After intense debate, scientists and government officials from about 120 countries, who have been meeting in Bangkok this week, are due to release a consensus report today on how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report is its third this year dealing with the economic, environmental and other consequences of a warmer planet.
As the reality of climate change becomes more evident, other experts and lawmakers are starting to factor in its impact on national security, defence forces and international relations in the world's main regions, including Asia. A study overseen by a group of retired US admirals and generals, published last month, described climate change as 'a threat multiplier for instability' in some of the most volatile regions of the world. It warns that the warmer-world forecast will exacerbate marginal living standards in many Asian, African and Middle Eastern nations, causing widespread political instability and the likelihood of failed states.
As a result, there could be increasing conflicts over dwindling supplies of food and fresh water, the spread of malaria and other diseases, large-scale migration of people within countries and across national borders, and rising tensions between states.
Asia is particularly vulnerable to climate change, with China and India - the world's two most-populous nations - likely to be among the hardest hit by drought, flooding and other extreme weather, sea-level rises and retreating glaciers on the Tibetan plateau and in the Himalayan mountains that provide water for hundreds of millions of people in China and South Asia.
Almost 40 per cent of Asia's population of nearly 4 billion lives within 72km of its nearly 208,000km coastline. As the sea level rises, low-lying coastal areas, croplands and cities will face inundation, forcing millions to move. The US military study says that weakened governments foster the conditions for internal conflicts, extremism and movement towards radical ideologies.
The report says that despite concerns about supporting undemocratic regimes, the US military may be drawn more frequently into these situations, either alone or with allies, to help provide stability. The US may also be called on for relief and reconstruction work once a conflict has begun.
But climate change will make operations more difficult. Whether it is hotter, drier or wetter, it will add stress to weapons systems. Some island bases that the US armed forces rely on may have to be abandoned or modified. For example, the highest point of Diego Garcia, an atoll in the southern Indian Ocean - a major supply hub for US and British forces in Asia and the Middle East - is only a few metres above sea level. Facilities will be lost or have to be relocated as the sea level rises, leading to increased costs.
Michael Richardson is a security specialist at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore. This is a personal comment