ACTION ALERT: Preventing Climate Wars

September 4th, 2011 - by admin

Friends Committee on National Legislation – 2011-09-04 23:29:27

(September 2011) — Climate wars are not a thing of the future. Many countries already struggling with problems such as poverty, poor governance, and scarce resources are also experiencing water scarcity, rising sea levels, and extreme weather events. Climate change is deepening and magnifying societal tensions and instability around the world.

As historically the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, the US has a responsibility to help address the impacts of climate change and prevent future climate wars. FCNL has been raising awareness about the connections between the two, and political leaders are also beginning to discuss these issues.

One important step that Congress can take now is to ratify the Law of the Sea treaty. The U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) establishes which parts of the ocean and its resources can be claimed by nations and which are part of the global commons, and defines the rights and responsibilities of countries in sustainably managing the world’s oceans.

The US has signed the treaty and is abiding by its terms, yet it has not joined the 161 countries that have ratified it. Quakers have been advocating for this treaty since the first U.N. Conference on the Law of the Sea in 1956.

One example of why this treaty is necessary is the brewing conflict over the Arctic. Russia, Canada, Norway, Denmark, and the US all claim rights to the Arctic, where natural resource wealth in the form of oil, gas and minerals are increasingly accessible as global warming melts the ice. If the Senate ratifies UNCLOS, the US will both be bound by and be able to contribute to conflict mediation in territorial disputes in the Arctic.

FCNL is one of a few organizations in Washington that is working to educate policymakers on the ways in which climate change is fueling deadly conflict and what can be done to help prevent climate wars. Learn more with our flyer 3 Things Congress Can Do Now.

Three Ways Climate Change
Can Fuel Deadly Conflict

Many developing nations struggle with poverty, unstable governments, fragile infrastructure, and ongoing conflict. These challenges can be magnified by the effects of climate change, which can in turn deepen violent conflict and threaten US security interests.

The nomadic Turkana people of northern Kenya have herded cattle, sheep, and goats for centuries. As rising temperatures and drought have diminished scarce resources like water and grazing land, long-standing tensions between the Turkana and the nearby Pokot and Samburu tribes have exploded into violent conflict. Skirmishes have killed more than 400 people and are spreading across borders, which lead to clashes with the Ugandan military in 2009.

In a world where 1.1 million people already lack secure access to drinking water, increased water scarcity could exacerbate deadly conflict in the Middle East, Africa and parts of South Asia.

In July 2010, record-breaking monsoon rainstorms over the mountainous areas of northwest Pakistan caused massive flooding that covered almost one-fifth of the country. The floods and the resulting disease and hunger killed close to 2,000 people and affected 20 million others. The disaster also raised US security concerns and exacerbated local conflicts in a region already wrought by war.

Refugees International estimates that 36 million people are currently displaced within their own countries as a result of natural disasters, and by 2050, up to 200 million people may be displaced because of natural disasters and climate change. Such events will occur more frequently as climate change accelerates, creating more and more flashpoints for violent conflict.

Russia, Canada, Norway, Denmark, and the United States all claim rights to the rich resources of the Arctic, where wealth lies under the ice in the form of oil, gas, and minerals. Rising global temperatures are making the Arctic sea increasingly navigable for shipping, fishing, and mining. As the ice becomes less of an obstacle to accessing resources, competition for access will likely heighten and the fragile ecosystems of the Arctic will be put at risk.

Already border countries have begun to bicker: in 2007 Russia planted a flag at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean. And climate change is already threatening the way of life for thousands of native people who live in the Arctic.

Three Things Congress Can Do
To Help Prevent Climate Wars

Adaptation programs help the poorest and most vulnerable people adapt to the impacts of climate change. The funds currently provided by the international community are not nearly commensurate to developing country needs. Congress should increase international adaptation funding to $25 billion annually to help prevent deadly conflict fueled by climate change.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is a vital tool for reducing US greenhouse gas emissions and national contributions to climate change, yet some members of Congress want to block the EPA’s authority to do so. Congress must ensure that the EPA can continue regulating emissions to help slow the impacts of climate change.

The U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) guides the international management of the world’s oceans. The US should join with the 161 countries that have ratified the treaty, which would allow the US to help mediate territorial disputes in the Arctic.

What are the most significant impacts of climate change for developing countries?

• Desertification

• Extreme weather events

• Changes in fresh water distribution

• Higher rates of infectious disease

• Rising sea levels


Write to your members of Congress and urge them to fund climate change adaptation programs, protect EPA and ratify UNCLOS.

Build a relationship with your legislators. Visit FCN’s grassroots toolkit online for ideas on climbing the ladder of engagement at

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