Scientists are still studying the links between climate change, migration patterns and conflict. Because of the extraordinarily complicated range of factors that impact why people migrate and how conflicts are started, it’s nearly impossible to point to a single occurrence today and blame it on climate alone.
Clearly, factors that may impact conflict can be exacerbated by a warming planet. Demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt that sparked the Arab Spring last year began partly because of protests over rising food prices — a persistent problem that will increase with more severe heat waves, droughts and floods — see Climate Story of the Year: Warming-Driven Drought and Extreme Weather Emerge as Key Threat to Global Food Security.
And in Darfur, a prolonged drought was one of the catalysts for the social unrest that caused a brutal decade-long civil war. Some have gone far enough to call it the “first climate war.”
However, in both of these cases, the political and social unrest contributing to these conflicts are deep and complex. Climate change certainly isn’t the sole driver — but it is one that we know will get considerably worse if we don’t act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions sharply.
Without a more integrated approach to the three D’s of foreign policy — diplomacy, development and defense — governments may find it difficult to get out ahead of problems.
“It is not only about hard security, about hard military power anymore. But you can prevent conflicts if you have smart development and sustainability policies in place if you preemptively invest and make sure that conflicts don’t even rise,” says Michael Werz, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, in an interview on the Climate Progress podcast.
Werz recently co-authored a report on the issue, which is the first in a series of reports exploring the link between climate, migration and conflict in different areas of the world.
“The trajectories that we can observe are pointing in the same direction, which means there is a need to do something. And the fact that we’re not entirely certain about the scientific relation between climate change, human mobility and conflict does not mean that we do not have to act. It means the opposite: uncertainty should be a driver for action, and not vice versa.”
So what might that new national security framework look like exactly? We’ll talk with Werz about how the international community can prepare for the climate-conflict nexus — even with so many unanswered questions.
To listen, play the podcast above.
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- Sandia Labs study: “It is the uncertainty associated with climate change that validates the need to act protectively and proactively.”
- USGS Expert Explains How Global Warming Likely Contributes to East Africa’s Brutal Drought
- An Illustrated Guide to the Science of Global Warming Impacts: How We Know Inaction Is the Gravest Threat Humanity Faces