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Dying for Water: Environment Wars

Stop the War interviewed Prof Paul Rogers of the University of Bradford on the link between the climate crisis and war


A quarter of Bangladesh rises less than seven feet above sea level, and the country is projected to lose 11% of its land by 2050.

The planet is in crisis. According to the UN Secretary General, António Guterres, ‘we face direct existential threat’ from climate change; July 2019 was the hottest month ever recorded, oceans are getting warmer and groundwater levels are decreasing. 

Global warming is a very real threat, that if left unchecked will lead to innumerable disasters. As sea levels rise and groundwater levels decrease, people will grapple for natural resources and be displaced en masse. Bangladesh, for example, is home to 164.7 million people and is projected to lose 11% of its land by 2050- St Kitts and Nevis in the Caribbean has lost over a quarter of its land since 1961 due to rising sea levels and erosion. It is reasonable to expect a considerable increase in conflicts all over the planet as natural resources become scarcer.

Stop the War interviewed Professor Paul Rogers, of the University of Bradford on the link between the climate crisis and war.

What is the likelihood that environmental degradation will cause more wars in the future? 

I think it is pretty likely. The basic problem is that if you get the effects of global heating that we expect, then you’re going to get very considerable volatility and difficulty for many millions of people, mostly people in poorer countries. 

Climate change, climate disruption, is accelerating, although we see the biggest effects in the Arctic, the near Arctic and the Antarctic, also many tropical and subtropical areas are being affected asymmetrically- in other words the temperature is rising, the rainfall is slacking off more than in many other parts of the world. The overall impact of that is likely to be more violent weather, but more particularly a decrease in the capability of particular lands to actually produce food, in other words major food shortages and the kind of pressure we already have on people particularly in poorer parts of the world are going to increase substantially. That will lead to many problems with social stability but particularly hugely increased pressures on migration. That basically is a recipe for far right responses trying to prevent migration, trying to really keep a lid on things, and that in turn is a recipe for expanded violence.

All the indications are that the way the military industrial complex works at present - the security paradigm if you like - the tendency will be not to recognise that climate change has to be prevented, but to try and adapt to it, to keep people down if essentially they seem to threaten you. So my concern is much more with the impact of a radically changing climate as we may well get  - if we don’t take steps to prevent it. In terms of international stability; human suffering and, bluntly, desperation are the risks; attempts will be made to maintain control through the traditional military and paramilitary means.

We’ve seen in the past wars fought over natural resources. Is it feasible that this could happen in the future, for example, over land and water rather than oil?

I think probably, the major problem that relates directly again to climate change is water resources and particularly the supply in ground water, aquifers, water available below the surface, because when you have real water shortages, either for irrigations - but particularly for mega cities then people will tend to drill down further to try and get at the water, but this means that you slowly dry out things even farther down and certainly the combination of economic growth as we have it now with concentrations of people with climate change means that shortages of water are likely to get worse.

Now there have been many examples of where water resources have been handled quite well across national boundaries and within states as well but the trouble is we’re likely to see water stresses much higher than we’ve even had in the past. Again, this is always if we do not get on top of climate change, if we do then of course the thing is very different but if we don’t then I think we are in for a very difficult period. This one of the several reasons why it’s absolutely important to decarbonise economies as rapidly as we can.

Is there anywhere in particular could you see this happening?

Last week the NYT did a major piece on this, basically it was looking at the world shortages and is reporting on many large cities facing water stress, certainly far beyond places like Yemen and Syria. They were pointing to India, South Africa - many of the world's big cities are actually running short of water.

According to the New York Times, ‘17 countries around the world are currently under extremely high water stress’- most of these countries are in the Global South, with 11 of them in the Middle East and North Africa. Over the next few decades, this is projected to get even worse, with more than half of the world’s population expected to live under severe water stress by 2050.

This will have disastrous consequences; millions will suffer and competition for natural resources could easily lead to further wars.


Tags: war-on-terror, climate change, environment

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