With so many immediate crises to deal with, it would be easy for world leaders to put the issue of climate change on the back burner. As European leaders continue to battle with Greece’s financial crisis, terrorist attacks drive tourists from Tunisia, and conflicts continue to divide Syria and Iraq, then a climate summit to be held in Paris late this year is well down the politicials ‘to-do’ list. But although the worst consequences of failing to deal with climate change may still be decades or even centuries away, it doesn’t make them less important to address. In a new report issued this week by the UK’s Foreign Office, a Commonwealth and Foreign Office minister says that we should address the threat of climate change in the same way as we do the dangers of terrorism and nuclear weapons proliferation, and look at the ‘worst case scenarios’ and how likely they are to occur. For just as in matters of national security, failing to consider and prepare for the worst makes it more likely that it will actually happen.
The report ‘Climate change: a risk assessment’ was commissioned by the Foreign Office and written by experts from the UK, USA, China and India, led by the UK’s climate change envoy, Professor Sir David King. In the forward, Baroness Joyce Anelay, minister of state at the Commonwealth and Foreign Office, says the indirect impacts of global warming, such as deteriorating international security, could be far greater than the direct effects, such as flooding. Focusing only on the direct effects is too narrow an approach, she says. Rather than treating climate change as a long-range weather forecast, we need to assess the systemic risks, such as those affecting international security.