World’s most wanted: climate change

Human-induced climate change must be treated as an immediate threat to national security and prosperity, says John Ashton, the UK’s climate change envoy. He argues that we must secure a stable climate whatever the cost, as failure to do so will cost far more.

The first priority of any government is to provide the conditions necessary for security and prosperity in return for the taxes that citizens pay.

Climate change is potentially the most serious threat there has ever been to this most fundamental of social contracts.

On 28 August 2005, New Orleans was a prosperous, stable and relatively harmonious city. By the next evening, most of its population had been driven from their homes and lacked access to electricity, food, fresh water and medical services.

Within a week, gunmen roamed the streets as law and order broke down; simmering racial and political tensions exploded as the buck for dealing with the catastrophe – as well as preventing it – was hurled about. For months, neighbouring cities and states were inundated with refugees as the political and racial stresses spilled across the country. New Orleans is unlikely ever fully to recover.

Hurricane Katrina hit a city in the world’s richest nation. If anywhere should have been resilient enough to deal with the force of nature, it was the United States.

The economic and security impacts of extreme climatic events in more vulnerable regions, such as Africa and South Asia, or more strategically important regions, like the Middle East, will be more dramatic.

We can see this already in Africa. A major contributing factor to the conflict in Darfur has been a shift in rainfall that has put nomadic herders and settled pastoralists into conflict with each other.

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