Climate change poses a growing threat to UK's national security
PUBLISHED: 16:01 15 October 2019 | UPDATED: 16:05 15 October 2019
The effects of climate change are neither abstract nor distant. The floods of Sunday, October 6 were yet another reminder. We saw havoc on East Anglian roads, especially in Thorpe St Andrew, Horsford and Blofield, including some seriously damaged homes. Mercifully, there were no human casualties, but such events have become worryingly regular.
In times like this, we depend ever more on our emergency services. As a former RAF fighter pilot, who also worked at the top levels of NATO and the UK Ministry of Defence, I know just how seriously our armed forces take climate change. Our military knows better than most how rising sea levels, extreme weather events and a warmer planet can literally redraw the map. Such events can force mass migration, limit resources, and raise the possibility of conflict.
Our forces are often called upon at home and abroad to respond the impacts of a changing climate. Helicopters are drafted for search-and-rescue and personnel are tasked with reinforcing and evacuating flooded areas.
Hundreds of military personnel were sent to the British Overseas Territories in late 2017 after a series of huge hurricanes struck the Caribbean. In times of crisis at home, we should always be able to depend upon our military. But we should ask ourselves this: if our men and women in uniform are sandbagging homes, who is looking after our national interest overseas?
We have not had to compromise our national security for this - yet. But the seriousness and frequency of natural disasters will bring this dilemma closer. And be under no illusion: this will be a political, not a military decision. It will also put further strain on our civilian emergency services, forcing them to respond to events like flooding instead of focusing on the day-to-day health and safety of the British public.
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If we fail to take action now on climate change, we are putting unsustainable pressure on our emergency services and distracting our military from defending our nation. Our youngest generations see the desperate need for preventative action, and seem to feel it intuitively.
Last month in Norwich and the world over, the Global Climate Strike attracted huge support.
So it should: here in Norfolk, the accelerating erosion of the coast pushed Happisburgh into the national media last year as the "front line of climate change". We have a huge network of waterways and low lying land, and over 95pc of the Broads is at some risk of flooding.
"The biodiversity of the Broads - a draw for millions of visitors every year - is under threat by rising temperatures.
Managed properly, the threat from climate change is an opportunity. Effective action requires international collaboration and a strong voice on the international stage, not tension with our neighbours. The United Kingdom - and especially Norfolk - has the resources to lead the world on green technology.
There has never been more need for climate leadership.
The price of inaction is far greater than the cost of acting now.