Weather chaos could trigger civil unrest
Oxford study calls on Western governments to overhaul security and disaster planning
Jan 28, 2008 04:30 AM
LONDON–The world’s wealthiest countries could face the beginnings of societal
breakdown by mid-century in the form of boiling domestic unrest over climate
change, a new British report warns.
A tide of protest against polluting companies and perceived government inaction
and, in extreme cases, the emergence of new forms of ecoterrorism are among
scenarios outlined by security think tank the Oxford Research Group.
The report, An Uncertain Future: Law Enforcement, National Security and Climate
Change, sounds a warning quite different from the conventional assumption that
carbon-induced global warming could trigger waves of environmental refugees from
abroad driven by the quest for food, water and shelter.
“Most analysis of global warming focuses on the potential for security threats from
`over there’ in the form of mass migration,” said report author Chris Abbott of
Bristol University’s Centre for Governance and International Affairs.
“That may well be the case. But our research indicates that there is a range of
potential threats from civil unrest within the United Kingdom, Canada, the United
States – all the Western nations, in fact. We see those threats growing more acute
over time, if governments continually fail to protect us from climate change.”
The Oxford report calls on Western governments to overhaul their approach to
security and disaster planning, with an emphasis on helping police, security and
military forces adapt to preventative, rather than reactive, strategies. A
conventional strategy of using force to deter unrest, the report says, is doomed to
Abbott cited the staging of a “Climate Camp” protest village outside London’s
Heathrow Airport last August as an example of the danger of “tarring a whole
movement with the extremist brush.” Despite a rash of media reports warning that
“ecoterrorists” intended to cripple commercial aviation in Britain, the protest
came and went without a single flight being disturbed.
“The term ecoterrorism is applied very loosely and it is a dangerous game,” Abbott
told the Toronto Star. “The vast majority of the social environmental movement has
a legitimate agenda and does not deserve such an unfair label. But if you look at
current trends and extrapolate the impact of government inaction in the coming
decades, the possibility of far greater unrest later in this century is a serious
The report says that, because Europe and North America have a far greater capacity
to adapt to rapid climate change, neither continent is likely to engage in
climate-related regional conflict predicted in the most resource-depleted parts of
the developing world.
What is “almost certain,” the report said, is that by 2050 droughts, food scarcity
and flooding would trigger the movement of as many as 200 million environmental
refugees. The vast majority is likely to flow toward the developed world, said
Abbott. But internal migration is also a factor that is likely to come with its own
Acknowledging that climate change and security is “a young area of analysis,” the
Oxford report said its predictions are likely to change, for better or for worse,
over the coming decades.