of any developed country. Yesterday the prime minister announced tough new energy efficiency standards, supported by Huhne, that would require central government to cut emissions by 25% in the five-year term of this parliament.
Huhne will quote military experts, including the MoD and the US Pentagon, who have warned that climate change will increase the risk of conflict and potentially terrorism. Climate change intensifies security threats in three ways: increasing competition for resources; more natural and humanitarian disasters, such as the droughts now causing famine in Africa, which will also lead to mass migration and the conflicts that ensue; and threats to the security of energy supplies.