Aug. 17, 2021

Nuclear weapons threat, climate change linked in many ways

Nuclear weapons threat, climate change linked in many ways

Daniel Högsta is campaign coordinator for the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. He reflects below on the tie between climate change and nuclear weapons, as well as on global progress toward a nuclear-free world.
https://www.oikoumene.org/news/nuclear-weapons-threat-climate-change-linked-in-many-ways
The damaged statue of St. Agnes found in the ruins of a Roman Catholic Cathedral in Nagasaki, Japan in 1945. The Cathedral was completely destroyed when the atomic bomb exploded about half a kilometer away. The charring and mottling are the result of the intense heat and radiation. The statue is on display at the United Nations headquarters in New York City. Photo: Marcelo Schneider/WCC
17 August 2021

Would you highlight some of the ties between a nuclear weapons-free world and the climate emergency? How can we care for creation—instead of annihilating it?

Högsta: The nuclear weapons threat and the climate emergency are the two of the major existential challenges faced by humanity — and they are linked in several ways. First of all, a climate-stressed world is an even more dangerous place for nuclear weapons. Global warming and the potential for conflict that arises out of it could lead to the use of nuclear weapons.

Nuclear weapons also themselves threaten climatic disruptions — studies have shown that even a limited nuclear war would have devastating impacts on the whole planet, especially areas with populations who are already vulnerable to agricultural disruptions.

The investment in the continued maintenance of nuclear weapons comes at a huge cost — money that could be used to develop sustainable and green technologies.

Nuclear weapons also harm the environment long before they are being used. Uranium mining, nuclear waste dumps and of course testing of the actual bombs contaminate the earth, causing people to leave their homes.

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons addresses this issue in Art VI, obligating Sates to carry out environmental remediation and assistance to the victims of the use and testing of nuclear weapons.

What are your continued hopes for the ratification of the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons? How can we hope to get the nuclear nations and their allies to sign? Is there any progress?

Högsta: The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons has been ratified by 56 countries and signed by 88 countries. We expect several more signatures and ratification over the next weeks and months, since we’re seeing progress in the national legislative procedures in many countries. We’re also not discouraged (or surprised) by the obstinacy of the nuclear weapon-possessor governments and other nuclear weapon-complicit countries towards the treaty. There are clear signs of political progress among the reluctant: Sweden, Switzerland and Finland (who have close relations with NATO) have confirmed their participation at the first Meeting of States Parties as observers; in late 2020, the new Belgian government became the first NATO state to positively mention the treaty in a governing coalition agreement; there are indications that upcoming elections in Germany and Norway will lead to political shifts as it concerns the treaty; and finally, a letter of 56 former ministers from nuclear
umbrella states — including two former secretaries-general of NATO (Javier Solana and Willy Claes) spoke out in favour of NATO states joining the treaty.

At the grassroots level, meaning churches and communities, families and individuals, what are some initiatives we can help lead? Why does every person make a difference?

Högsta: Lobbying national governments can at times be cumbersome. That’s why every individual can help the campaign by speaking to local members of parliament in their constituencies and get them to sign the parliamentary pledge. Through the pledge, parliamentarians can show their support for the treaty and promise to work on progress towards its ratification. Additionally, grassroots campaigners can reach out to the local councils of cities and towns to join the ICAN Cities appeal and make their cities nuclear weapons free zones and request the government to join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. To take just a recent example — the effort to get the city of Winnipeg to join the Cities Appeal was led by two high school students who showed some great initiative and d