Abolishing nuclear weapons, a brake on the climate crisis

Life on Earth faces two existential threats: the climate crisis and nuclear weapons. The two are intimately linked and mutually reinforcing, yet many are unaware of how serious the risk of nuclear war is and how abolishing nuclear weapons can help solve the climate crisis.

By Carlos Umaña (IPPNW, ICAN)

The climate crisis is indeed serious and is getting exponentially worse. This is due to human activities, such as the growth of militarism, which is a major direct and indirect contributor to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and animal agriculture, which is responsible for more GHG emissions than the entire transport sector combined. Despite widespread awareness of the existence and causes of the climate crisis, GHG emissions continue to rise, as do global temperatures, which have been the hottest on record over the past five years.

As we have seen, this has led to several impacts, including an increase in extreme weather events such as droughts, floods, and hurricanes; water scarcity: affecting biodiversity, agriculture, and the availability of water for human consumption and hydroelectric power. The resulting loss of agricultural productivity leads to increased food insecurity and malnutrition. As a result of these impacts, population displacement is expected to increase to 100 million people per year by 2050.

What needs to be done? First, we need to rapidly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, which means moving away from fossil fuels, increasing sustainable agricultural practices such as reducing livestock, and investing in renewable energy. We also need to protect and restore our forests and other natural ecosystems, which play a crucial role in storing carbon and regulating the climate. We need to invest in research, and we need politicians to listen to and act on the science.

In short, we need resources and political will.

Image: Markus Spiske/Unsplash

But how do nuclear weapons fit into all this?
First, the climate crisis increases the risk of nuclear war. The apocalypse clock currently stands at 90 seconds to midnight, the highest risk in history. This is due to three factors: 1. unstable political leadership in nuclear weapon states; 2. increased risk of accidental nuclear detonation or cyberterrorism due to the vulnerability of early warning systems; and 3. climate change.
Climate change increases the potential for conflict over resources such as land, clean water, and food supplies, and increases the migration pressure. Political collapse, in turn, leads to extremist leaders gaining control of nuclear weapons, a danger in regions where political tensions already exist.

But a single nuclear detonation, especially in this day and age, can cause significant and irreparable environmental damage.
On the other hand, even a limited use of nuclear weapons would have catastrophic climatic consequences. A nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan, both nuclear weapons states and often in conflict, using 100 Hiroshima-sized bombs – less than 1% of the world’s arsenal – would have a global climate impact, apart from local and regional disasters. Harvest times for the staple grains on which many populations depend would be shortened, leading to a famine that could kill more than 2 billion people worldwide.
On a larger scale, nuclear war would destroy on an unimaginable scale, with tens of millions of deaths, massive radiation contamination spreading around the world, and a nuclear winter that would lead to the destruction of our civilization and the extinction of many species, possibly even our own.

The solution to the climate crisis requires financial resources and political will, and must necessarily include nuclear disarmament.

Another point to consider is that nuclear weapons are extremely expensive to maintain. Current investment in nuclear weapons is estimated at $82.9 billion per year and growing.
If the climate crisis is to be solved with financial resources and political will, then nuclear disarmament must be part of the solution. Nuclear weapons are not only a serious threat to the environment, they also pose unacceptable costs and risks and undermine the foundations of international cooperation and goodwill.

Tackling the climate crisis will require a massive mobilization of resources. Much of this investment could come directly from the substantial resources that would be freed up by nuclear disarmament. In turn, the scientific talent and political resources currently devoted to nuclear weapons could be redirected to green innovation.

Promoting a Culture of Peace and Strengthening the Multilateral Regime

To address both threats, it is also imperative that the global community unite in an approach of equity, cooperation, and shared responsibility, and to this end, it is essential to focus humanity’s efforts on fostering a culture of peace and strengthening the multilateral regime.

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), adopted by 122 countries at the UN in July 2017, is an important step in this direction. A product of humanitarian disarmament and evidence-based policy-making, the TPNW is a triumph of international diplomacy and promotes a culture of peace and cooperation.

Because of its direct and indirect effects, the signing and ratification of the TPNW must therefore be included as an urgent action in the framework of the climate crisis.

Its universalization and implementation will strengthen the multilateral regime and promote scientific diplomacy and international cooperation, which are essential elements in the fight against climate change. Because of its direct and indirect effects, the signing and ratification of the TPNW must therefore be included as an urgent action in the context of the climate crisis.
Time is running out, but we still have options. Faced with this double existential dilemma, humanity is at a crossroads: we can ensure our continuity and prosperity, or we can ensure our destruction. More than ever, the world needs dialogue, social participation, and pragmatic leaders who can listen to science, make bold decisions, and enact and implement constructive policies.

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