Conflict & Climate Change: The Real Triple C

You read this title and say to yourself, “There is no war in climate change!” “What? Scientists don’t go to war!”  Often the discussions on climate change center around the environmental effects. Experts do not attribute climate change as a direct cause of war, but it is a catalyst for conflict. The connection between conflict and climate change is not a game of six degrees of separation. Many governments and NGOs have already generated reports on the effects of climate change and security.

Climate change causes sea-level rise, natural resource scarcity, and natural disasters. These external pressures pose a considerable threat, particularly to developing nations. Climate change makes forced migration and climate refugees more prevalent. Climate change can contribute to armed conflict in two ways. First, scarcity of natural resources can change the political economy of a state. Second, climate impacts can stimulate conflict by changes in social systems. Climate change causes environmental stress which asserts an influence on peace and security.



Sudan. The conflict in Darfur began because of an ecological crisis that arose from climate change. Southern Sudan started experiencing drought as a result of sea level temperature rise in the Indian Ocean. This drought caused scarcity in food and water resources, and heightened tensions between the Arab herders and nomadic farmers. The conflict in Darfur arose during this drought when there was not enough food and water for all.

Somalia. Somalia is located in the Horn of Africa, which is particularly susceptible to climate change. Somalia has subtle connections between drought, food insecurity, and conflict. Drought and food insecurity plague Somalia, which has caused food crises. The food crises result in internal displacement within Somalia. Civil conflicts have coincided with the food crises. Militant groups have taken advantage of the current environmental vulnerabilities to expand their power, making climate change an external pressure on Somalia.

Syria. Similar to Sudan, the civil war in Syria arose in a time of drought. The drought was ongoing between 2006-2009 in the fertile crescent. As a result, rural Syrians along with Iraqi refugees were forced to migrate to larger cities. After the drought, the Syrian conflict arose in 2011.  Scientists believe that the drought played a role in Syrian unrest because food became expensive and water scarce. The expensive food and water scarcity put external pressures on the political climate in Syria.

The effects of climate change place external pressure on the political climate of nations. As nations seek to keep global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels, we face the challenges of how climate change impacts affect security and civil unrest. As we go into climate change negotiations, we should realize the threat of armed conflict that climate change poses.