Earth Day: Climate Change Risks and Environmental Degradation

On April 22, people around the world will celebrate Earth Day. Various events and demonstrations are held across the globe to raise awareness on environmental protection and shed light on climate concerns.

In recent years, governments and international organisations have attempted to engage in the environmental debate and looked to provide long term solutions to this matter, however many have failed to respond. The climate debate has also seen thousands of protesters globally occupying roads and leading large-scale protests. Most recently, protests by the environmental activist group Extinction Rebellion have led to significant traffic congestion and disruption to public transportation and businesses across London, with over 800 of those involved being arrested. This  is part of an international movement that plans to carry out a series of escalating rebellions in different countries to demand profound political change in relation to climate.

Climate change and environmental degradation are key issues that the world is facing; there is a prevalent consensus that the earth is warming, and that the impact caused by continued greenhouse emissions will lead to irreversible outcomes.

Observable changes that scientists predicted in the past are now starting to occur on a frequent basis; melting sea ice, alteration of weather patterns, stronger environmental hazards and changes in the ecosystem are only some examples. There have also been steady patterns indicative of climate change. For instance, in the last 50 years, the concentration of global carbon emissions, reached record highs at an unusual speed; global temperatures are warmer than they have ever been and, this is directly linked to human activities.

Specifically, statistics show that the planet’s average surface has risen about 0.9 degrees Celsius since the late 19th century and satellite observations show that glaciers are retreating almost everywhere in the world. Between 1993 and 2016, Antarctica has lost an average of 127 billion tons of ice per year, a figure that has tripled in the last decade.

This is a reality that humankind has never experienced before and is the driving force behind climate change groups to highlight this to national governments.

The effects of climate change can not only be seen on the world’s environment but also on its geopolitical landscape and social systems. This is because climate change has an impact on the fundamental resources that communities depend on to survive. Therefore, it is a direct threat that further destabilises already fragile regions. For this reason, climate change can be a catalyst for conflict that worsens countries’ pre-existing issues leading to unpredictable chains of events that include humanitarian crisis, political turmoil, displacement and migration.  In relation to this, former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon stated “changes in our environment and the resulting upheavals – from droughts to inundated coastal areas to loss of arable lands – are likely to become a major driver of war and conflict”.

Globally, some regions are more exposed to climate change than others. For example, millions of people in Africa are affected by droughts and, as climate change worsens, there is added pressure to water supplies. In this case, reduced access to water may then lead to discontent which can prompt a higher likelihood of instability and, as a result, could trigger internal conflict.

The security challenges posed by climate change are complex and affect communities by putting pressure on current vulnerabilities. The most likely security threat to travellers is the unrest caused by protests across cities. Although they may appear peaceful they can erupt into violence. Earth Day is likely to see widespread demonstrations, the violence among these is likely to vary greatly by country. All demonstrations or large groups should be avoided to mitigate against the risk of unrest.