On 8 May 1974, Henry Kissinger sent a cable from the U.S. State Department to the Secretary General of the UN. The cable contained a letter to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Secretary General D.A. Davies from Robert M. White, permanent representative of the U.S. to the WMO:
Dear Mr. Secretary-General. Increasingly, world leaders have expressed concern over indications of possible long-term climate change. This concern has become particularly prominent in relation to the Sahel drought.
In his address on April 15, 1974, to the sixth special session of the United Nations General Assembly, Secretary Kissinger called attention to this problem, noting that its implications for global food and population policies are ominous. He proposed that this problem be urgently investigated with the objective of identifying guidelines for international action. Potentially, the resources of many parts of the UN system will be involved. A better understanding of the meteorological aspects of climate change, together with an appreciation of the impact of such change on the well being of the world, is basic to the development of solutions.
There are three primary causes for this inaction. The first is the power of the fossil fuel industry lobby, the second is the level of capital chained to fossil fuels, and the third is the political consequences of redirecting a consumerist culture towards a revaluation of the environment; in that pressure to resolve other imbalances (such as social and economic inequality) would form. The integrity and stability of a sustainable society would demand such changes.
The political inertia of inaction will soon find itself swept away by the climate system, and there are signs that the argument has already begun to turn to which adaptive choices should be embraced or resisted. The damage of inaction has already occurred, the only question left is whether more extreme climate paths can be avoided.
Human-induced climate forcing is increasing by 2.7 ppm (parts per million) of atmospheric Co2 per year (the pre-industrial level was 0.0025 ppm). In the last 53 years human activity has added 77 ppm atmospheric Co2. In 2012 concentrations reached 393.84 ppm. Throughout the previous 800,000 years (during the cycle of glaciations) the Co2 average was 270 ppm, with levels never rising above 300 or falling below 180 ppm. The difference between an ice age and an interglacial period is 120 ppm; since 1751 we have added 109 ppm. The current rate of climate forcing is greater than anything observed in climate history – it will create tipping-points and the first is already happening.
400 ppm of Co2 is often seen by scientists as a milestone. The world has not experienced this level of Co2 since the Pliocene Epoch, around 3 and a half million years ago. The average surface temperatures during this period were approximately 3°C warmer than pre-industrial levels – it was a radically different world from the one we now inhabit. Of course, Co2 levels will not stop at 400 ppm. At the current rate of Co2 emissions, the critical 500 to 550 ppm barrier will be breeched within the next 40 to 60 years. Somewhere in between these levels of climate forcing lies the 4°C world, a place where “civilization would be at risk”. Mark Maslin, professor of climatology at University College London at COP 19, 16 November 2013:
“We are already planning for a 4°C world because that is where we are heading. I do not know of any scientists who do not believe that. We are just not tackling the enormity of the task we face to keep it below the agreed 2°C danger threshold. If we had the kind of politicians we really need we could still put in place policies that can save the planet from going over the danger level."
A 4°C world will pose unprecedented challenges to humanity. It is clear that large regional as well as global scale damages and risks are very likely to occur well before this level of warming is reached.
The burden of climate change in the future will very likely be borne differentially by those in regions already highly vulnerable to climate change and variability. Given that it remains uncertain whether adaptation and further progress toward development goals will be possible at this level of climate change, the projected 4°C warming simply must not be allowed to occur.
On 7 and 8 March 2013, U.S. Pacific Command, Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III took part in a series of meetings with foreign policy and national security specialists at Tufts and Harvard Universities which examined the various security issues related to the Pacific. Afterwards, Locklear spoke to the Boston Globe about the threats facing the U.S. in the Pacific region:
“[the warming planet] is probably the most likely thing that is going to happen.. that will cripple the security environment, probably more likely than the other scenarios we all often talk about. You have the real potential here in the not-too-distant future of nations displaced by rising sea level. Certainly weather patterns are more severe than they have been in the past. I’m into the consequence management side of it. We have interjected into our multilateral dialogue - even with China and India - the imperative to get military capabilities aligned [for] when the effects of climate change start to impact these massive populations. If it goes bad, you could have hundreds of thousands or millions of people displaced and then security will start to crumble pretty quickly.’’
Locklear also mentioned another national security concern - cyberspace, which he described as a modern “wild west”, stating that “the only security you brought with you was what you carried on you.” However, although he lamented that “We made cyberspace as kind of an ungoverned territory and we haven’t been able to get our arms around how to govern it yet,” he knew that this was not strictly true. The U.S. has always controlled the internet’s infrastructure and for well over a decade has sought to both militarise cyberspace and censor its content.
The attempt to “govern” by the so-called Five Eyes alliance of the U.S., Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand will likely result in a Balkanisation of cyberspace. The EU, Finland, Russia, China, Brazil, the Bolivarian Alliance and Iran are currently seeking to shelter themselves from U.S. surveillance. For Finland, Germany and Brazil this may include building independent internet infrastructures and cutting the cables connected to the NSA. The political tectonics of cyberspace do not conform to 'Cold War' NATO patterns. In some regions oppositional balances of power are being reinforced, while in others, allies are being pushed apart. Changes are being seen elsewhere. The new tech industries are indignant that their prestige and interests have been disregarded and damaged by the Five Eyes security agencies. How long before the tech giants attempt to protect themselves by building their own infrastructures and, for that matter, anyone who can afford them?
The Five Eyes' "consolidation of power" is potentially a catalyst towards the opposite, fracturing the world's information exchanges and making cyberspace ungovernable. But what lies beneath the birth of the surveillance states? What is being consolidated against?
The UK Ministry of Defence has published (February 2010) a similar report entitled 'Global Strategic Trends - Out to 2040'. The report states: "defence is likely to increase in importance as population growth, climate change, resource scarcity and instability, threaten the ability of states to provide for their populations. These factors are likely to result in an emphasis on defending access to the physical necessities of survival."
Demand for food, water, and energy will grow by approximately 35, 40, and 50 percent respectively owing to an increase in the global population and the consumption patterns of an expanding middle class. Climate change will worsen the outlook for the availability of these critical resources.
Climate change analysis suggests that the severity of existing weather patterns will intensify. Much of the decline in precipitation will occur in the Middle East and northern Africa as well as western Central Asia, southern Europe, southern Africa, and the US Southwest.
Many countries probably won’t have the wherewithal to avoid food and water shortages without massive help from outside. Many developing and fragile states face increasing strains from resource constraints and climate change, pitting different tribal and ethnic groups against one another and accentuating the separation of various identities.