President Obama Addresses the Threats of Climate Change
March 4, 2015  //  By:   //  Blog Post, Featured  //  No Comment

obamaDuring the State of the Union address this past January, President Barack Obama declared that “no challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.” He reminded the public of the 2014 Pentagon report, which stated that climate change poses an “immediate risk to U.S national security.” The Pentagons’ roadmap explored the different ways climate change will affect military operations, from an increase in natural disaster responses to coastal military bases dealing with rising sea-levels. In addition to national security, these threats will affect the global community as a whole. The Worldwatch Institute released a brief comparing the threats of terrorism and climate change. Four major threats of climate change were detailed:

  1. The 2 billion individuals living in poverty would be seriously impacted as extreme weather, diseases, and droughts became more prevalent. This could cause national and transnational confrontations over resources and wealth redistribution.
  2. Numerous factors such as drought, extreme weather, and population expansion may result in widespread food insecurities.
  3. Droughts, floods, and extreme weather could enhance the stresses on shared water resources. Over 780 million people currently live without access to clean water. Climate change would further exacerbate this problem.
  4. A large number of the global population may be forced to relocate as storms, floods, rising sea levels, or food and water insecurities worsen. This displacement could create conflict as more individuals would be competing for the same resources.


All of these challenges have the potential to exacerbate conflict at the local, national,and international levels.

In a recent interview with the media outlet Vox, President Obama was asked whether he believed terrorism is widely overstated in comparison to climate change. He answered with a resounding, “absolutely.” Press Secretary Josh Earnest has since explained that the Presidents statement was based on the fact that on average, more individuals, especially within the United States, are more likely to be affected by the threat “of climate change, or (by) the spread of a disease, than (by) terrorism.”

Adding evidence to these claims, a recent study explains how the Syrian Civil War has been influenced by complications caused by climate change. The Middle East experienced a drought that lasted from 2006-2010 and resulted in the migration of farmers and other rural Syrians away from the countryside. Wherever they moved, ‘climate refugees’ put additional pressure on the local economies and already-scare basic resources. These environmental factors played a part in the unrest that followed and the formation of ISIS. These scientists paint a bleak future for the Middle East, as drought will likely “intensify for the next 20 years and beyond as a result of climate change.” Climate change is not the only driver of the Syrian conflict, but it is important to recognize the role that our changing environment plays in human political machinations.

The urgency surrounding climate change has added pressure to the global community as they prepare for the major climate conferences this year. The Climate Change Conference will be meeting in Bonn, Germany from June 1st-11th. The third and forth session of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) are also scheduled in Bonn from August 31st to September 4th and October 19th-23rd, all leading up to the 21st meeting of the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris from November 30th to December 11th. The UNFCCC is in the process of translating the negotiating text, which will be the basis of these conferences. Prior to the conferences, the states will articulate the contributions they are willing to commit to in order to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Officials are hoping the early release of this text will allow enough time for governments to deliberate before and during the meetings. The overall goal is to produce international agreements that states will follow proceeding the meetings to ensure that the global temperatures remain below the 2ºC threshold. As evidence grows for the links between climate change and conflict, negotiating a coherent and practical global agreement on climate change mitigation is more important than ever.

About the Author :

Jacey Taft graduated from the University of Massachusetts Boston in August 2014. She is currently working as a research assistant for the Center for Governance and Sustainability.

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