Climate change: old news and a new start in 2023

The facts are simple and brutal: looking back at average global temperatures over four decades, 

  • 19 of the 20 hottest years on record occurred since 2000;
  • 29 of the 30 hottest years on record occurred since 1990;
  • 38 of the 40 hottest years on record occurred since 1980.

In short, each decade of the four has been hotter than the previous one. And what it is leading to is what we have seen in 2022 – the year when 35 per cent of a major country was flooded, when another had its worst ever drought, when a continent experienced a once-in-500-year drought, and when, at the end of the year, another major country was ripped into by a cyclone bomb – all that and more, and worse, and harder to bear.

Yes, it’s old news – older than you might think – but it’s worthwhile to keep on recalling it, so the increased awareness of climate change in 2022 does not go to waste.

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The Great Acceleration

You know, it is easy to understand how it gets to be a drag, having to think about things in new and different ways.

If you have been working on international development over the past 30 years since the end of the Cold War, in a government, or inter-governmental agencies, or non-governmental organisations, or switching among them, you will know what I mean. First there was development, then you had to add gender and human rights, then environment, and then conflict and peace. Wouldn’t it be great to get back to working just on development? And those folk over there could work on environment or gender or peace and conflict if they want and, you know, just get on with stuff.

Likewise, there are complaints and doubts within the humanitarian community about how their work is complicated by the people who want them to think about development and peace as well as simply meeting immediate human needs.

But watch out. As they say, people who are wise: be careful what you wish for.

In various governments among the traditional donors of international development assistance, things are beginning to unfold that could lead to a distinct narrowing of focus, leaving much of development and peace out of the picture and concentrating on meeting humanitarian emergencies.

This blog post is about one reason – an environmental reason – why that is deeply problematic, why it is essential to grasp the nettle and think about the full range of problems that confront peace and development today. Just one reason among several. The argument swings on the big changes in human impact on the environment that have unfolded since about 1950.

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2022: the pear-shaped year

I hope my levity does not make it seem as if I am dismissing the human reality of the horrors we have witnessed in 2022 or downplaying the seriousness of the events and their implications. But it is the way I express my assessment of the year in a brief interview filmed and disseminated as part of SIPRI’s Peace Points series.

It has been a year of war, crisis, the impact of climate change, growing hunger in poorer countries, and increased cost of living everywhere – rich and poor countries alike. And it came on the back of three years of pandemic for most of the world and a fourth year for China.

There is no point in sugaring the pill. The upshot is that this has been a bad year for peace and security . The only way we can figure out how to deal with all of that is to face it head-on with eyes open. Here’s the film.

The bright spot is that more people are paying attention. That’s the starting point for something better.

Climate change and security: here’s the analysis, when’s the action?

Last week’s communiqué from the G7 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Lübeck included a statement on climate change and security. In welcoming a report, A New Climate for Peace, to which my organisation International Alert contributed, the communiqué moves the issue forward and declares it to be worthy of high level political attention. Unfortunately, what is to be done is not so clear. Continue reading

Resources – the coming crunch and some things that could be done about it

As I remarked already, and it’s the starting point for the new edition of my State of the World Atlas (published this week), the human population is seven times greater than it was 200 years ago but our use of resources is disproportionately greater still: we produce 50 times as much, using 60 times as much water and 75 times as much energy. Where is that all going – and perhaps more to the point, how long can it keep on going? A new report offers insights. Continue reading

Water, conflict and peace

Water is a basic condition of life. We depend upon it for daily use, for agriculture, for industry and infrastructure. A shortage, an excess and deficient quality can all undermine welfare, impair human security, hold back economic development and in some circumstances generate conflict. The London-based Foreign Policy Centre has published Tackling the World Water Crisis, an edited collection of articles in which mine looks at the peace and security issues around water. Continue reading