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Friday December 09, 2022

Climate change and national security

September 05, 2022

Pakistan is facing one of the worst floods in human history. The flood has impacted 33 million people putting 1/3rd of country under water. These are initial estimates and situation is getting worse with every passing day.

One of the estimates highlighted Pakistan would have to bear a loss of $28 billion in the form of destruction of infrastructure, livelihoods, crops, orchids and livestock etc. The flood is being tagged to climate change and debate on this issue is getting momentum.

Pakistan is running pole to pole to secure funding to help people and for the rehabilitation of infrastructure. However, one important aspect of climate change – security – is being missed in the debate. Literature suggests it is a serious threat to the national security. Owning to seriousness, UN Security Council recognised climate change as pertinent threat to the world peace and stability.

The UN General Assembly produced a detailed report in 2009 identifying five channels for possible implications of climate change on security i.e. vulnerability, development, coping and security, statelessness and international conflicts. Leading militaries of the world, including China, US, UK, EU and Canada, have categorically marked climate change as a serious security threat.

Expert community categorised climate change as a threat multiplier through human security (food insecurity, diseases, floods, droughts, resource scarcity and erosion of livelihoods etc.) and a direct threat to military preparedness, infrastructure and operations.

Despite high vulnerability, Pakistan is not treating climate change as a serious security threat. There is dearth of material which can help explore security dimensions of climate change on the basis of ground realities. There is only one study available which used primary data. The rest of studies are conceptual. The study was conducted by author of this article with the support of UNDP and NDU in 2015. The findings of the study were very surprising.

First, 90pc respondents identified Pakistan as one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change. Second, 87pc categorically recognised climate change a threat to livelihoods, food and water availability.

During the focus group discussion, they pointed out that scarcity of food, water and livelihood opportunities can lead to conflicts, riots and violence. They also highlighted lack of climate smart water governance.

Third, majority of respondents (64pc) strongly emphasised that climate change will make floods (64pc) and droughts (23pc) regular visitors to Pakistan. They emphasised that intensity and magnitude of disasters will have severe implications for the economic, social and security fabric of country.

The respondents, especially from Sindh and Balochistan, were more concerned about droughts as they had unpleasant memories of 1999-2003 Drought. They revealed millions of people impacted, thousands of animals died and hundreds of thousands of people had to migrate in search of livelihood.

Fourth, an overwhelming majority (79pc) of respondents said climate change is causing conflicts over natural resources. The answer was substantiated by the example from the floods of 2010 and onward. Owning to floods, a decent number of people lost their livelihoods and assets. They opted for migration to find livelihood opportunities.

However, they faced tough resistance from the local communities and provincial governments. Respondents were of the view that local communities felt due to influx of migrants, there will be competition over the ownership of resources. Sea intrusion in Badin is another case to explore on this front.

Fifth, main question of the study – security dimension of climate change - got an unexpected response. To our surprise, 83pc respondents stated climate change will certainly impact national security. They were also very vocal on the subject during the group discussions.

Majority of the respondents rank the impact on high, very high and exceptional high scales. Besides, some respondents from Balochistan highlighted a very interesting point. They stated drought of 1999-2003 played havoc with the people’s livelihoods and assets and poverty increased many folds. Pakistan’s enemies exploited the situation and created disturbance in Balochistan.

Although, we do not have any empirical study on this, but still, it is a very important observation. Pakistan must explore it in detail. In conclusion, it can be inferred that climate change is a pertinent threat to national security. Unfortunately, it is government which could not comprehend and devised rights set of policies.

Pakistan does not have any policy on the subject and even government did not bother to include any expert on the climate change and security in the Climate Change Council. The country needs to come out of this mentality and realise that climate change is a serious and multi-dimensional threat to national security which needs comprehensive response mechanisms.

Second, climate change-related disasters like floods, sea level rise and higher temperature of sea pose direct threat to military, navy and air force infrastructure and operations. Hence, the military should take a lead role in devising the national agenda of climate change by keeping a keen focus on the relationship between climate change and national security.

Pakistan can learn from China for devising national policy, especially from the establishment of “Programmes of Military Operations Other Than War” and “Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief”. Lastly, Pakistan must realise it is not a future threat. Climate change has already introduced conflicts in many countries, including Syria, Yemen and Sudan.

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