The heat and its implications

Around the world, a series of new “hottest ever” local records have been set. Africa has experienced what is probably its hottest ever daily temperature. The world’s highest “daily minimum” temperature (i.e., the lowest temperature in that 24-hour period) has been recorded – over 42°C in Oman, for those of you trying to handle a modest mid-30s of an afternoon by the Med. Northern Arctic sea ice is breaking up for the first time on record. What are the trends and what are the implications for peace and security?

I go over the main points in this brief film in the SIPRI Peace Points series.

The trends look ominous. One forecast suggests the next four years will be another particularly warm period. Another, coming from the UK Meteorological Office, suggests that by the 2040s, what we currently regard as unusually hot summers will be the average in Europe (see film clip below).*

We have seen enough in the last few years to understand the causal chain that, depending on other circumstances such as the condition of the economy and of the state, can lead from a changing climate through insecurity of water supply, food insecurity, social instability, political upheaval and worse.

But there is also good news. Awareness of climate change is beginning to seep through in unexpected places. Fox News carried the Arctic ice story on its website. Britain’s Daily Mail newspaper in June featured an article saying the link between climate change and the heatwave is just hot air. By August, it carried a quite different article pointing out that no less a figure than Margaret Thatcher warned about global warming and this summer proves her right.

The climate-security links are also starting to be taken seriously. Sweden’s presidency of the UN Security Council in July helped a lot. There was a full debate on the impact of climate change on peace and security and what can be done. An EU High Level meeting in June put the same issues front and centre.

So things are beginning to move. The reality of climate change is sinking home in those few places where it hasn’t already and the links between climate change and insecurity are starting to be addressed. It’s a long road to walk – much longer than it should be – and we risk some really serious damage as moments of self-reinforcing feedback in the Earth System take us to a tipping point beyond which climate change is irreversible. But at least we are beginning, even if not quickly enough, to walk.

 

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* A UK Met Office scientist explains the trend line about six minutes into this BBC Newsnight clip:

 

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