General Clark: Climate change is a security challenge

Reading time: 3 minutes
21 May 2015

LONDON: In a BBC World interview last weekend, former Supreme Allied Commander Europe of NATO General Wesley Clark highlighted the security issues caused by climate change, and talked about the need to shape the political agenda around the topic.

Last September, opening Climate Week NYC, US Secretary of State John Kerry underscored the global security concerns that directly threatens the world’s nations, especially the US and China. In fact, the two most economically advanced countries have the potential to share gains of almost half a trillion dollars a year, if they’re able to open up trade and investment significantly. However, he argued, climate change directly threatens this compelling bilateral growth.

General Clark stressed the distinct social and economic effects of climate: “First of all, the consequences of climate change are now becoming increasingly clear: there are droughts, there are floods, and there are other events which have economic consequences – and the economic consequences will be severe enough over time to destabilize governments.

"Migration is affected, so agricultural efforts are changed: food production is hampered, someone has just to look at what happened to 600,000 small farmers in Syria as a result of prolonged drought.

"Syria is a particular case-study which clearly highlights how climate change can threaten any type of government. Behind the political uprising against Bashar Hafez al-Assad, President of Syria, there were some more concrete issues linked to the economy – and ultimately, to climate change. Assad “had done some land reform,” says the General, “giving sections of farmland to some of the most influential people in his regime. They took water that was going to small farmers and that, combined with the drought, drove several hundred thousand farmers off their land.”

When asked what the global response to climate change should be, the General answered: “I think there has to be a program, and the European Union actually took the lead in this, to reduce the output of greenhouse gases, but nations have walked away from their commitments.

"The US never committed, but Europe did. Basically the European Union has walked away, Canada walked away, Australia walked away. We [the US] haven’t really made a legally binding commitment: there’s no monitoring mechanismno enforcement mechanism, and there is no real incentive mechanism here.”

Such words highlight a failure of politics, he said, something that is even more alarming in light of the fast-approaching COP21 in Paris, where heads of state and government are being called upon to find a global, binding climate treaty.

But General Clark invites us not to surrender: “The President is not giving up,” he says, “and the Obama administration is taking some very strong actions to reduce carbon dioxide emissions."

With the US Presidential elections coming up next year, when asked what the message to the public from candidates to the Presidency should be, he said: “Candidates for the higher office have to have a vision,” he says. “Sometimes it doesn’t work: when I ran for office, and I was in a convention, I had a lot of reporters who listened and one of them told me ‘General, your problem is you have to have a vision on how to be elected next week, not one of where the country will in the next 50 or 60 years’”.

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