Exclusive: Oil, water shortages, climate change could provoke wars: report

Published by Postmedia News on Tuesday Jun 28 2011

OTTAWA – Critical energy and water shortages combined with climate change could provoke wars within the next 15 years, warns a newly-released analysis by the Department of National Defence.

“Global reserves of crude oil could become problematic by 2025,” wrote Maj. John Sheahan in a draft version of the report, Army 2040: First Look. “This implies that (barring the discovery of significant new reserves, and barring the adequate adoption of substitute fossil fuels or alternative fuel and energy sources) critical energy shortages will develop in the time frame of (and perhaps prior to) 2025.”

The report noted that alternative fuels and energy may not be enough to respond to rising demand for energy that is forcing oil production to reach its capacity – a threat commonly referred to as “peak oil.”

“There can be little doubt that unrestricted access to reliable energy supplies is a global strategic issue, one for which, recently, numerous nations have been willing to fight, and have indeed done so,” said the report, released to Postmedia News through an Access to Information request. “Thus the trend that envisions depletion of fossil fuels such as crude oil in coming decades may also contribute to international tensions if not violent conflict.”

Sheahan is part of a Canadian team of analysts led by Lt.-Col. Michael Rostek, who are researching long-term planning scenarios for the military. Members of the team said earlier this spring that they had submitted their analysis to senior military officials who are still reviewing the work.

The analysis also warns that, even under conservative estimates, up to 60 countries could fall into a category of water scarcity or stress by 2050, making the natural resource “a key source of power” or a “basis for future conflict.”

The draft report said that despite some “vigorous debates” about the pace, cause, magnitude and impacts of global warming, there “can be no further debate that global climate change is occurring.” It would turn the phenomenon into a “shock” and not just a driver of change, the report said.

Crop failures resulting in mass migrations and starvation, along with rising sea levels from melting ice caps and other factors, would be among the impacts.

“These sorts of changes could lead to impacts resulting in the abandonment of large urban and cropland areas, further aggravating a broad range of existing resource scarcities,” said the report.

Governments from around the world reached a consensus in 2007, based on an international assessment of peer-reviewed science, that there was a 90 per cent probability that human activity is responsible for causing climate change observed over the past century.

But the report said that resource scarcity doesn’t directly cause violent conflicts, since those would also depend on other political, economic, military and social factors.

Another section of the report said that melting ice in the North and the potential reserves equivalent to as much as 22 per cent of the world’s fossil fuels, could also create new challenges for Canada in the Arctic.

The analysis said that the rise of emerging nations such as China, India and Brazil would also be a key factor in increasing demand for resources in the coming years, also provoking a shift that could see Canada replaced as the main trading partner of the United States beyond 2030.

It also said that human creativity could help avert potential disasters in the future.

“Collective human wisdom and judgment will be crucial in shaping (science and technology) progress and developments in ways that deliver the greatest benefit to humanity while avoiding conceivable catastrophes,” said another section of the report authored by science adviser Regan Reshke.

Rostek’s team has predicted four possible scenarios for the future, including one in which Canada would be at the forefront of a prosperous green economy that favours clean energy, environmental protection and promotes improving living standards around the world.

But they said the path would depend on policy decisions made by governments today.


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