There is no simple and unquestionable causal link between climate change and conflict. The Nobel Committee should take note of this.
With two special reports (here and here) released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) just after the summer, the awareness of the consequences of climate change and the measures needed to limit these impacts is higher than ever before. Regrettably, there is not a one-to-one relationship between responsibility and consequences, and the burden will be much larger for the already disadvantaged Global South.
The security implications of climate change have increasingly been debated in the United Nations Security Council. Yet, there is a growing concern by many UN member states about the lack of adequate responses to the risks that climate change poses to peace and security. In recent years, some modest but notable changes at the UN have taken place, of which the creation of the Climate Security Mechanism is the primary example.
This blog post, which first appeared as a SIPRI Policy Brief last week, summarizes the recent evolution of the climate security debate in the UN and highlights three priority areas for future action: (a) supporting and establishing climate security action in the field, (b) nurturing knowledge provision and (c) building sustainable sources of financing for climate security action. All these steps will require committed actors, innovation and long-term investment.
Escalating climate impacts make the mitigation of climate-related security risks by the UN and its member states not only demanded but urgent. Recent institutional progress demonstrates that committed and cooperative actors can drive institutional change. This progress must be bolstered and action delivered in the field.
Focusing in on both the agreement and the disagreement sheds new light on the linkages between climate and armed conflict.
In our recent analysis, published in the journal Nature last week, we conducted an expert assessment of the relationship between climate and conflict. Previous studies have both asserted and refuted linkages between climate variability and change and their potential consequences for the risk of violent conflict. Even synthesis studies have struggled to crystallize current understanding.
In short, we found strong agreement among experts that climate – in its variability and change – influences the risk of organized armed conflict within countries. But other factors, such as the capacity of the state or levels of socioeconomic development, play a much larger role. The jury is still out on the precise mechanisms at work across different contexts. Into the future, experts estimate intensifying climate change will drive up the risks.
Mediation – the process of helping groups in, or at risk of, armed conflict settle their differences peacefully – rarely gets the attention it deserves given how much bloodshed it has averted. In the twenty years following 1988, most of the world’s major armed conflicts were resolved by agreement, leading to a decline in both the number of wars being fought and the number of people killed in them.
Climate change has the potential to increase violent conflict risk. This suggests the need for a specified subfield of peacebuilding research and practice to address this issue. Environmental peacebuilding is growing in prominence among scholars and practitioners, even though the debate as to how much climate change increases conflict risk is not yet settled. This notion of peacebuilding in an environmental/climate context deserves attention in what seems to be an uncertain future where appropriate collective climate mitigation action can seem to be tenuous at the best of times. Future research should aim to highlight how conflict risk in a climate context, can be reduced. Below I discuss one potential area of research and practice.
Remote sensing can provide valuable insights into the environmental dimensions of armed conflicts.
Access to areas affected by armed conflicts is often limited, posing problems for research into environmental change. Because of this, remote sensing using satellite imagery is one of the tools that is increasingly used to monitor how armed conflicts interact with the environment. In this blog, Dr Lina Eklund provides an introduction into what we can discover through remote sensing using examples from Iraq, Syria and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and considers the limitations of these techniques.
The Human Security Link
The sustainability of cities depends on the human security of new migrant populations. Human security, in this context, means the ability and real prospect of living a meaningful life. A shorthand for human security is ‘freedom from want and freedom from fear’. Many migrant populations globally face significant insecurity in their material wellbeing as well as social exclusion and exposure to crime, environmental hazards and other dimensions of precarity. Freedom from want and fear encapsulates, therefore, many of these aspects of the human security challenge in growing cities.
Our hypothesis that sustainability of cities is related to the human security of migrants is based on two principal observations. First, it is the population dynamics of migration that drives urbanization processes in rapidly growing cities. Second, migrant populations are critical because they are potential agents of change, even in circumstances where they are economically and politically marginalised.
Do cities grow because of migration? The large majority of people currently living in the most rapidly growing cities, ranging from Lagos to Dhaka to Manila, were not born there, but they moved there either as individuals or with their parents. These people are known as lifetime migrants: up to ninety percent of the population of some large metropolises are in effect in this category. Population estimates of growing mega-cities across Asia and Africa have very significant uncertainty. Estimates come from decadal censuses and nightlight estimates, but are notoriously unreliable. In effect this is because migrants move to cities at rates that are difficult to measure. For Dhaka in Bangladesh, for example, population growth rates suggest that perhaps 1000 extra people arrive in Dhaka every day that were not there the day before.
It’s clear the Trump administration takes a skeptical stance toward human-induced climate change, but the recently proposed climate and security panel might pave the way for having their cake and eating it too.Read More
Does global warming really increase armed conflict? Recently, a new study joined a wave of research (e.g., here and here) that seeks to illustrate the effects of climate change on political violence. The most recent study, published in the journal Global Environmental Change and conducted by Guy J. Abel and colleagues, demonstrates that climate change increases migration, purportedly by increasing the likelihood of conflict.
Mainstream media outlets picked up the findings, issuing news stories with startling headlines such as “Pentagon Fears Confirmed.” These stories surely generated clicks, given the public’s interest in climate change and climate change denial. However, the collective research findings of numerous scholars who have studied this topic suggest that such claims may be vastly overstated.