Isolationism Threatens Climate Progress: Former U.K. Admiral

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By Dean Scott

Sept. 7 — Global progress on climate change could hinge on whether the U.S. and other developed countries avoid the isolationist path of the U.K. and calls for similar withdrawal from engagement within the U.S. and Europe, a former U.K. rear admiral told Bloomberg BNA Sept. 7.

“Globally we are seeing nations looking more inward, and we have to counter that; we also have to acknowledge that in a globalized world, we need to look after everybody,” retired Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti said in an interview after a closed-door meeting with Senate Democrats. Morisetti, who also served as U.K. climate and energy security envoy and other climate positions, addressed a caucus of senators begun by the minority party in 2013 in hopes of keeping climate action on the congressional agenda.

Morisetti told the group—which included Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.)—of increasing concerns among military experts that climate change is acting as a “threat multiplier” in destabilizing countries and contributing to conflicts in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East.

“It’s like pouring a bucket of petrol or gas on a fire,” he said after his remarks to the caucus, dubbed the Senate Climate Change Clearinghouse.

“We’ve seen it in the context of the Arab Spring and seen it in the context of Syria, as a contributing factor” to upheaval, he said.

“It’s important we understand the threat it poses to geopolitical stability, which at the end of the day is a prerequisite for sustained economic growth, prosperity, trade—all of the things in the world we need for people” to prosper, Morisetti said.

The U.S. Defense Department as well as other military and security experts warn that a changing climate exacerbates already existing challenges such as energy shortages; scarcity of food and water; competition for arable land; volatile food supplies and prices; and sea level rise, which poses a threat to U.S. bases at home and overseas.

Concern Over Isolationism

Morisetti said he is concerned that developed nations are showing signs of retreat from international engagement that he said had served the U.K. and the U.S. well in the last century, from the allied efforts in World War I and World War II to confronting communism through the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s.

Both the U.K. and the U.S. were strong supporters of the global climate pact reached in Paris in December, under which developed and developing nations for the first time agreed to take actions to address rising greenhouse gas emissions linked to increasing global temperatures.

But the June Brexit vote, in which 52 percent of U.K. voters supported what is likely to be a multi-year withdrawal from the European Union, as well as worrying signs of retrenchment or even isolationism in the U.S. and Europe, could be a sign that developed countries are on the verge of retreating from global cooperation, the retired rear admiral said.

“Globally we are seeing nations looking more inward, and we have to counter that. What we also have to acknowledge is that in a globalized world, we need to look after everybody. We need to focus on our own countries but also further afield in order to ensure that we avoid these inward-looking approaches,” Morisetti said.

“Put simply, when you start down this path of inward-looking, you start to only worry about yourself,” he said. “And the consequence of that we have seen twice in the last century,” he said, referring the two world wars of the 20th century.

To contact the reporter on this story: Dean Scott in Washington at DScott@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

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