The effects of global warming on the world’s physical landscape often lead to geopolitical changes that threaten to destabilize already vulnerable regions, like the Horn of Africa. The stresses on natural resources undermine the capacity of nations to govern themselves and increase the chances of conflicts. When compared to other drivers of international security risks, climate change can be modelled with a relatively high degree of certainty. But between predicting and preparing, there is still a long way to go.
Caitlin E. Werrell and Francesco Femia
The impact of climate change is being felt across the planet with extreme weather events and rising average temperatures becoming an everyday phenomenon. Climate change leads to reduced access to natural resources such as land and water which in turn can lead to violent conflict. This does not however immediately imply that there exists a linear relationship between climate change and violent conflict but rather that under certain circumstances climate change can influence factors that exacerbate conflict. Harlad Walzer, author of the book Climate Wars: Why people will be killed in the 21st century claims that there will be a renaissance of violent conflict in the 21st century, and that many of these conflicts will spring from climate change.
The recent special report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels reminded us that achieving climate and sustainable development objectives requires urgent climate action. These adverse impacts of climate change from the drastic rise in sea levels to the melting of glaciers are already contributing to increased state fragility and security problems in key regions around the world – conflict in the Middle East and Africa, tensions over fisheries in the South China Sea, and a new political and economic battleground in a melting Arctic Ocean. At the heart of this problem is the fact that climate change by altering the physical landscape of the world is altering the geopolitical landscape which is leading to problems like desertification, droughts, submerging of coastal cities, a migration so on and so forth which in turn is further aggravating conflict premised on ensuing resource scarcity.
By stressing on resource scarcity, climate change can degrade a nation’s capacity to govern itself and could therefore present itself to be a serious challenge to state legitimacy and stability, especially in vulnerable, underdeveloped states. All these things said, there lays a silver lining as climate change is a predictable outcome of the industrial revolution. Therefore, the international community, by taking responsible measures and acting urgently would be in a position to counter climate change. Similarly, to reduce the risk of conflict escalation the onus lies on the international community to formulate effective policy to deal with climate change. This can be done by aiding the process of development of developing and underdeveloped countries by providing them with state of the art technology that caters to their developmental needs without raising carbon emissions.
1. Scharr, Johan. 2018. “The Relationship Between Climate Change and Violent Conflict.” SIDA 2017, 4. 2. UNESCO, Courier. 2018. https://en.unesco.org/courier/2018-2/climate-change-raises-conflict-concerns
Scharr, Johan. 2018. “The Relationship Between Climate Change and Violent Conflict.” SIDA 2017, 4.
UNESCO, Courier. 2018. https://en.unesco.org/courier/2018-2/climate-change-raises-conflict-concerns