Conflict and Climate: How the changing environment is creating a human security crisis

Every member of the international community has been impacted in some way by climate change. Yet, for large swaths of the global population, the quality of life and sense of safety has dramatically deteriorated because of the ongoing threat of natural disaster. Climate change serves as a threat multiplier for natural disasters, and the dual impact of these two issues on human security is critical. 

The strongest real-world occurrences of the relationship between climate change and threats to human security are in developing countries.  Additionally these countries are also left vulnerable to the detrimental decisions of wealthier and more powerful developed countries. In fact, 70% of the bottom quarter of states most vulnerable to climate change are also a part of the bottom quarter of the most fragile states in the world. 

Beyond development status affecting the way climate change impacts countries, the risk of the climate crisis is also not faced by all individuals equally. Rather, there is a daunting disparity between those who are safe and those who face the most adverse impacts. 

For example, the threat of climate change on human security is heightened for women than for men. Women around the world already face significantly less opportunity for work or education, but the plight of women under conditions such as drought, famine or epidemic increases drastically. Women traditionally are responsible for collecting water for their families in developing nations across the world; when drought strikes, women and children have to walk much greater distances to access much less water. In addition, in walking those long distances, women much worry about their security in dangerous areas. 

The conditions for those that live in fear and are impacted unfairly have also caused an increase in violence and conflict. While climate change itself does not directly cause violence or the outbreak of conflicts it instead pushes already unstable or fragile states to the brink of crisis. 

For instance, when a country faces severe drought, that drought will likely lead to some form of crop failure, which may lead to an intense competition for food and other resources. We can already see this playing out in PLACE. 

And in a fragile or developing country, where resources are already stretched too thin, this will lead to further disputes over basic life necessities — which could result in further violence and chaos. This has happened in both Afghanistan and Syria.

When the basic necessities of life are threatened, individuals will often resort to extreme measures to survive to see the next day. 

In Afghanistan, 80% of the conflicts are directly tied to natural disasters, while 60% of the population is dependent on agriculture to support themselves. Because of the early melting of snow and glaciers, fields are being flooded and irrigation systems are overwhelmed, creating a destructive force against the economy. 

The Taliban has used the threat of a lack of resources as a way to recruit desperate individuals to join their fight and to wreak havoc on the country. Essentially, while climate change did not directly cause a proliferation of war, it worsened the domestic conditions ripe for conflict. 

Meanwhile in Syria, the country faced a devastating drought that lasted from 2006 to 2010. This natural disaster primed the country with conditions that led to a deadly civil war. The food insecurity and harsh conditions sourced from the drought — combined with many social, economic, and political factors — created an environment that has now seen the deaths of over 400,000 people. In a similar vein to Afghanistan, resource deprivation and climate-related disaster led to the conditions in which ISIS thrived

The decision to move toward violence will only continue to be pushed as climate change grows stronger as a threat every day. Human displacement and economic stressors will continue to take a toll on the stability of countries around the world, and the stability of the international community as a whole. 

Though climate change may seem like an actor-less threat, existing without any individual able to take global responsibility, there are individuals, companies, countries and policies to blame. Currently, at COP26, world leaders are playing the blame game. In Glasgow, Scotland, countries are recommitting to their climate change plans of action and laying out their goals for the next five years. 

But until the threat of climate change can be minimized through cooperation and determination, millions of citizens around the world will face deteriorating living conditions and a persistent threat of violence.

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