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Issues of the Day Weapons of Mass Destruction Are Not the Only Global Threat

On the Friday (September 27) of the week when an accord was being reached between Russia and the US on dismantling Syria's chemical weapon arsenal and flirtations between Washington and Tehran were taking place over the Iranian nuclear issue, the Inter-Governmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC),  a UN mandated scientific body, released its fifth assessment report in Stockholm.

Curtailing the threat of weapons of mass destruction (WMD)  such as chemical and nuclear arms should be of concern to all global citizens. But  the subject of the IPCC report, fundamental alterations in the planetary environment, is no less important. While the media was focused on the diplomatic breakthrough there was little coverage in the broadcast and print media concerning the conclusions contained in the IPCC document.

Potentially Irreversible Changes Underway

In the summary for policymakers and the  2216 page technical report, the world's leading climate scientists describe the current level of threat to earth's oceans, the atmosphere, the cryosphere (polar and glacial regions), and the carbon and biochemical cycles. They maintain that the "warming of the climate system is unequivocal…The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased." 


The report offers a sobering picture of changes already underway in the planet's life-support systems and the irreversible damage that will be caused if the adoption of an internationally-mandated "carbon budget" is not ratified and implemented in the near future. 


The anticipated effects of these changes as depicted in a table on p. 23 of the policymakers summary cross every dimension of the planetary environment and include: "warmer and/or fewer cold days and nights over most land areas;  warmer and/or more frequent hot days and nights over most land areas; increases in the frequency or duration of warm spells/heat wave; increase in the frequency, intensity, and/or amount of heavy precipitation."

The report predicts "increases in intensity and/or duration of drought; Increases in intense tropical cyclone activity, and; increased incidence and/or magnitude of extreme high sea level for two distinct periods later in this century," that is 2046–2065  and 2081–2100.


The Rising of the Seas


One of the effects already documented is sea level rise.


The report details the changes in oceanic levels, which have already begun to be felt by island countries and elsewhere. The expected impacts on the lives and livelihood of the quarter of the world's population that lives within 100 kilometers from a coastline or on elevations less than 100 meters in height will be profound, as shown quite graphically when Hurricane Sandy made landfall along the New Jersey Coast and New York City late last year.


The report notes that "It is very likely that the Arctic sea ice cover will continue to shrink and thin and that Northern Hemisphere spring snow cover will decrease during the 21st century as global mean surface temperature rises. Global glacier volume will further decrease" and as a result "global mean sea level will continue to rise during the 21st century… the rate of sea level rise will very likely exceed that observed during 1971–2010 due to increased ocean warming and increased loss of mass from glaciers and ice sheets" states the policymakers summary.


Implications for Israel and the Middle East


Climate change stands to affect everything from crop patterns and food security, disease vectors, coastal cities and settlements, economic stability, the functioning of communications and transport infrastructure and environmental quality.

Although it occurs subtly and is less visibly than other issues of international concern, reining in climate change should be at the top of the list of international priorities: Its potential effects are no less threatening than those posed by weapons of mass destruction.


For the resource-poor Middle East where arable land and water sources are scarce, the implications are clear. Israel's policymakers and those of its neighbors must energetically plan and implement policies aimed at mitigating and adapting to the expected impacts.

Regional cooperation in environmental planning and crisis response should become a priority given the proximity of imperiled population centers (for example, along the Nile Delta where sea level rise could have significant consequences) and the possibility of environmental refugees fleeing protracted drought and famine from neighboring countries.

Preventing resource competition that would inflame existing conflicts should become a priority. Cooperative strategies in anticipation of global change could help bridge those conflicts.   

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