Climate change is an emerging concern on international security agendas as a ‘threat multiplier’. Some of the world’s hotspots for ethnic, religious, political and other divides coincide with the regions that will be first and worst affected by climate change. Addressing these concerns are essential if we are to secure peace.
- By 2080, climate change could result in an additional 35 million to 170 million undernourished people in developing countries;
- With under 2°C warming by 2050, undernourishment is projected to increase by 25-90 percent in sub-Saharan Africa;
- Between now and 2025, the number of people living in regions facing absolute water scarcity will rise by 1.2 billion;
- At the end of the century, climate change and population growth will have decimated water availability in food-producing areas of sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Southeast Asia by up to 50 percent;
- 46 countries – home to 2.7 billion people – are considered to be at high risk of violent conflict due to the combined effects of climate change and ongoing socioeconomic and political problems;
- By 2050, climate change could cause interpersonal violence and intergroup conflict to increase by 8-16 and 28-56 percent respectively.
Once only perceived as an environmental issue, climate change is an emerging concern on international security agendas. As both a threat to human security and national security it will increasingly play a prominent role as a ‘threat multiplier’. This reframing has seen climate change discussed in two high-profile debates in the United Nations Security Council and become the subject of a UN General Assembly resolution (63/281).
While climate change may not be the single cause of conflict in the future, it will increasingly become one of the most important and decisive factors. A few of the most pronounced pathways linking climate change and conflict relate to its impacts on actual or perceived resource scarcity, patterns of human migration and/or contexts of existing state fragility. In a few cases, most notably those of small island developing states, climate change poses an existential threat to the state itself.
More often than not, conflicts are the result of complex interactions between multiple social, economic, political and environmental factors. Climate change can exert extra pressure on all of these factors, most noticeably environmental ones, to generate new or exacerbate existing instabilities which can lead to conflict. This is generally what academics, policymakers and security analysts are referring to when they call climate change a ‘threat multiplier’. High population growth, resource scarcity, unmanaged migration, poverty and poor governance are just some of the pathways through which climate change can breach tipping points or fuel existing conflicts.
Conflict in this context does not necessarily relate to conventional war between two or more states. The pervasively deleterious effect that climate change can have on precarious situations where either human or national security is threatened, means that internal conflicts such as civil wars, transnational threats from armed non-state groups such as terrorist networks and local level conflicts such as violence between pastoralist and farming communities must all be considered.
Conflict does not even have to involve armed violence. For instance, the struggle between a community and a state or private company over access to and ownership over a type of natural capital which is being diminished by a changing climate (for example, arable land, freshwater, coastal fisheries) may unfold in an entirely non-violent way but it does not make it any less of a conflict - nor its potential impact on human insecurity and the fulfilment of basic rights any less severe.
In order to plan and prepare for the impacts of climate change, it is essential that we understand the relationship between climate change and the myriad forms of insecurity and conflict. In an increasingly interdependent world, the speed with which contagion spreads and local insecurities act upon the international stage is unprecedented, as the global financial crisis and H1N1 pandemic evidence. Many stakeholders stand to benefit from reasoned and rational predictions of how and where destabilisation and exacerbated vulnerabilities may arise as a result of climate change.
Research to improve our understanding of how climate stressors will affect and amplify the complex constellations of vulnerability in different areas of the world would enable wider dialogues between governments, militaries and civil society by exposing interrelated threats to human and national security and providing much-needed information on how stakeholders can work collaboratively on conflict prevention and governance-building activities. At the policy level, an essential part of this effort involves linking together developmental, human rights, environmental, migration and peace-building issues to strengthen protection and assistance mechanisms for those populations and areas that are most vulnerable to climate change.
“Climate change not only exacerbates threats to international peace and security, it is a threat to international peace and security.”
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
EJF believes that effective and sustainable actions on climate change must be sensitive to security concerns. EJF advocates for:
- Greater efforts on climate change mitigation and adaptation targeted at the protection of human rights and the prevention and timely resolution of conflicts;
- Governments to deliver linked-up policies on environment, human rights, development, migration and conflict prevention and peace-building. Specifically, there is an urgent need for conflict-sensitive climate change adaptation strategies;
- A UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Climate Change in the UN Human Rights Council.
Our report The Gathering Storm: Climate Change, Security and Conflict collates evidence from around the world to show how climate change is acting as a catalyst for conflict and instability. It demonstrates how some of the most vulnerable people in the world are the first and worst affected by climate change, exposed to negative impacts which erode their human rights and place their homes, livelihoods and cultures at risk.
The report analyses how climate change exacerbates resource competition and water scarcity, generates widespread displacement and risks overwhelming some of the world’s fragile and post-conflict states. It calls for climate change to be recognised as a human rights issue as well as an environmental issue and highlights the need for urgent international action to respond to the human and national security challenges that climate change presents.
“Sticking your head in the sand might make you feel safer, but it’s not going to protect you from the coming storm.”
US President Barack Obama