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Climate Change and its Impacts on Escalation of Global Tensions

The climate change and its impacts on the human being’s environment have existed since a long time ago, but they have now turned into a critical issue that will threaten the future of humanity.
June 2020
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Hamidreza Bodaghi

The climate change and its impacts on the human being’s environment have existed since a long time ago, but they have now turned into a critical issue that will threaten the future of humanity. Thus, the problem needs to be addressed with immediate attention and action. Although warnings have been sounded about the far-reaching negative consequences of climate change and many major views have been put forward on the issue, many factors and regions have not been considered sufficiently. The topics that have received inadequate attention including the repercussions of climate change for world security, its role in the creation of focal points of conflict in the future, and the impacts of climate change on the basic resources, particularly foodstuff and water.

 In September 2019, as the United Nations Climate Action Summit was being held, widespread protests were staged in various parts of the world to call for immediate action to protect and support the climate of the Earth. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had called on the world leaders to come to New York with concrete and realistic plans to enhance their nationally determined contributions by 2020, in line with reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent over the next decade, and to net zero emissions by 2050. The climate change will impact on the basic resources, particularly the foodstuff and water, will intensify underdevelopment of the countries, and will bring about security problems in many parts of the world. The impacts of climate change and the creation of conflicts will work in three areas:

 Violence and Domestic Conflicts: The impacts of climate change on natural resources will increase the population pressure; economic pressure, and political pressure. It will also reduce the ability of governments to meet the demands of citizens for food, water, and energy. As a result, the governments will become fragile and weak and the domestic conflicts will result in the governments’ breakdown escalation. Climate change could pose a serious challenge to the stability of countries and the legitimacy of governments. Robert McLeman from Wilfrid Laurier University of Canada maintains that the politically vulnerable countries will become the main possible centers of climate change-driven violence and forced migration in the future. These threats will be more prevalent in the Middle East region. In the list of 20 underdeveloped countries in the world 12 of the countries are in the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa. A series of studies have been conducted into the impact of climate change on stability in the countries. The results of a comprehensive examination of the connection between global warming and the threat of domestic conflicts in Africa carried out by a group of researchers in 2009, suggest that there are strong historical linkages between civil war and temperature in Africa, with warmer years leading to significant increases in the likelihood of war. When combined with climate model projections of future temperature trends, this historical response to temperature suggests a roughly 54% increase in armed conflict incidence by 2030, or an additional 393,000 battle deaths if future wars are as deadly as recent wars.

 Creation of Breeding Ground for Terrorism: The impacts of global warming on Earth bring about geopolitical changes. Such changes are blatantly obvious in the weak regions, such as the Horn of Africa. Therefore, these regions are very likely to become a breeding ground for terrorism, particularly under the shadow of instability and growing poverty.

 A report from the Climate Diplomacy in October 2016 has cited the definite role of non-state actors in the climate change, suggesting how the climate change has played a role in increasing the risk of growth and influence of those groups. The study has concluded that there are certain mechanisms by which climate change facilitates the rise and growth of the armed groups:

 Climate change increasingly contributes to the fragility of governments, mainly by contributing to conflicts surrounding natural resources and livelihood insecurity. As a result, terrorist groups proliferate and can operate more easily in these fragile and conflict-affected environments where the state has little to no authority and is lacking legitimacy. Sometimes, the terrorist groups also try to fill the gap left by the state by providing basic services in order to gain legitimacy and secure trust and support among the local population. Climate change is having increasingly negative impacts on livelihoods in many countries and regions, e.g. through food insecurity or water/land scarcities. This makes the affected population groups more vulnerable not only to negative climate impacts but also to recruitment by the terrorist groups. These groups can offer alternative livelihoods. There is no direct link between climate change and NSAG- (non-state armed group-) related violence and conflict. However, large-scale environmental and climatic change contributes to creating an environment in which NSAGs can thrive and open spaces that facilitate the pursuit of their strategies.

 Growing Risk of Armed Conflict: There is a consensus about the impacts of climate change on the armed conflicts, but there are different views about the amount of such impact. A study published in the journal Nature on June 12, 2019, estimates that climate has influenced between 3% and 20% of armed conflict risk over the last century.

 The experts do not fully agree on a link between the climate change and the conflicts. Most of these views are between the two extremes. While a series of studies have highlighted a direct link between climate change and conflicts, a number of others have rejected any direct connection. The latter group of researchers believes that conflicts are usually driven by factors that are more significant than climate change. However, the connection between climate change and the conflicts is not simple, as a rise in the climatic impacts does not automatically increase the fragility and weakness of governments and the conflicts, but one can say that climate change increases the risks. In other words, when climate change is coupled with risks and other existing pressures within a definite framework, it may increase violent conflicts. Accordingly, an appropriate conclusion is that the link between climate change and conflicts is a correlation, not a cause-and-effect relationship. Despite different views among researchers about the degree of the linkage, there is a consensus that there is an indirect link –minimum prediction- between climate change and the conflicts, and such effectiveness increases and will be glaringly obvious if there are other factors such as poverty or a decrease in average social and economic development. With a possible reduction in global food production and the sea-level rise, climate change will increase instability in the critical regions. Therefore, evaluation of the security impacts of climate change is a basic necessity for the formation of the necessary approach and for action on the issue.

(The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the IPIS)

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