The impact of fluctuating climate conditions on societal stability and its potential to lead to violent conflict is of growing importance.
A recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report estimates with confidence that there will be a further 1.5 degrees Celsius increase in Earth’s surface temperature between 2030 and 2052, with alarming potential effects including rising land and sea temperatures, extreme rainfall and temperature fluctuations, and continued rising sea levels.
The impact of fluctuating climate conditions on societal stability and its potential to lead to violent conflict is of growing importance. Although long-term quantitative data on the interactions of climate and peace is scarce, what is available suggests that climate has played a role in triggering or exacerbating conflict through its effects on livelihood security and resource availability.
Currently 971 million people live in areas that are at risk of climate hazards – 400 million of this number live in countries with low levels of peacefulness, and reduced resilience to conflict. In this year’s Global Peace Index, 76 countries deteriorated in peacefulness. A massive 91 per cent of these have a high or very high risk of a climate hazard such as a tsunami, flood, tropical cyclone or drought. Alarmingly, one third of all countries analysed have a low risk of severe climate impact and climate related conflict.
In 2017, 61.5 per cent of total displacements were due to climate-related disasters, while a much smaller 38.5% were caused by armed conflict. There is a strong relationship between extreme weather events and displacement. In 2017, more than 18 million people were estimated to be displaced due to natural disasters.
In Ethiopia, droughts in the mid-1970s and 1980s and subsequent famines led to waves of migration from drought-stressed areas, both voluntary and government forced. In this example, both climate change and political factors impacted displacement and international migration. As a result of this instability, violence and insecurity increased in neighbouring countries which further impacted Ethiopia.
By 2050, climate change is estimated to create up to 86 million additional migrants in sub-Saharan Africa, 40 million in South Asia and 17 million in Latin America as agricultural conditions and water availability deteriorate across these regions. Empirical evidence suggests that people living in less developed countries without the ability to mitigate problems associated with climate change are those most likely to migrate — this migration may ultimately cause increased conflict in receiving areas.