UK Energy Minister: Wars over water on the horizon

By RTCC Staff

Ed Davey has warned climate change could exacerbate current social unrest and even lead to new wars erupting is climate instability is not addressed (© Amplified2010/Creative Commons)

Water wars, civil unrest and a breakdown of free trade could all be witnessed in a world of worsening climate change, UK Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey has warned.

Speaking to a “Climate & Resource Security” conference of high-ranking politicians and diplomats from around the world, Davey said the world must start planning for climate instability.

He warned that in the “global village”, what can intially seem like a far away problem now can quickly spread. As a result the world must build resilience  into both developing and developed nations.

Key to this, however, he said would be getting greater awareness and understanding of climate security in the public domain.

“For too many people, climate security is about making sure you always have an umbrella with you,” said Davey. “The reality, of course is rather more serious.

“Around the world, governments – and militaries – are planning for climate instability. From flood defences to foreign aid, climate security is part of the policy discussion.

“But it’s not yet part of the public discussion. And that’s something that we have to change.”

The demand for food is predicted to rise by 70% by 2050, while the changing climate wil make these demands ever harder to meet.

As little as a 1°C rise in temperature could make maize production in Africa 65% less productive.

“When food becomes scare, it’s the most vulnerable who most feel the impact,” warned Davey. “As the Secretary General of NATO said, food scarcity ‘like all the effects of climate change…will hit hardest on the people and countries least able financially and organisationally to cope.

“Even where absolute availability is not in question, rising prices can trigger civil unrest, and threaten free trade.”

On water Davey warned that previously unseen wars for this precious resource could be just around the corner.

Within 15 years, around 1.8 billion people will be living in areas facing absolute water scarcity.

“Historically, countries have tended not to go to war over water. Instead, we have concluded deals and signed treaties to share this finite resource. But such accords could come under threat, as climate change affects rainfall, intensifying pressure between states – and within them.”

Davey also warned of climate change as a threat multiplier in areas of the world already facing social unrest.

For example many researchers believe the Arab Spring witnessed throughout the Middle East and North Africa last year, while not down to climate change in its entirety, saw existing problem in the region exacerbated by extreme weather and in turn a rise in global food prices.

“Competition for resources could intensify, as territorial change puts pressure on trade and makes conflict more likely,” said Davey. “Natural disasters could increase the demands on our military capability. And in failing states, food, water and energy supply problems could spark internal unrest that spills outwards.

“For governments, the risks are clear: to development, to democracy, and to peace itself. We cannot afford to ignore them.

“We have to plan for a world where climate change makes difficult problems worse.”

RELATED VIDEO: William Lacy Swing from the International Organisation on Migration joined RTCC in Durban to talk about the security threat of climate induced migration…

Read more on: Climate politics