Climate change is a geopolitical "threat multiplier," UK climate envoy says

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Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti, the UK's special envoy for climate and energy security, with Nancy Sutley, chair of the Council on Environmental Quality.

A senior official in the British Royal Navy came to Southern California last week with a message about how climate change can affect political stability. Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti is climate and energy security envoy for the United Kingdom. He said most people think about a warming climate solely as an environmental problem.

“We haven't really in the past thought of it as a potential security issue,” Morisetti said. But he added that he observes that changing. He's traveling with a counterpart from the U.S. Navy to colleges and military bases to make the case that global warming deserves attention as a military and political issue.

Climate change, he said, “can act as a threat multiplier in those parts of the world where tree's already stresses — food, water, health, and demographic challenges, often in countries where governments don't have the capacity and resilience to look after their citizens. And it can act as a catalyst for conflict and therefore increase the risk of instability.”

A warming climate also can encourage better planning and innovation. Morisetti commanded ships before holding his current post; at sea, he promoted energy efficiency and better systems management. Southern California military bases are doing the same thing, he said.

“And today in Afghanistan we see marines using renewables as means of charging batteries and other light equipment,” he pointed out. “Which means there's less fuel coming on the convoys, which have come up from Pakistan, so there’s less soldiers required to guard them, the cost is much lower, because we had been paying for the use of diesel, and we've been reducing the risk of casualties as well.”

Both the U.K. and the U.S. have climate change and energy security issues mapped out in strategic plans for military operations. Political leaders of those and other countries have achieved little in terms of international policy in recent years. But Morisetti said the military can set an example.

“We need to understand that events having many thousands of miles away can impact us as much as what's happening in our own backyard,” he said. Climate change doesn’t care where the borders are, even if political leaders and military officials do.

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