A climate change phenomenon exacerbated the effects of the Arab Spring, thereby underscoring the threat posed by climate change to peace and security.
In South Asia, climate change threatens to complicate long-standing sensitive border disputes, such as Sir Creek and Siachen.
In response to the threats posed by climate change, the Global Military Advisory Council on Climate Change (GMACCC) was created in 2009.
Speaking at the South Asian University this week, a retired senior Pakistani military officer, Lt Gen Tariq Waseem Ghazi, dwelt on the much neglected implications of climate change on international security, and the crucial role that armies can play in addressing the challenges presented by climate change.
Lt Gen Ghazi recalled a significant climatic event in the year 2009, when the Gulf Stream current in the Atlantic Ocean suddenly turned powerful and hotter than in previous years. Following its natural course, when the Stream mixed with the Arctic, it resulted in higher precipitation. The phenomenon caused heavy rains in parts of the Himalayas and disastrous floods in Pakistan in 2010.
Droughts in Sub-Saharan and Northern Africa that year were a direct consequence of this climatic anomaly, which resulted in non-availability of food in the region. These developments added to the political crisis, which was then in a nascent stage. Precisely at this juncture, the self-immolation of a street vendor started the Arab Spring – a series of protests across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). The Arab Spring has since caused much discontent and turmoil across the MENA.
Drawing on this example, Lt Gen Ghazi referred to climate change as a “threat multiplier” and “an accelerant of instability”, which adds to global turmoil. He stated that this was not only an environmental crisis, but also a security crisis in the making. The 2001 World Disasters Report published by the Red Cross estimated that there are a total of 25 million environmental refugees.
In light of these facts, Lt Gen Ghazi was of the view that climate change doesn’t have borders and that it was high time states work out a coordinated approach towards tackling the menace of climate change.
Implications For South Asia
South Asia is vulnerable as a crisis-ridden region, characterized by rampant poverty, weak state institutions and military conflicts. Lt Gen Ghazi stated that more than 750 million people were affected by at least one type of disaster in South Asia, with India having a large share of those affected.
In Pakistan’s hilly areas, snowline receded one kilometre over the last 25 years. Bursting of glaciers, landslides and avalanches are on the rise and about 2500 glacial lakes have been created due to the impact of global warming. The conflict zone of Siachen glacier has lost two kilometres of its length, and since the conflict began, 17 percent of its ice mass has reduced.
Global Military Advisory Council On Climate Change (GMACCC)
In response to the growing threats to global security and peace posed by climate change, the Global Military Advisory Council on Climate Change (GMACCC) was created in 2009, of which Lt Gen Ghazi is a member. The GMACCC is a global network of serving and retired military officers from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the United States and other countries dedicated to the cause of mitigating the effects of climate change.
The group reaches out to governments and military institutions worldwide to spread awareness regarding climate change. The GMACCC has opened a new arena by linking climate change to defence institutions, as military forces too are directly affected by climate change. For instance, the rise in mean sea levels will directly threaten the naval bases. Lt Gen Ghazi also explained how the military was involved in emissions as military trucks, fighter jets and helicopter sorties result in massive fuel consumption and emissions.
Climate Change And Border Disputes
Lt Gen Ghazi also linked climate change to the issue of South Asian borders, one of the most sensitive issues dominating South Asian politics. Stating the example of Sir Creek – a sensitive border dispute between India and Pakistan – Lt Gen Ghazi said that the shifting of river courses due to climate change would make border demarcations based on rivers more contentious.
Lt Gen Ghazi said that governments across the world need to employ strategies in charting out their action plans to deal with this issue, including flexible response in terms of planning to meet security needs, planning for displacement, anticipating climate risk, adjustments in security analysis and scenarios in case of lack of resources.
South Asia Needs A Regional Approach
India looks at climate change, not from a regional framework, but from an international framework, and prefers to deal with this issue through the United Nations. But Lt Gen Ghazi called for a regional approach among South Asian states. It was high time, he said, that a regional framework was developed in South Asia, in order to ensure disaster preparedness.
Climate change is an existential issue and the survival of all of humanity rests on how closely institutions cooperate with each other. The GMACCC initiative comes at the right time and can lead the way in bringing civilian and military institutions worldwide together in the fight against climate change. This also means that archrivals like India and Pakistan will have to join hands in tackling this existential crisis.