A Storm Brewing Adapting to environmental change is as important as preventing it.

Chris Abbott looks at the challenges Britain’s police forces face in dealing with the task. Climate change is riding high on both domestic and international agendas as countries begin to wake up to the huge environmental challenges they will face during the course of this century. While this attention is laudable, less effort is being focused on the inevitable impact that climate change will have on global and domestic security issues, and there has been little serious examination of what impact climate change may have on policing. There seems to be some doubt in the British police service that climate change is of direct relevance to its work, other than an acknowledgement of the need to cut forces’ carbon emissions. This is not true of all law enforcement agencies. Those in Australia, New Zealand and Fiji are starting to take a particular interest in this issue. In a speech in Adelaide last year, Mick Keelty, the Australian Police commissioner, argued that climate change could be this century’s most serious security issue; even more demanding than the current threat from international terrorism. This is not surprising given that the countries of this region are already experiencing the effects of increasing temperatures and rising sea levels. It is now time for forces in Britain to start thinking through the likely consequences of global environmental change. The police service may be called on to enforce regulations in carbon trading and investigate corruption or fraud in such a system. Another role may involve greater overseas deployment, supporting the armed forces in humanitarian interventions and stabilisation and disaster relief operations. By examining relevant trends in policing and criminality, with reference to the predicted consequences of climate change, we can draw some conclusions about the potential impact it may have on policing in Britain. Three trends will be of particular significance over the coming decades: extreme weather events, environmental refugees and civil unrest. Extreme weather forecast Although the impact of global warming on extreme weather events in northern Europe is still difficult to assess, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - a scientific body set up by the UN to evaluate the risk of climate change caused by human activity - is predicting changes in wind patterns that are likely to lead to more intense tropical storms and storm surges, which in conjunction with heavy rainfall and sea-level rises, are expected to cause severe flooding. At the same time, as temperatures rise we will experience warmer days and nights and more heat waves. With a large number of Britain’s towns, cities and ports located on coastlines or in river-valley areas, there is a clear threat from rising sea levels and extreme weather events. Storms and flooding will have an increasing impact on population centres, and one only needs to remember the impact Hurricane Katrina had on New Orleans in 2005 to understand the massive demands such events place on the police service to provide emergency response-and-disaster management, including evacuation, while at the same time maintaining security and an adequate police presence. This is made even more difficult by the temporary increase in certain types of crime - such as looting and anti-social behaviour - that can be experienced in the aftermath of environmental disasters and during events such as extreme heat waves, as evident in crime statistics from the US.


There are three specific measures that police forces can implement in order to greatly increase their ability to respond in the aftermath of a natural disaster. First, emergency response centres need to be climate-proofed using building techniques that provide greater protection from storms and flooding. Second, it is essential that critical communication, transport and energy supply networks are adequately protected so that communities can be rapidly rebuilt. Third, and most important, effective community-based strategies need to be encouraged and supported, as it has been shown that civilian social networks play a key role in reacting to and recovering from environmental disasters. Forces will also need to develop far greater planning integration with other local emergency services and national disaster response agencies. People on the move Over the course of the next few decades, three critical factors are expected to come to the fore to create a major humanitarian crisis. As mentioned above, climate change will lead to rising sea levels and an increase in extreme weather events. Second, various socio-economic and environmental factors mean there is likely to be an increased scarcity of three key resources: food, water and energy. Third, this scarcity will take place in a world where, according to the US Census Bureau the global population is expected to increase from six billion to more than nine billion by 2050. It is almost certain that these factors will result in the mass movement of people. In 2002, Prof Norman Myers, of Oxford University, predicted in a paper titled ‘Environmental refugees: a growing phenomenon of the 21st century’ that there could be up to 200 million environmental refugees by the middle of the century. This could potentially bring the total number of people displaced by natural disasters, conflict and large development projects to one billion people, according to a 2007 Christian Aid report. It is uncertain at present what impact this will have on Britain. The Oxford Research Group expects major problems where there are large, poor populations adjacent to small, rich populations - most notably, Mexico and the US; North Africa and southern Europe; and South-East Asia and Australia. However, further research is needed to understand the implications of this for Britain. There are two likely consequences worth highlighting. First, the demand for enhanced border security is likely to be the knee-jerk reaction from some politicians and members of the public to increased numbers of environmental refugees. While, in my opinion, such measures are highly unlikely to succeed in the long-term, the protection of national and maritime borders and the detention of illegal immigrants are likely to become increasingly important priorities for the police, HM Revenue and Customs and the UK Border Agency. Second, it is likely that a rapid rise in immigration will also lead to changes in the rates and types of crime that police forces will have to deal with, as there are clear differences between nationalities in their cultural attitudes towards certain offences, such as drink-driving or knife crime. At the same time, police forces may have to respond to an increase in right-wing protests and racially motivated attacks against immigrants. Under protest If responses to the aftermath of natural disasters are inadequate, people may begin to lose confidence in the Government’s ability to protect them. This reaction can be seen in the public’s response to last summer’s flooding across Britain. Emergency measures have in the past created resentment towards the Government and led to outbreaks of civil unrest; made worse by a possible breakdown in trust between the police and general public if draconian measures need to be enforced on an unwilling population. For others, the establishment response to climate change may not go far enough, and a rise in protests aimed at the government or at corporations over environmental damage can be expected. The Heathrow climate camp of last summer - where hundreds of protesters


marched along the 1.8-mile stretch of land set aside for a third runway - is unlikely to be the last as frustration over the lack of action on climate change is bound to increase. While environmental movements have a long history of peaceful protest and non-violent direct action, on the fringes there are often those who will resort to violence and sabotage. In the US, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has observed worrying signs of an escalation in violent rhetoric and tactics among a small minority of environmental extremists, and they currently consider ‘eco-terrorism’ to be one of the most serious domestic terrorism threats. In May 2005, The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works met to interview John Lewis, the FBI’s counterterrorism deputy assistant director. Those attending the conference and the Senate hearing became aware that the direct-action phase of the animal and Earth liberation movements is about to enter a new and much more violent phase. It is important that emergency service planning - and the associated funding - remains flexible, taking into account lessons learned from related case studies and scenario-planning exercises. In the long-term, if the Government responds with traditional attempts to maintain the status quo and control security, it will fail. Efforts to ‘keep a lid on’ security problems invariably create a pressure-cooker effect and result in far more serious dangers emerging later on. Leaders within the police service will need to use their influence to make this clear to policy-makers and impress on them the importance of taking steps to prevent and adapt to climate change, rather than relying on aggressive policing to control security later. Chris Abbott is the programme coordinator and researcher at Oxford Research Group and an Honorary Research Fellow of the Centre for Governance and International Affairs at the University of Bristol. Chris Abbott, “A Storm Brewing”, Jane’s Police Review (18 July 2008).