by Alister Doyle / Reuters –
OSLO (January 14, 2004) — The United Nations wants to study links between the environment and human conflict to see how future wars might be sparked by factors like global warming.
Pollution, droughts, floods, storms, desertification, and rising sea levels are among possible triggers of wars in a world with more and more people competing for limited resources.
“The environment can be a trigger of conflict but we don’t know enough about it,” Steve Lonergan, director of the UN Environment Program division of early warning and assessment in Nairobi, told Reuters.
A new UNEP survey of governments around the world showed that the two main gaps in environmental understanding were links between the environment and conflict, as well as the environment and poverty, he said.
“Under climate change we expect more extreme events, more floods, more droughts,” said Lonergan, a Canadian scientist.
He added that global warming could in turn lead to instability by forcing people to move to other areas, causing conflict with people already living there.
Many scientists say that emissions of gases like carbon dioxide, mainly from cars and factories, are blanketing the planet and driving up temperatures. “But this is not just about climate change. Resource scarcity and abundance can also contribute to conflict,” he said. Abundant natural resources like diamonds and metals can also cause conflicts.
He said that environment ministers from around the world, due to meet in South Korea in late March, were likely to approve a new drive to widen U.N. understanding of the environment and links to conflicts and poverty.
UNEP might set up a new secretariat on environmental peace and conflict, he said. “The classic case is water scarcity in the Middle East,” Lonergan said. Lack of water is one underlying cause of conflict between Israel and Syria and Israel and the Palestinians. Environmental damage has been a factor in political unrest in nations from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Haiti, he said.