'Climate change will trigger mass migrations, conflicts'
Dubai - Displacement of people from coastal regions will overshadow Syrian migrant crisis, says expert.
The UAE and the rest of the world should begin preparing for a future in which vast portions of the globe become uninhabitable due to climate change, triggering mass migration and potential conflicts, a visiting Belgian professor has warned.
Francois Gemenne, a specialist on environmental geopolitics and a professor at Sciences Politics in Paris and the Free University of Brussels, was in Dubai to deliver a talk on the subject at the Alliance Francaise in Dubai.
In an interview with Khaleej Times ahead of the event, Gemenne warned that modern science has no way of accurately predicting the potentially devastating effects of an unprecedented rise in temperatures.
"We'll be pretty much entering terra incognita with regards to impact," he added. "Humanity has never experienced that kind of change. The planet has, many times, but not humanity. The real change between this climate change and previous climate change is that we're doing it, and we're on the planet as this happens."
According to the UN Environment Programme, climate change is expected to reduce agricultural output in some regions, cause massive flooding, and "permanently destroy extensive and highly productive low-lying coastal areas that are home to millions of people who will have to relocate permanently".
"There will be possible tensions that arise from mass migration flows if these migrations are not anticipated and organised," he said. "Natural resources will become more scarce in the future. We can also anticipate tensions related to food prices. We should not forget that the Arab Spring essentially started as a protest against food prices."
Estimates on the number of potential "environmental migrants" varies widely, from 25 million to up to a billion by 2050, with the International Organisation of Migrants noting that the most widely accepted figure stands at around 200 million.
Gemenne also said the world is not prepared for such enormous displacement of people from coastal regions - including the Gulf, which would dwarf the current migrant crisis caused by the civil war in Syria.
"What is at stake is the conditions of life on this planet and the way societies are organised," he said. "It's worrying. Europe is currently experiencing an inflow of over 500,000 refugees from Syria and other countries, and it's a huge political crisis, yet when we discuss induced displacement and migration, it would be millions of people."
The UAE and the rest of the countries of the Arabian Gulf are in a unique situation, being countries with very high-emissions that are contributing to global climate change, but also ranking among the countries that will bear the brunt of rising sea levels.
"The UAE and the Gulf countries are in a specific situation, in that they are among the top emitters, but they will also be victims."
According to the World Bank, the UAE is one of the highest carbon emitters in the world, having produced approximately 20.4 tonnes of CO2 per person in 2011. In addition to the UAE, of the 10 top emitters in the world, five others are Gulf countries: Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.
"Do you build artificial islands everywhere? Do you put dykes everywhere? Or do you choose which area to protect and which areas to sacrifice? It's a difficult issue."