Drought, Refugees, Revolution and War – Military Prepares for Climate Doomsday

March 22, 2010
By Jenny Fyall

Military chiefs are holding "back room" discussions on how to cope with the threat of a world ravaged by wars provoked by uncontrolled climate change, an expert has warned.

Gwynne Dyer, an influential lecturer in international affairs, said if the climate continues to change at its current rate there will be global conflict in decades.

Tens of millions of climate refuges unable to feed themselves in their own dried-up countries will aim for places like Scotland where conditions will remain favourable.

These countries will in turn use their military powers to barricade their borders, leading to wars over land, food and water.

Mr Dyer was speaking to The Scotsman ahead of the Edinburgh International Science Festival next month, when he will give a talk called "Climate Wars".

He said he had spoken to members of the military around the globe about climate change.

"It turns out that all the major military players are looking very seriously now at the kinds of roles they will be playing in a warming world," he said. "This was all being done in back rooms and not discussed in public, but definitely being done."

He believes conflict will occur for three reasons:

• Climate refugees. Tens of millions of climate refugees from the tropics and subtropics will sweep in waves to cooler countries, no longer to survive in nations where crops fail.

• Failed states. Africa and the Middle East are likely to have particular problems, with leaders ousted due to anger over famine. The fallout would be waves of refugees, terrorism and piracy.

• Water wars. Conflicts will flare up between countries – such as India and Pakistan and Iraq and Turkey – that share a river system – over the water supply.

Mr Dyer believes Britain would become a very desirable place to be under global warming.

Under a scenario where greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current rate, some tropical countries are expected to see a rise of 7C within the next half century.

However, the projections suggest Britain would get just 3C warmer.

"If you had to pick a place to sit it out, Britain is one of the most favoured places on the planet," he said. "Most of the land is farmable. In Scotland, any bit of land you can grow food on will grow better at 3C warmer. We are surrounded by ocean so it will always be raining here – and the ocean also keeps the refugees out."

He said hushed-up conversations were already taking place in Brussels about defence strategies.

The most drastic involved not just Africa but subtropical countries such as Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece.

"The third line of defence is that you cut the Mediterranean countries loose and put your defences on the Alps and the Pyrenees," he said.

"At the moment we've got freedom of movement, of course, so any Spanish or Italian or Greek citizen can come and set up here, which is fine if they do it in tens of thousands but not fine if they do it in millions."

Mr Dyer said he thought the situation was both "distressing" and alarming. But he added: "The happy side to it is that we don't really have to go there.

"If we can only get this sorted out and not get into those higher temperature rises, it never happens.

"This is not an inevitable future, this is a contingent future, but we are not doing very well at preventing it at the moment."