EU paper warns of climate chaos

Rising temperatures will damage even strong economies and pose a global threat to security, top officials say.
Extreme climate conditions provoked by global warming could lead to “unprecedented” international security threats, with “serious security risks” even if climate change is contained within the European Union’s target of a temperature rise of 2°C above pre-industrial levels, European leaders were told on March 14.
The warning was contained in a blunt seven-page paper presented at the European Council in Brussels by the EU’s top foreign policy officials: European Commission external relations chief Benita Ferrero-Waldner and Javier Solana, the EU’s High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy.
The paper argues that Europe must work internationally to contain the most serious impacts of climate change, which will be felt in already vulnerable areas but which threaten to cause damage “even in robust economies”.
Cleo Paskal, an Associate Fellow at Chatham House who contributed to the drafting of the Ferrero-Waldner/Solana paper, says the “assumption that the developing world will be hit hardest may be overstated.”
Question of strength
“There is an over-estimation of the west’s resilience,” she says. The more climate-vulnerable parts of the world are already used to dealing with disasters, and have “coping mechanisms that we do not.” Paskal cites the cases of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, and devastating floods in Mumbai, India at around the same time. In the latter case, the government response was inadequate but the strength of social infrastructures helped Mumbai bounce back. In New Orleans, meanwhile, both official and social infrastructures failed.
The EU report is a useful contribution but is mainly a concise clarification of the issues with a call for more resources at EU level to help plan for climate change. The IPCC’s van Ypersele says this could lead to the report being seen as a device to attract more funds from member states, though it may also encourage EU leaders to redouble their efforts to mitigate climate change, or to focus more seriously on adapting to the consequences.
Limited vision
But the focus on climate change may be misplaced, says Cleo Paskal. Global warming is just part of a broader issue of general environmental change, which is often exacerbated by local circumstances and man-made local problems – for example, devastation was wreaked in New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina not just because of the storm, but also because areas of the city had been allowed to subside because of swampland drainage. “We need an accurate assessment of what the real problems are,” says Paskal. Despite the Fererro-Waldner/Solana paper, this is still lacking. Read more

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