This not-so-positive prediction will focus on European geopolitics as it relates to climate change between 2040 and 2050. As you read on, you’ll see a Europe that’s crippled by food shortages and widespread rioting. You’ll see a Europe where the UK pulls out of the European Union entirely, while the rest of the participating nations bow to Russia’s growing sphere of influence. And you’ll also see a Europe where much of its nations fall into the hands of ultra-nationalist governments who target the many millions of climate refugees escaping to Europe from Africa and the Middle East.
But, before we begin, let’s make a few things clear. This snapshot—this geopolitical future of Europe—wasn’t pulled out of thin air. Everything you’re about to read is based off the work of publicly available government forecasts from the United States and the United Kingdom, from a series of private and government-affiliated think tanks, as well as from the work of journalists like Gywnne Dyer, a leading writer in this field. Links to most of the sources used are listed at the end.
On top of that, this snapshot is based on the following assumptions:
Government investments that seriously and sizably limit or reverse climate change will remain moderate to practically non-existent.
By 2040 to 2050, climate change will have progressed to a stage where greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations in our atmosphere exceed 450 parts per million. In this scenario, the world is now at least two degrees Celsius warmer, probably more.
You read our intro to climate change and the not-so-nice effects it‘ll have on our drinking water, agriculture, coastal cities, and plant and animal species, if no action is taken against it.
Now, let’s get right into it.
Food and the tale of Two Europes
One of the biggest struggles climate change will inflict on Europe during the late 2040s will be food security. Rising temperatures will cause vast stretches of Southern Europe to lose much of its arable (farmable) land to extreme heat. In particular, large southern countries like Spain and Italy, as well as smaller eastern nations like Montenegro, Serbia, Bulgaria, Albania, Macedonia, and Greece, will all face among the most extreme temperature rises, making traditional farming next to impossible.
Even though water availability won’t be as much an issue for Europe as it will be for Africa and the Middle East, the extreme heat will stop the germination cycle of many European crops.
For example, studies run by the University of Reading on two of the most widely grown varieties of rice, lowland indica, and upland japonica, found that both were highly vulnerable to higher temperatures. Specifically, if temperatures exceeded 35 degrees Celsius during their flowering stage, the plants would become sterile, bearing little if any grains. Many tropical and Asian countries where rice is the main staple food already lie on the very edge of this Goldilocks temperature zone, so any further warming could spell disaster. The same danger is present for many European staple crops like wheat and maize once the temperature rises past their respective Goldilocks zones.
Even with Europe’s population declining to about 720 million (740 million as of 2015), the shortfall of harvests from Europe’s traditional breadbaskets will be devastating to the region’s food markets. Food prices will skyrocket. Shortages for basic food will be rampant. Most meats will become completely unavailable as governments will mandate grain harvests be redirected almost entirely to human consumption instead of livestock feeding.
The combination of these factors will eventually lead to various forms of food rationing to be put in place in many regions across Europe. Unfortunately, if Europeans are passionate about anything, it’s their food. And if the changes outlined above come to pass, there will be widespread civil unrest amongst the populations of Southern Europe especially.
Meanwhile, to the north, the Nordic countries of Norway, Sweden, and Finland (in addition to the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) will actually see a bump in their ability to grow food. This is because while climate change will make southern European states too hot for traditional agriculture, the traditionally icy northern European states will become more temperate. And since their latitudes allow for much longer days than the European countries to the south, their growing season could potentially be much longer, leading to an above average number of harvests per year.
Unfortunately, this boom in farming among the northern states won’t be enough to make up the shortfall in the southern states. Moreover, rising sea levels will seriously endanger the low lying northern countries, tying up their resources in seawall defenses instead of agriculture development.
European Union and Russia.
As food prices soar, the governments of Southern European countries will be forced to spend excessive amounts of their budget to buy grain surpluses on the open market. But since the majority of the world is in the same boat as Europe, there won’t be many sellers with the surplus Europe needs … that is, except for Russia.
Of all the countries on Earth, climate change will have its most positive impact on Russia, transforming its normally arctic geography into one of the world’s largest temperate zones. This, in addition to its massive supply of fresh water reserves, will transform Russia into a massive exporter of grains and most other foods to the world markets. But with China and the Middle East also clamoring for Russian food exports, Europe will find itself paying a hefty price for Russian support.
Most likely, Russia will extort its food exports for a variety of concessions from the Europeans. This means that to avoid paying extreme prices for Russian food, Europe will agree to pull back and accept a Russian sphere of dominance over its former Soviet states and former Eastern Bloc states. This will not only damage relations with the United States but also lead to NATO forces pulling its military forces out the region, settling along the German and Austrian border.
Some of the eastern states(especially Poland) will see this as a betrayal by the central European powers of Germany and France, leading to a severe weakening of the European Union’s central authority. Meanwhile, other eastern states will welcome a closer relationship with Russia; many will even allow Russian military outposts within their border in exchange for closer ties and cheaper food and energy exports.
Aside from food, the other major factor that could destabilize Europe is refugees.
Climate change will hit Africa hard, with most of the North African Maghreb states becoming completely unsuitable for sustained, traditional farming. Not only will this lead to violent revolts in affected countries, but also to massive waves of refugees escaping north, across the Mediterranean. It will be one of the biggest mass migrations experienced in decades, overwhelming the southern European states receiving them.
In short order, Europe will recognize the serious security threat this migration will pose to their way of life. Their initial attempts to deal with the refugees in a moral and humanitarian manner will give way to orders for their navies to send all refugee boats back to their African shores. Boats that don’t comply will be sunk into the sea. Eventually, African climate refugees will recognize the Mediterranean crossing as a death trap, leaving the most desperate to head south to the few Central African countries still able to feed themselves.
Meanwhile, the Middle East will face similar climate change-induced destabilization issues. Massive population migrations will attempt to travel northwest out of the future failed states of Syria, Iraq, and possibly Lebanon, through Turkey and into Europe. But here, too, the refugees will find themselves blocked the Turkish military (secretly funded by the Europeans).
Turkey will face severe climate change-induced farming difficulties of its own, but it will continue to support itself through a pact with Europe and Russia. Basically, Turkey will use its military to forcibly wall off its borders against the millions of Middle Eastern refugees trying to cross their land (not to mention the future jihadi militant armies trying to do the same) in exchange for European financial aid and Russian food and military aid. Both powers will happily pay Turkey this “protection money,” as it will free them of the unavoidably bloody business of denying millions of desperate Arabs entry into western lands.
That said, let’s not forget that climate refugees won’t just be limited to African and Middle East states. Southern Europeans will have every motivation to use their freedom of movement privileges to move to their northern neighbors.
The dominant powers of 2040s Europe—the UK, France, Germany, and Poland—will take the brunt of this internal migration. Unfortunately, this migration will be far larger than the native populations will be comfortable with. This will lead to more civil unrest, more support for ultra right-wing groups and, finally, popular sentiment for the complete dissolution of the European Union itself.
Rise of brutal regimes
During any sustained economic downturn, public anger usually expresses itself in unhealthy and, at times, dangerous ways.
By the 2040s, economies around the world will enter an existential economic crisis as robots and software take more and more of the day-to-day jobs on which the working class population depends. With a huge and growing percentage of the population permanently unemployed, depending on limited government unemployment subsidies, living in cities with underfunded public services, and possibly scraping by on limited food rations, it’s fair to assume people are going to be pissed. And they should be. Their quality of life hasn’t improved compared to that of their parents, not to mention that of their Boomer generation grandparents.
Everywhere people look, they will see fewer opportunities, rising prices, and a lot of foreign faces—especially in the Southern European states. Pent-up frustration will be widespread. It will be a frustration that will be too difficult to direct at technology. Not only will technology be everywhere and always available, but the generation of the 2040s will also be too dependent on technology to ever truly threaten it. But frustration will demand a release of negative energy and, in Europe (as seen in history), that frustration can express itself in racist forms.
Across Europe, ultra-right-wing groups will rise to power, all preaching doctrines of ultra-nationalism, racism, and xenophobia. They will single out minorities and climate refugees who, by the 2040s, will represent well over 25 percent of the populations of Southern European states. Just as today, they will blame foreigners for all of their country’s ills, especially the lack of jobs and food rationing.
Some of these groups will succeed in rising to absolute power, winning government elections in the southern and eastern European countries especially. And if they do succeed, the pogroms of the past will rise again, only aided this time by the advanced surveillance and intelligence technology soon to be available to future governments—but used for entirely for dark ends.
The Great British Moat
The two European countries that will fare the best (relatively speaking) in spite of climate change will be the United Kingdom and Ireland. While the UK’s high latitude means it will see a larger increase in overall average warming compared to the rest of the world, the seas surrounding it will also apply a major cooling factor across the country.
The warm waters of the Gulf Stream also support its unique geography. This system is what currently allows the UK to remain warm and habitable, while regions like Labrador, Canada—on the same latitude—remain unbearably frosty. But even if the Gulf Stream collapses from climate change (which may happen), climate warming would cancel out the subsequent drop in temperature.
As for food, the UK has more than enough arable land to feed itself now and in the future. However, it’s Ireland that will have the most arable land available, enough to feed both countries, and enough to lead to an interesting turn of events. Given the UK’s need for food security, its emergency government will sign a treaty with Ireland to create a new confederacy between the two nations: Ireland sharing its food surplus with Britain, while the UK guarantees military protection of the isles and the handover of Northern Ireland. But as historic as this agreement will be, it’s the military side of this deal that will be crucial to both parties.
The UK has always kept a careful distance from the European Union, all while working within it. But as climate change widens the fault lines within the union, the UK will recognize the threats against it and will act accordingly.
Unlike the rest of the EU states, the UK is surrounded by a sea, one it will use and defend to protect itself from waves of refugees. Meanwhile, as European climate refugees start heading north, the UK will begin to tighten its travel restrictions gradually and, then, completely. Average visitors to the UK will require months of paperwork before entering the country, whereas citizens will be able to travel freely but with new and unique clearances.
The other European powers—France, Germany, and Poland—will angrily protest the closing of the UK border to fellow Europeans. They will see it as an attempt to avoid sharing in the burden of refugee migrations. And they’ll be right. That’s exactly what it is. And they will all be furious that they can’t do the same. It might not be completely moral or fair but, in the long term, it’s the pragmatic choice for the UK.
From the UK perspective, it will see how the climate refugees indirectly cause widespread civil unrest across the EU; it will see how they drain the resources of the southern states; and it will see how they push the eastern states into the hands of the violent right-wing. The British government won’t want any part in that—denying refugees from entering the UK will be far easier than the choices it would have to make once they are inside. Likewise, after its media bombards the British public with scenes of violence from other parts of Europe, they will reluctantly support the UK’s disengagement with the entire European project.
Reasons for hope
Well, first, what you just read is a prediction, not a fact. Also, it’s a prediction that’s written in 2015. A lot can and will happen between now and the 2040s to address the effects of climate change, much of which will be outlined in the series conclusion. And, most important, the predictions outlined above are largely preventable using today’s technology and today’s generation.
To learn more about how climate change may affect other regions of the world or to learn about what can be done to slow and eventually reverse climate change, read our series on climate change via the links below:
WWIII Climate Wars series links
WWIII CLIMATE WARS: NARRATIVES
Southeast Asia, Drowning in your Past: WWIII Climate Wars P9
South America, Revolution: WWIII Climate Wars P11