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Strategic shipping routes at growing risk from extreme weather events: UK military

Panama canal likely to be disrupted by extreme weather events
Human influence on the climate system will have far-reaching consequences over thenext 30 years with floods, droughts, storms, heatwaves and heavy rainfall all expected to become more intense and possibly more frequent. Transport and trade routes, including chokepoints such as the Panama Canal, are likely to be disrupted, affecting global markets and supply chains. The demand for food and water will increase, but some crops will fail and water shortages are likely to become more prevalent. Such shortages, along with the destruction of homes and livelihoods as a result of natural disasters, could also lead to increasing migration and conflict.

Trade, shipping, aviation will be hit
Increasingly intense storms, sea level rises and longer periods of heavy rain will disrupt shipping. Air transport is also likely to be affected, for example, the polar front jet stream (a current of fast-moving air in the upper atmosphere) will probably strengthen and, during the winter, incidents of high turbulence might be 40-170% more frequent. Without mitigation, this could lead to longer flight times, higher fuel consumption and an increased need for aircraft maintenance. Inland waterways are also likely to be affected by climate change, for example, the cost of shipping on the North American Great Lakes is forecast to increase by 9% by 2050 as water levels drop.

Other parts of the world may experience much higher rainfall and might have to close inland waterways as they become unsafe for use.8 In some parts of the world, rising temperatures are likely to buckle railway tracks, overheat underground rail networks and melt tarmac surfaces. Increasingly heavy rainfall will affect road networks. Roads in many parts of the world are often impassable because of rain and subsidence, and this will be amplified by climate change.

By 2050, shipments of raw materials are likely to double to Western economies and quadruple to other regions, and global freight trade could grow between 330-380%. Technology is likely to reduce the cost of shipping, for example, a completely crewless container ship (the Yara Birkeland) may be operational by 2020. The melting of polar ice is likely to provide new, shorter sea routes through the Arctic. However, climate change is likely to result in increasingly intense storms, sea level rise and periods of more intense rainfall, which are expected to disrupt shipping, increase the frequency of port closures, reduce the speed of passage, require routes to be altered, damage infrastructure and disrupt major trade routes.64 Maritime choke points (for example, the Panama Canal) could be affected by climate change, disrupting international trade and security of supplies and potentially exacerbating geopolitical tensions.

The vulnerable will be hit hard
The economic impact of climate change will be felt before 2050, for example, those countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change are expected to experience increased debt repayments of around US $168 billion due to climate risk from floods, droughts and severe weather events over the next ten years.

The military needs to adapt
Climate change will require ships, aircraft and vehicles to operate in more extreme environmental conditions and planning assumptions (such as where ships and aircraft can be based and when routes will be passable) will need to be revised. Climate change may also drive responses that exacerbate migration and security challenges. For example, prolonged periods of extremely low rainfall have been cited as a probable reason for increases in violent conflict, as a result of scarce vital resources.12 Criminal, or even terrorist, groups could take advantage of the stresses that climate change may bring. For instance, climate-induced disruption of water supplies and impacts on agriculture could be used as a tool to push individuals to join dissident groups. Such shortages of vital resources, along with the destruction of homes and livelihoods as a result of natural disasters, could also lead to increasing migration and conflict, particularly in developing countries that do not have the capacity to mitigate these effects.

Recent estimates suggest that even if the commitments made under the Paris Agreement of 2015 are met, temperature rises are likely to reach between 2.3° Celsius and 3.5° Celsius by 2100.3 In addition to increases in average temperature, climate change will probably result in future weather events that are more extreme than today’s. Floods, droughts, storms, heatwaves and heavy rainfall are all expected to become more intense and possibly more frequent. Military equipment will need to be able to operate in these increasingly extreme conditions.

Water wars
Lack of effective governance and management will result in unsustainable use of water in many parts of the world and, combined with the disruptive effects of climate change (particularly where water resources are shared), tensions are likely to increase, possibly leading to conflict.

Food security
Just eight crops provide 74.2% of the calories eaten by people: maize (20.4%); wheat (18.4%); rice (15.5%); palm oil (6.2%); soya (5.7%); barley (4.4%); sugar cane (3.6%); and potatoes (2.0%).44 Dependence on such a small number of crops could be a critical vulnerability should one of them fail, particularly since most are produced in just five main areas or ‘breadbaskets’: Latin America (soya and sugar cane); Midwestern United States (soya and maize); Europe (wheat); Asia (rice); and Southeast Asia (palm oil). The impact of climate change may increase the probability of simultaneous ‘breadbasket’ failures, with the potential for devastating impacts on the global food market. There could also be knock-on effects for worldwide stability, as higher food prices, in combination with poor governance, have been shown to heighten the risk of protests, riots and conflict.

Biodiversity costs
The harm to ecosystems between 1997 and 2011 due to land-use change alone has been estimated to have cost between US $4.3-20.2 trillion,49 and this figure can be expected to increase significantly in the coming decades.

Flooding + landfill pollution
Flooding (which climate change is expected to increase) will pose a particular hazard to landfill sites as pollution could leak out when landfills are flooded, and non-engineered dumpsites could collapse catastrophically.55 There are estimated to be over 1,700 licensed and historic landfills in coastal flood and erosion buffer zones in England and Wales56 and in certain low-lying parts of the world future pollution from coastal landfills is anticipated to be a major issue.

SLR and military
Approximately 50% of people live in coastal regions and most of the world’s largest cities are on or near the coast, rendering them particularly vulnerable to flooding. If a major city is flooded, military assistance is likely to be needed, both at home and overseas.

IMO needs to keep up with tech advances
The International Maritime Organization will need to modify regulations in response to advances in technology, for example, automated shipping and new energy-efficient means of propulsion (such as solar power or modern sails)
Source: UK Ministry of Defence

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