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How climate change can affect national security

As predicted, parts of the earth would become too hot to sustain life and the rising sea levels would submerge islands and low-lying coastal areas of various countries. Resultantly, the rising seas, droughts, food and water shortages will trigger large scale relocation of people both within their countries as also trans-international borders.

analysis Updated: Nov 05, 2018 13:31 IST
In the recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released at Inchon, South Korea has cautioned that to avoid ‘far-reaching’ effects of global climate change, the international community must act with greater urgency.(Reuters)

The recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released at Inchon, South Korea, has said that to avoid far-reaching effects of global climate change, the international community must act with greater urgency. As per its assessment, global warming is likely to reach 1.5 degrees Celsius between 2030 and 2052, if it continues to rise at the current rate. The planet has already warmed up by about one degree Celsius as compared to the pre-industrial age temperatures and every 0.5 degree Celsius rise in warming, portends dire consequences. The report has also underscored India’s vulnerability.

As predicted, parts of the earth would become too hot to sustain life and the rising sea levels would submerge islands and low-lying coastal areas of various countries. As a result, the rising seas, droughts, food and water shortages will trigger large scale relocation of people both within their countries as also across international borders. These movements will drive intrastate and interstate instability and future conflicts.

While the issue is being dealt with by the signatory nations to the Paris Agreement through comprehensive strategies, militaries all over the world, will have to innovate, adapt and transform to remain ready and relevant to fulfil their national security mandates in an environment beset by the perils of climate change. In the Indian context, melting of glaciers, flash floods, encroaching seas, cyclones, rising temperatures in the deserts and plains, forest fires and higher water levels in the riverine terrain will necessitate a conscious re-examination of the ways we fulfil our constitutional obligations. Our military’s peacetime locations, operational deployments, equipment profile, organisational structures, logistic sustenance, tactics, operational art and war fighting strategies will have to be revisited. Internal security management architecture, too, would require sprucing up. Since transformation in large organisations is a time consuming process, we need to act fast to think through the challenge with collective wisdom and draw up necessary road maps.

The policymakers will have to be mindful of the littoral surrounding the Bay of Bengal, which is among the most vulnerable regions of the world and can be the source of regional instability. As per the assessment of some subject matter experts, additional global warming will submerge the coastal areas in Bangladesh, Myanmar and the Indian states of West Bengal, Orissa and parts of Andhra Pradesh thus setting off large scale migration of the so called climate refugees towards India. As per Muniruzzaman, the chairman of the Global Military Advisory Council on climate change, the number of such refugees could well be around 20 million. Preventing their entry via our land borders and the coastline will be a huge challenge for the security forces. It will require a review of the border and coastline management resources along with the rules of engagement, which will require revision in the backdrop of our national policy in the 2030s. This policy will have to strike a balance between our national security interests and the humanitarian obligations.

We should strengthen the regional collaborative mechanisms as part of our national strategy on climate change. The defence cooperation between the militaries of the region should focus on creating joint parallel command structures to facilitate a synergised response in the wake of a natural or a man made calamity. These mechanisms should also be effectively interfaced with the UN agencies and other non-governmental organisations operating in the region. As an emerging great power, India should be seen leading this initiative.

We could consider raising additional ecological Territorial Army battalions with the retired military personnel to undertake the much needed afforestation in areas that have been plundered over the years by some unscrupulous elements of our society. Moreover, the retired military engineers could also be co-opted in the climate geo-engineering initiatives, when launched to remove carbon dioxide from the air and limiting the sunlight reaching the planet surface.

The IPCC report will certainly raise the awareness levels of the international community on the stark reality of climate change. Hopefully it will also urge President Trump to further tone down his obdurate stance on the issue. Incidentally, the United States had ranked second among 20 countries that were identified as major emitters of carbon dioxide by the International Energy Agency in 2015. Political will is the key to successful implementation of the Paris Agreement, which aims at ensuring the temperature levels remain below 1.5 degree Celsius. Since time is running out, all nations must remain focused in fulfilling their commitment to climate change goals.

General Bikram Singh is the former Chief of the Army Staff

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Nov 05, 2018 13:31 IST