Climate change and political insecurity

Monday 24 August | 16.00-17.30 | Room: FH Congress Hall B
© Joel Carillet

Climate change driven hazards can be an underlying reason for increased tension, armed conflicts and political insecurity that many parts of the world are experiencing today.  Some studies indicate that Climate change can increase armed conflict with up to 50 percent.
Climate change will impact the frequency and magnitude of droughts, floods and flash floods with large consequences for human settlements and livelihoods, forcing people to become refugees, or internally displaced. Climate change has become a severe obstacle for socio-economic development in particular regions. For instance, in Syria droughts have been identified as an underlying factor contributing to the political instability in the region. This side event will gather Climate Change and Water experts as well as government representatives e.g. Ministry of Defense, Armed forces and Foreign Ministry to discuss the possible impact of climate change on political instability and armed conflicts.
Key questions that will be addressed?
- What is the significance of climate change compared to political, economic and geographic factors as a risk and driving factor of political instability?
- How can climate change risks be mitigated and potential conflict areas identified at an early stage?


16.00 Introduction by chair Anna Forslund, SIWI
16.05 Climate Change and Conflicts, Dr. Mark Fletcher, ARUP
16.20 Climate-driven water scarcity and violent extremism in Iraq and Syria Dr. Marcus D. King, The George Washington University
16.40 Climate change and migration - risks and opportunities. Prof. Lennart Olsson, Lund University
 17.00 Panel discussion
Moderators: Anna Forslund and Mark Fletcher
Panel: Dr. Mats Eriksson, SIWI, Dr Marcus D. King,The George Washington University, Dr. Malin Mobjörk, Stockholm Universty, Prof. Lennart Olsson, Lund University


A growing body of reports and policy documents on Climate Change as a security risk is emerging, many of them stemming from agencies with a military and security background. The UK and US governments have moved from considering Climate Change as a future risk to a current threat and developed strategic approaches to Climate Change and Conflict in defence strategies. The seminar focused on the role of Climate Change as a threat multiplier. What is the evidence base that shows the links between Conflict and Climate Change compared with other driving factors such as political, economic, social and geographic? Based on the presentations and the panel discussions, the following conclusions were made
- The effects of Climate Change, such as more frequent natural disasters, long-term changes in precipitation and temperature, and sea-level rise, could combine with other factors increase the risk or prevalence of violent conflicts.
- Climate Change is increasing the risk and severity of heat waves, urban floods and typhoons. Migration can be one way for societies to adapt to these risks. A mix of factors will influence whether a person, a family or even a community will migrate, and they are closely intertwined. Treating the drivers in isolation can be counterproductive.
- Climate driven water disasters uproot people and make them vulnerable to criminal groups such as recruitment to terrorist networks and young children being subject to trafficking.
- ‘Securitising Climate Change’ reframes Climate Change from an environmental or a development problem to a security problem and can potentially underplay the importance of addressing root causes such as local adaptation and coping mechanisms.
- Current research shows evidence of links between Climate Change and Conflict yet gaps in knowledge exist, and there is a lack of consensus, as well as a lack of comprehensive understanding around the complexity of pathways connecting the two phenomena.
- A case study on the conflict in Syria illustrated that Climate Change has exacerbated water scarcity and has played a meaningful but complicated role in creating desperate conditions that led to political unrest and ultimately violent insurrection in the country. Violence was perpetrated by IS and others. Drought, food insecurity, poverty and migration were progressive effects that led to desperation. However more study is needed to assign relative weight to the causes and effects.
- Case studies showed ‘water weaponization’ is also causing lasting damage to vulnerable populations in Syria and Iraq. Use of the ‘water weapon’ has been a critical enabler and perpetuator of the IS war campaign. Better understanding the role of IS’s use of water as weapon is a significant determinant in whether they can be defeated. Incorporating restoration of water infrastructure in post-conflict stabilization programs should be a high priority.
- In summary, increased vulnerability to conflict depends on a mix of factors e.g. poverty, availability of water and sanitation, effectiveness of governance and adaptive capacity. These factors can affect if individuals and institutions will follow a path of co-operation rather than conflict.