When people think of climate change, they envision some far-away dystopian future. However, just a quick scan of news headlines from just the Summer of 2021 show that climate change is more real than ever before as global peace and security is at stake. It is no surprise then that the United Nations has termed last week’s landmark report from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) a “code red for humanity”.
Climate change is a crisis of our times and if remains undeterred can transcend physical catastrophes. The phenomenon can pose severe threats to global peace and security by triggering conflicts, destabilizing communities and adversely affecting people’s lives.
“Thousands flee fires that are raging across Greece” – NPR, August 2021
“European floods are latest sign of a Global Warming Crisis” – NYT, July 2021
‘Wither away and die:’ U.S. Pacific Northwest heat wave bakes wheat, fruit crops” – Reuters, June 2021
Read more: Op-ed: Climate change cannot be denied
Grave ramifications for global peace and security
According to the report, at the current rate, our climate will be between 2.1 and 3.9 °C warmer by 2100. To put this in perspective: just a half degree of warming has meant destabilizing of our global ecosystem with greater extreme weather events, melting glaciers, and rising sea levels. 2 degrees or more will have catastrophic consequences for the world as we know it.
In reality, these vicissitudes have social and political consequences that go beyond the physical environment, having grave ramifications for global peace and security. As climate change interacts with other global gravities, including uncontrolled urbanization, environmental degradation, population growth, increased demand for resources, jagged economic development and inequality, they make communities less resilient and affect their very lives.
Europe: "Climate change can weaken cooperation and increase the potential of regional conflicts over shared transboundary waters, and theaten regional water and energy supply"
— Robin Fontaine 🇲🇨 🇫🇷 🇪🇺 (@Robin_ACF) August 17, 2021
While shrinking glaciers, rising sea levels, and extremes in temperature are well-reported, the tumbling effects that a transformed climate will have on global peace and security are less clearly understood. In already fragile settings, these interactions can exacerbate instability and increase security challenges. In the worst cases, climate changes can devastate societies and states, aggravating the dangers of conflict, instability, and violence.
Varying impacts on regions
Climate change will have varying impacts on people and regions. For instance, floods and typhoons are becoming more frequent and intense in South East Asia, while South Asia faces increased flood risks and heat waves. Europe faces greater risks of forest fires and droughts, while Africa experienced a temperature rise of 1.5 times the global average along with more frequent storms and increasingly erratic rainfall patterns. Although the impacts of climate change are felt worldwide, people in low and middle-income countries are often the most vulnerable. This is not only due to their high dependency on agrarian economies that are climate sensitive, but also because of the effects of poor governance and institutions that are ill-equipped to cope with the complexity of climate change. Based on the Fund for Peace Fragile States Index (2019), 70% of the bottom quartile of countries most vulnerable to climate change are also in the bottom quartile of the most fragile countries in the world.
— IPCC (@IPCC_CH) August 17, 2021
Multifaceted risks of Climate Change
Failure to understand and address these multifaceted risks comes at a high cost. For policy-makers, a fundamental question to examine then is not if, but rather when and how climate change contributes to more conflict and fragility and what can be done to address emerging risks.
While no conflict is “mono-causal” and climate change does not cause violent conflict in and of itself, evidence from around the world shows that climate change can multiply risks known to contribute to insecurity, overburden state capacity, making already vulnerable communities more susceptible. The pathways through which these risks play out are highly contextual and determined by the localized interplay of climate stressors with parameters of exposure, and the vulnerability and coping capacity of societies.
Aggravating food and water insecurities
For instance, water shortages caused by drought or rainfall fluctuation can expose women and children – who are responsible for water collection in 80 percent of households – to increased risks of sexual and gender-based violence as they are forced to walk farther to collect water. Similarly, particular effects of climate changes (e.g. droughts and floods) could aggravate food and water insecurities, worsen livelihood security, and generate political conditions (e.g. conflict and unemployment) that enable the operations and recruitment of non-state armed groups. According to the Global Report on Internal Displacement 2020, natural disasters and conflict newly displaced more than 30 million people last year. Internal migration in response to climate change can aggravate tensions in host communities and overtax capacities in rapidly growing urban areas.
#NowWatching from @UNICEF on the release of their report, “The Climate Crisis is a Child Rights Crisis: Introducing the Children's Climate Risk Index,” how children are affected by #climatechange. https://t.co/eFsze4Z1hy
— IPCC (@IPCC_CH) August 20, 2021
Deepening political and ethnic fault lines
On a broader level, natural resources are at the core for a number of conflicts. Non-renewable resources such as oil and minerals fuel geopolitical rivalries and sometimes finance civil wars. Disputes also arise over renewable natural resources such as arable land, water and forests. The repercussions of environmental failure generally reinforce economic and social inequities or deepen political and ethnic fault lines. Conflicts over natural resources have contributed to wars in Kuwait, Columbia, Afghanistan etc. The dispute over the Kashmir region — a flashpoint between India and Pakistan for more than six decades — is hugely intertwined with water security. In fact, Nesbit, in his book “This is the Way the World Ends” declares it to be potentially the deadliest climate change-attributed conflict in the world.
Climate change, global conflicts, and overpopulation will lead to a shortage in the world’s most abundant resource, writes Sajna Nair. #climatechange #watercrisis #globalwarming #climatecrisis #extremeweather #wildfires https://t.co/oP5pNrJeEe
— Policy Circle (@policy_circle) August 20, 2021
Clock is ticking on climate action
With COP26, the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties just three months away, the clock is ticking for world leaders to have greater clarity than ever before on Climate Action. This means putting climate change at the center of international security.
While the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development, the Paris Agreement, the Sendai Framework and the Sustaining Peace Resolutions all highlight the need for preventive action, there needs to be greater integration of climate risks in international security frameworks, sounding alarm bells within the UN Security Council itself.
Read more: Let Us Talk About Climate Change, Shall We?
Sustainable Development Goal 13 urges to "Take action to combat climate change" and its impacts. Climate change is now affecting every country on every continent. It is disrupting national economies and affecting lives, costing people, communities and wildlife. Take ACTION. pic.twitter.com/nS3ftnRrwj
— Meshack K. Mollel (@MeshackMollel20) August 21, 2021
Need for greater coordination by the international community
First, while there are differentiated risks and impacts of climate, the international community more than ever before will need to have greater coordination and shared governance mechanisms on climate. Technology sharing will be imperative for climate action, such as early warning systems. Adequate climate finance mechanisms will help make this a reality.
Climate change is unfolding fast, and urgent policy action is warrented for many years now. #IPCC latest report on climate change crisis highlighted significant increase in global warming in the last four decades.@arsched pic.twitter.com/blEN1CJNcM
— Omer Javed (@omerjaved7) August 20, 2021
Understanding the multidisciplinary linkages of climate change
Second, there needs to be a greater understanding of the systemic and multidisciplinary linkages of climate change: social, economic and political. For example, during conflict resolution on climate-sensitive natural resources such as water and arable land, the environmental conditions and possible climate related impacts must be considered in order to reach long-lasting agreements and sustain peace. Simultaneously, climate adaptation programs should consider the broader impact of resource sharing on communities to avoid reinforcing existing vulnerabilities and grievances.
Fostering integrated response strategies
Third, greater collaboration will be needed across traditional policy areas to foster integrated response strategies. For countries, organizations, and the international research community to be successful in addressing climate-related security risks, strategic partnerships need to be integrated to mobilize capacity and leverage expertise.
To conclude, Climate Change is a global emergency that has consequences for humanity at large and will therefore need united climate action that reflects our shared humanity.
Ms. Sadaf Akbar is a post-graduate in Applied Economics from FC College, Lahore. She is currently working as a Research Associate at the SDG Tech Lab established in collaboration with Information Technology University, Lahore, UNDP and UNFPA. She tweets @sadafakbar5
Ms. Maha Kamal is an International Public Policy Specialist working at the intersection of energy and climate. She was a Chevening Scholar at Queen Mary University of London. She taught public policy and economics at the Information Technology University. She tweets @emeskay
The views expressed in this article are the authors own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.