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Water Towers: Security Risks in a Changing Climate

WaterTowersLogoEpicentersThis is a blog series highlighting each article in the Center for Climate and Security’s recent report, “Epicenters of Climate and Security: The New Geostrategic Landscape of the Anthropocene.”

Water Towers: Security Risks in a Changing Climate
By Troy Sternberg

Since the Boutros Boutros Ghali, then Secretary General of the United Nations stated that the next war in the Middle East will be over water, not politics, the global community has focused on water flashpoints, particularly in the Middle East. But examining micro- to meso-scale dynamics has confined thinking to rivers, aquifers and watersheds at national levels. While important, discussion has often ignored the megascale threat of human and climate changes to the world’s mountain ‘water towers’ and the resultant implications to security and human well-being. For example: two billion people depend on water originating on the Tibetan Plateau. Hundreds of millions more drink from global water towers, including the massive Andes, Rockies, Tien Shan, Caucasus and Alps to the more modest Ethiopian and Guinean Highlands. In each, climate change affects glaciers, water resources and runoff. If it were only a matter of harnessing water from a nation’s territorial mountain, the issue would be structural; the complication comes when water flows through several states. Riparian nations stress natural, human and economic rights to water that crosses their realm, yet without physical control, states remain vulnerable to upstream users. This gives a hegemonic dynamic to control of water towers with significant implications for national and regional security…
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Climate Change, the Erosion of State Sovereignty, and World Order

Erosion of State Sovereignty This is a blog series highlighting each article in the Center for Climate and Security’s recent report, “Epicenters of Climate and Security: The New Geostrategic Landscape of the Anthropocene.”

Climate Change, the Erosion of State Sovereignty, and World Order
By Francesco Femia and Caitlin E. Werrell

The formation and spread of the nation-state has occurred during a relatively stable climatic period—an 11,000-year-plus epoch referred to by geologists as the Holocene. The Holocene, thought to be the longest warm and “stable” climatic period of the last 400,000 years, may have played a significant role in facilitating the development of human civilization. The epoch encompasses the advent of agriculture, the rise and fall of empires and monarchs, and the birth and spread of the nation-state to all corners of the globe. In short, all of modern civilization occurred within the Holocene. In this context, the foundation for the current system of nation-states rests in part on a common assumption that the baseline climatic and natural-resource conditions present until today will generally continue. The flaw in this assumption is that atmospheric conditions, due to human activity, have shifted in an unprecedented way since the mid-20th century, and are changing rapidly. This phenomenon, coupled with massive demographic changes, has led some to assert that that the Earth may have entered a new epoch called the “Anthropocene.” The rapid changes inherent in this epoch could stress the very foundations of the modern nation-state system…
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