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Climate Change Brings Security Risks, Says NATO Chief

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NATO's new secretary general wants the alliance to begin discussing climate change because it has potentially huge security implications. Temperature changes and rising sea levels will prompt large populations to move, and could spark conflict.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen says the alliance is doing much to counter 21st Century threats like piracy and cyber attacks, but says climate change poses a unique challenge.

"Climate change is different, the science is not yet perfect, the effects are just starting to be visible, but it is difficult to pin down what is actually changing because of climate change," Rasmussen said.

And because there is no timetable, there is not always the political will to do something to tackle it.

"When we have to choose between spending money now on schools and healthcare or diverting funds to choice for most leaders is pretty clear and let me say not hard to understand," Rasmussen said.

Secretary General Rasmussen was speaking at a conference jointly sponsored by NATO and the Lloyd's insurance market about managing risk in the 21st Century.

Rasmussen says rising sea levels and temperatures, droughts and falling food production will spark conflict. Even without specifics, he says steps must be taken.

"We may not yet know the precise effects, the exact costs, or the definite dates of how climate change will affect security but we already know enough to start taking action ... either we start to pay now or we will pay much later," Rasmussen said.

He says climate change should be seen as a threat like any other, and nations should prepare for the possible consequences.

"The security implications of climate change need to be better integrated into national security and defense strategies, that means asking our intelligence agencies to look at this as one of their main tasks, it means military planner should assess potentially the impact, update their plans accordingly and consider the capabilities they might need in the future.," Rasmussen said.

Rasmussen says those plans do not necessarily have to be military.

"Climate change may have potentially huge security implications, but the response can not be exclusively military," Rasmussen said. "In fact, I would go so far as to say, the military aspects are one tool in what will have to be a big toolbox."

He says traditional military structures will have a big role to play, but that governments should use preemptive diplomacy to head off potential conflicts.

For example, in the Arctic North, melting ice is making northern sea passages more possible and has sparked competition among nations over who owns what. Rasmussen says those differences should be addressed now.

"We should insure that the right deals are done now on jurisdiction, on access to resources, on fishing, so that we head off tensions in future," he said.

Rasmussen says NATO is uniquely suited to discuss climate change, as it brings 28 nations together charting a common path forward in many other areas.