By Jeremy Lovell
LONDON (Reuters) - Countries around the world have hugely underestimated the potential conflicts stemming from climate change and must invest heavily to correct that mistake, a report said on Wednesday.
The report for Britain's Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) by environment expert Nick Mabey said the response had been "slow and inadequate" and to rectify it spending needed to surge to levels comparable to sums spent on counter-terrorism.
"If climate change is not slowed and critical environmental thresholds are exceeded, then it will become a primary driver of conflicts between and within states," said the report "Delivering Climate Security: International Security Responses to a Climate-Changed World."
"In the next decades, climate change will drive as significant a change in the strategic security environment as the end of the Cold War," said Mabey.
"If uncontrolled, climate change will have security implications of similar magnitude to the World Wars, but which will last for centuries," he added in the report for the RUSI, a leading forum for defense and security issues.
Experts in the sector should identify and analyze climate-induced security hot spots and communicate these findings to world leaders and the public at large.
The report said conflicts over natural resources had been a regular feature of history, but that the changing climatic conditions would exacerbate the problems with hundreds of millions of people displaced by droughts, floods and famines.
This in turn would affect the livelihoods of billions more people with the world's population forecast to climb to nine billion people by mid-century from 6.5 billion now.
The report said that Europe, which is leading the way in tackling global warming caused by burning fossil fuels for power and transport, was only spending the equivalent of 0.5 percent of its combined defense budget on the climate crisis.
It said this was due to a systematic undervaluing of the scale and security implications of extreme climate change.
"A failure to acknowledge and prepare for the worst case scenario is as dangerous in the case of climate change as it is for managing the risks of terrorism or nuclear weapons proliferation," the report said.
"Unless achieving climate security is seen as a vital and existential national interest it will be too easy to delay action on the basis of avoiding immediate costs and perceived threats to economic competitiveness," the report said.
(Editing by Keith Weir)