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Climate change a major security threat on par with terrorism: European officials

OTTAWA — European officials are warning that climate change is a major threat to global security on par with terrorism and cyber attacks.

And that should give world leaders and their governments some extra impetus, the officials say, to reach a binding plan to curb global warming when they meet at the international climate change summit next week in Paris.

The connection between climate change and international security was the subject of a day-long meeting in Ottawa, which assembled diplomats and security experts from Europe, the United States and Canada.

The meeting took place as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prepares to depart for a three-country trip that will end on Monday at the United Nations climate talks in Paris.

Nicolas Regaud, a special adviser on international relations for the French defence ministry, said droughts and famines caused by climate change will force mass migrations of people into already crowded cities — fuelling terrorism and organized crime.

The connection is something that French officials are mindful of as they prepare to welcome the world to Paris for the climate summit, known as COP 21.

Regaud said that "all of France's political energy, to the highest level" is committed to making COP 21 a success, and "these senior political authorities have repeatedly stressed the close connection between climate change and international security."

The disruptive influences of climate change are already affecting poor countries with weak institutions, particularly along North Africa's Sahel belt, where encroaching deserts are destroying farmland, and access to food and water, he said.

"How can we ignore the fact that climate change will exacerbate economic, social and political tensions in countries where weaknesses are already blatantly obvious?" asked Regaud.

Climate change will force rural dwellers into already teeming cities "while poverty creates fertile ground for organized crime, violence and sometimes terrorism," he said.

Gen. Finn Hannestad, the Norwegian defence attache in Washington, said the melting of Arctic ice is "amplifying and accelerating" climate change across the planet — creating serious foreign policy questions for trade, mass migration, humanitarian assistance, conflict prevention and security.

"We must deal with it for what it is — a major global security threat," Hannestad said.

"Climate change belongs to the same category as violent extremism, cyber attacks, organized crime and pandemics. It's no less serious than armed conflict."

He said the extreme weather will lead to even more severe droughts in North Africa and the Middle East, leading to a halving of food production in the region in the years to come.

"We may think that today's refugee crisis in Europe is dramatic," said Hannestad. "But we don't want to see the results when absence of food and water is added to a mix of religious extremism and international terrorism in already fragile states."

A report prepared for G7 foreign ministers earlier this year also drew a link between climate change and security threats.

The issue of climate security has been part of the international discussion for several years, albeit at a less-prominent level than the general discussion about the harmful environmental effects of rising greenhouse gas emissions.

The militaries of the United States and the United Kingdom have written strategic documents that discuss the need to respond to drought, floods, massive storms and famines that could force massive displacements of large populations and food shortages, leading to wars and regional conflicts.

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press

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