“To Bangladesh, climate change is not a theory but a reality on the ground.” With this opening statement, Major General Muniruzzaman, a Bangladeshi career military officer with 38 years of service for his country and in peace-keeping missions for the United Nations, removed all doubt of the seriousness of climate security from his audience’s minds.
General Muniruzzaman joined the American Security Project’s CEO Brigadier General Stephen Cheney and Senior Energy & Climate Fellow Andrew Holland onstage yesterday for a discussion of the effects climate change wreaks on national security both in Bangladesh and around the world. As the newly- elected Chairman of the Global Military Advisory Council on Climate Change (GMACC) and President of the Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies, General Munir lent an expert perspective on the dangers climate change posed to his country’s national security planning.
The General cited a recent study that suggested 30 million Bangladeshi citizens would be displaced due to climate change inspired sea-level rise in 2050. “And where will they go?” General Munir asked. “They will go to India, where the border is fenced,” causing a huge national security problem for both countries. Water scarcity, the salinization of fresh water resources, tsunami-level floods caused by melting glacial lakes in the Himalayas and even arsenic leaking into drinking supplies were just a few other examples the General presented.
The conversation then turned to the importance of governments and citizens around the world understanding climate change not just as an environmental challenge but a security threat as well. “Fear of the securitization of climate change has to go away” the General said. The security community “cannot solve climate change by itself,” but with adequate preparation the military can be an effective reactionary tool.
General Cheney highlighted the vulnerability of the American naval base on the island of Diego-Garcia in the Indian Ocean to sea-level rise, and General Munir pointed out that if the island became submerged climate change will have literally destroyed American sovereign territory. The disappearance of the Pacific islands would vastly complicate maritime boundaries set by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and the possibility of war between India and Pakistan over the Indus Water Treaty was not out of the question, according to General Muniruzzaman. Climate change “does not respect our natural borders or the invisible lines we have drawn on our maps,” the General said. “Coastal areas of the United States are just as vulnerable to climate change as Bangladesh.”
Senior Climate Fellow Andrew Holland wrapped up the event by asking General Muniruzzaman if Bangladesh was truly prepared for the national security challenges of climate change, and if so what other countries could learn from his nation. “Bangladesh’s military is very ready for natural disasters, but not climate change,” he answered. However, a whole of government approach from every country in the world is the only way to comprehensively address the issue. Climate change, he argued, affects all nations great and small; it’s a problem that “no one country can face alone.”
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