Insights from a warming world

Climate change is one of the most relevant topics for analysis in the field of geopolitics today. In the second half of this century (between 2050 and 2070) the atmosphere's concentration of carbon dioxide from greenhouse gas emissions (560 parts per million) might be twice the level reached during the industrial revolution (280 parts per million).

The global warming from this concentration is a phenomenon that will affect all aspects of daily life, including institutional and political systems.

It is difficult to understand current political conflicts if we don't consider how greatly they are influenced by changes in the geophysical configurations of certain areas because of warming temperatures. These changes generate differing social and political consequences depending on the geographic areas affected. In other words, although warming is a global phenomenon, its effects are varied and specific in different regions.

In addition to these differences in the geopolitical evaluation of climate change, we also need to consider the social and economic profiles of different continents and nations.

Let's look at Africa, for example. Here, atmospheric warming is accelerating desertification. This means increased hunger, poverty and human migrations to search for more hospitable regions. The paradox is that the countries that will suffer most are part of a continent that produces relatively low greenhouse gas emissions – the primary cause of climate change. According to the most recent estimates, emissions per capita in Africa in 2008 were three times higher than in 1950, but they represent only about 6.6% of those recorded in North America.

Another example is the islands that are particularly exposed to the rise in sea level, another consequence of global warming that is literally changing our planet's appearance. We need to consider the sea level rise during the decade 2001-2010 which was 3 millimeters per year. That is twice the annual rise observed throughout the entire 20th century, when it was 1.6 millimeters per year. In Africa, the delta regions of the Nile and Niger Rivers are threatened by the penetration of oceanic saline waters, with disastrous consequences in Egypt and Nigeria, two of the continent's biggest economies.

In addition, extreme climate phenomena are now occurring all over the world, including in developed countries in the West. In the poorest areas of sub-Saharan Africa, for instance, intense rains threaten the habitat and the agricultural yields in many regions, particularly the coastal areas of the Gulf of Guinea and that between Kenya and Mozambique.

All these phenomena increase the risk of climate change conflicts. The hunt for natural resources – in particular water – is destined to intensify in the near future. We only need to consider the importance of controlling the groundwater in the Jordan Valley in the Israeli-Palestinian case, or the competition for the Nile waters among Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt.

Awareness of these risks from climate change is still limited, but they will be one of the frontiers of strategic analysis in the future, as demonstrated by the interest of the world's major economies in the study of the geopolitical consequences of climate change.

With increasing awareness of climate impacts and the progress noted in visualising these, the challenge of building resilience will become easier. Yet much action is still need to prevent dangerous climate change.

Lucio Caracciolo, Connect4Climate | The Guardian