Earth Day: Climate Change and its Risks

Among the numerous security risks travellers face in the modern world, a potentially devastating and destabilising force is the Earth itself, as risks associated with climate change often headline relevant reports by governments and private security firms alike.

By Diego Maloney

Recent trends have shown that weather patterns have become more erratic as they move towards the extreme. Arid landscapes are becoming increasingly drier while the opposite is true in more tropical climates. In honour of Earth Day, we’d like to highlight some of the most pressing climatic phenomena, what areas they affect and the risks associated with them.

Tropical Storms: In recent years, tropical storm season has extended past the typical timeline given by experts with storms also becoming more intense on average. This is evidenced by back-to-back Hurricanes Eta (Category 4) and Iota (Category 5) that affected a number of Caribbean and Central American countries in November 2020. The immense power of storms like these have the potential to expose gaps in emergency preparedness and resiliency of infrastructure as was the case with Eta and Iota. These storms also have secondary consequences as the majority of individuals in recent caravans of migrants destined for the United States are from eastern areas of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador that were most affected by Eta and Iota. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, episodes of mass displacement caused by flooding and landslides may also burden health systems along migration routes, not only in the Americas but Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent as well.

Winter Storms: Ice storms occur regularly during winter months in the Northern Hemisphere though a number of these represented the coldest temperatures on record in many locations in 2021, of which some had only been recently set. A series of storms last February crippled energy and transportation infrastructure in Texas and led to over 100 deaths in the US state. Power outages and associated disruptions have been reported across the United States and Canada as well as in parts of Mexico since October 2020 that brought life to a standstill in much of the region. Record-setting storms often push the limits of modern convenience and can make road conditions extremely hazardous and disrupt emergency services and food and water supplies. Cold weather locations across North America and Eurasia are most at-risk to debilitating storms and unless governments take proactive steps towards ‘winterising’ infrastructure, there will likely be a repeat of an energy crisis like the one in Texas.

Wildfires: The Australian bushfires of 2019 and 2020 burned 18.6 million hectares (46 million acres) and killed over 400 people, making these some of the most devastating on record. Much of Australia saw a period of sustained high temperatures and drought which exacerbated the effects of the wildfires that are typically a routine occurrence. Following the so-called Black Summer, investment in emergency preparedness and fire prevention has been a top priority of governments not only in Australia but in other countries as well, most notably the United States after several states experienced their own unusually intense wildfire seasons in 2020. Increasingly intense wildfires may cause ecological disaster, affecting local economies sustained by cropland and tourism. Arid landscapes worldwide are most prone to sustained periods of drought which in turn provide an abundance of materials to fuel fires and complicate disaster relief efforts. Further ecological and economic damage should be expected unless concerted efforts are made to prevent future wildfires of equal or greater magnitude.

Diego Maloney is a US-based political and security risk analyst.

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