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No security against climate change

New Labour’s characterisation of climate change as a “security threat”, second only to terrorism in the pecking order, indicates how the state intends to respond to the results of global warming. And we’re not talking drastic cuts in carbon emissions here but a huge increase in the powers of the state over ordinary people.

The so-called National Security Strategy published yesterday says that Britain faces the risk of severe floods and that flood defences will not prevent serious damage to homes and communities. Extreme weather events “will become more frequent and more severe”. Climate change “is potentially the greatest challenge to global stability and security and therefore to national security”, says the document.

“Rising sea levels and disappearing ice will alter borders and open up new sea lanes, increasing the risk of territorial disputes. An increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events – floods, droughts and storms – will generate more intense humanitarian crises, adding further stresses on local, national and international structures.”

This is the most dramatic and pessimistic statement on climate change the government has ever made. What is significant is that it was made in an assessment of “national security” risks rather than, let’s say, a statement turning down planning permission for a new runway or a coal-fired power station.

And if climate change is to be characterised as a security risk, then what is required is a security response. The main actions arising from this report are the expansion of the spy agency MI5 to 4,000 spooks – double the number in 2001. Funding for the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, which is run by MI5, will increase by 10%. And there will be four new regional counter-terrorist units in addition to those already operating.

A standby force of civilian experts, consisting of former judges and ex-police and army officers, already exists, and will be 1,000-strong by June. Readers of this blog will remember that when the floods took place in Gloucester last year, it was the chief constable who took charge not the local council. This deadly combination of increased state surveillance and control, plus a total failure to implement any reductions in carbon emissions or universal energy conservation measures, is the only response that New Labour’s market state can make to the challenge of climate change.

The government’s report acknowledges that many of the results of global warming are “likely to fall most heavily on those countries least able to deal with them, and therefore most likely to suffer humanitarian disaster, but also to tip into instability, state failure or conflict”. Two recent reports underline this reality.

Minority Rights Group International has tracked the impact of climate change on minority communities - from Roma in Hungary, Dalits in India and African-Americans in New Orleans and found they already suffer most from extreme climate events. And the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s report has mapped out the areas of the world which will be most vulnerable to climate change in the future and found that the worst impact will be on indigenous peoples many of whom are already living on the edge of survival.

But opportunities to profit from climate change forge ahead. In New York on Monday, “The Green Exchange” was launched, to trade in carbon “futures” with four new products based on European and US emissions trading schemes. It will compete with the largest existing carbon trading exchange – the European Climate Exchange and the Chicago Climate Exchange, both owned by London-based Climate Exchange plc. which posted a profit this year for the first time, with revenues up 249%. As the capitalists of northern England said during their 19th century hey-day, “where there’s muck, there’s brass”.

Penny Cole
Environment editor
20 March 2008

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