Conflict Potential in a World of Climate Change
Conflict Potential in a World of Climate Change
COP: A Special Series
COP: A Special Series
Speech / Global

Conflict Potential in a World of Climate Change

Address by Gareth Evans, President, International Crisis Group, to Bucerius Summer School on Global Governance 2008, Berlin, 29 August 2008.

It is a real pleasure to return to the Bucerius Summer School, bringing together as it does policymakers, academics and business leaders from a variety of fields, but still early in their careers, to discuss some of the most difficult and pressing questions facing the world today. It’s not often that I get a chance to speak to a group of the world's best and brightest professionals whose contributions are still largely ahead of them rather than behind them!

This year's program covers, as always, many of the world's most important and urgent challenges, both longstanding and recurrent problems like regional insecurity, inequality and the need to make our international institutions more responsive and capable, but also new sources of anxiety, instability and potential human misery which are different in nature or scale, or both, from anything which policymakers have previously had to confront. And climate change is the mother of all such issues.

Climate change research has developed rapidly over the past decade, with findings resting on a much more robust and comprehensive set of data than ever before. There is now broad agreement that human activities are increasing global surface temperatures at a significant rate and that temperatures will continue to rise through the 21st century and beyond, even in the event of concerted action to stabilise emissions. The past year – with its big debates at the UN Security Council and in statements from EU and G8 states, all following on from the groundbreaking reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – has underscored the central position that climate change now occupies in international policy and strategic thinking.

A recurring theme in the debate – and certainly a staple in all the rhetoric associated with it – has been the potential impact of climate change as a cause of deadly conflict. It has to be said, however, that this dimension of the debate has not always been as nuanced as it might, and that some of the contributions to it might be more persuasive if they were a little more cautiously expressed.

What I'd like to do today is take you through what I believe can, and cannot, be said about the relationship between climate change and conflict, making three basic points:

  1. First, there is unquestionably a general causal connection between the two, at least in the sense that climate change is a "threat multiplier".
  2. Second, that there are, nonetheless, real problems in trying to assess the future impact of climate change in any particular country or region, which has implications for the kind of policy prescriptions that can usefully be offered by governments, or research and advocacy organisations like my own.
  3. Third, that said, there are still some useful general policy positions that can be taken, and that we should be working now on implementing.

General causal connections

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's 2007 report, and the wealth of publications, events and statements that followed, tell us that many societies may already be suffering the early effects of climate change, and have predicted that in a number of broadly defined regions there will be over time major drops in food production, with shifts in rainfall patterns, accelerating desertification rendering land infertile, or sea-level rise inundating farmlands and furthering the spread of disease.

There are significant variations in the extent to which societies are dependent on climate sensitive resources, and in their likely capacity to withstand the socio-economic impact of climate-change induced shortages. Nicholas Stern’s 2006 report on the Economics of Climate Change for the UK Government foreshadowed some of the findings of the IPCC. He argued that developing countries are particularly vulnerable – due to their dependence on agriculture, high population growth, weak infrastructure and reduced capacity to adapt to climate pressures. That the developing world has contributed least to current rates of global warming makes these findings all the more disturbing.

It is easy enough in all of this to identify highly credible causal connections between climate-change and new security problems, with climate impacts generating wholly new tensions, or intensifying existing societal fault lines and operating as a "threat multiplier" in already fragile regions. There are four connections in particular which seem highly plausible:

  • Diminishing access to water, land, or returns on the use of land could increase competition for resources and in turn lead to violence.
  • The same declining access to resources could cause people to move in mass numbers – "environmental refugees" – potentially destabilising neighbouring areas.
  • Increased climate variability – in the form of drought, flooding, cyclones – can produce economic shocks, reducing employment opportunities and increasing recruitment to armed groups, in turn increasing the capacity of those groups to wage war.
  • Environmental migration not just to neighbouring states but to the global North, and divides between responsible and affected states, could strain already fragile relations between North and South – in turn compromising efforts to strengthen dialogue on many issues that demand a genuinely global response, including security issues like responding to terrorism and mass atrocity crimes.

There is ready evidence that any of these pressures can exacerbate humanitarian and security strains with dire effects. Food and fuel shortages in parts of North and West Africa, Haiti and elsewhere, for example, while essentially political and economic in origin, resulted in a series of violent protests earlier this year, in some cases prompting a brutal government response. In Mali, competition for territory and access to natural resources has driven a deadly, decades long conflict between Tuareg rebels and government forces, in a region already marked by political instability and widespread poverty. And there is ample experience in many contexts of large-scale movements of people, across borders or within conflict affected states, generating humanitarian and security risks.

The need for policy caution

But what does all this mean for policymakers here and now? How does it translate into an actionable policy agenda? Here it is important to recognise the very real limitations on what we can sensibly say about the climate-conflict connection, as we move from broad generalisations to particular policy prescriptions.

The first big problem is simply predicting where, precisely, the impact of climate change will fall. Despite considerable and continuing advances in climate change research, we are not yet able to determine where and when changes will occur with any kind of precision. Climate science is not so precise as to enable the assessment of impacts to be country-specific or even wider region-specific, let alone at the sub-national level.

There are for a start unresolved issues which affect prediction generally, like the acknowledged difficulty in assessing the "feedback" effects of global warming. Will melting ice caps mean that with more open water and land exposed to solar radiation, absorbing more of it because they are less reflective than ice, there will be more warming and even more melting? Or will increased temperatures cause particular cloud cover changes, meaning that incoming solar radiation will be reduced and future warming more limited?

There are also more geographically specific problems. Gaps in data, particularly in regions affected by conflict, often in developing countries (and particularly in those affected by conflict), impede systematic and analysis of climate trends, both generally and geography-specifically. As the IPCC’s recent report states, the short time scales of specific climate studies and their limited spatial coverage limit constitute further barriers to precise regional mapping.

And in assessing impacts sub-national and localised environmental factors become relevant. In a country as large as Kazakhstan, for example, environmental conditions vary considerably – with pollution levels, past radiation exposure and farming practices continually altering water access and supply.

All these difficulties have at times combined to produce radically divergent accounts of political and security risks in certain regions. One recent paper, for example, exploring the relationship between climate change and the onset of civil conflict in Sub-Saharan Africa, used a climate model to analyse likely rainfall patterns in sub-Saharan Africa from 2006 through 2059. The authors found that overall levels of rainfall were actually expected to increase, while at the same time rainfall variability would remain relatively stable, over the next five decades. This finding was in some tension with global climate change projections of scarcity and drought, and increased variability, and led the authors to suggest that, "the cataclysmic predictions linking climate change and human security" may not apply to sub-Saharan Africa.

But then again they may. The point is we don't quite yet know: the climate impact predictive models are just not yet good enough., More work is being done to make climate projections more specific and enhance our ability to assess country or regional impacts with confidence. But we are certainly nowhere near, now, the level of confidence that policymakers would like to have.

Even if we could be confident about how future climate change will physically impact on particular societies, the second big problem is judging how that will actually affect human societies, economies, patterns of cooperation and confrontation – and in turn how all this will affect the incidence of violent conflict. And here again we need to be very cautious indeed about jumping to conclusions about particular cases.

We certainly know from experience that natural resources can play a decisive role in conflict situations. Political radicalisation, internal violence and inter-state tension are some of the visible outcomes of the "resource curse" – where energy and minerals-rich countries either lose the wider benefit of their incomes through exchange rate effects, or waste them outright through corruption or misallocation, failing to diversify their economies, educate their people and develop effective and accountable institutions. Conversely, frustration stemming from chronic resource shortage can serve as an important impetus to take up arms.

But in looking to the reality of today's conflicts, and tomorrow's likely ones, identifiable environmental factors invariably interact with multiple other variables – the all too familiar issues of poor government, failures in leadership, ethnic tension and inequitable systems for distributing resources that together drive some of today’s most violent and intractable wars – making it difficult to judge how environment will affect a particular situation.

To take one such example, a number of suggestions have been made over the last two or three years that the "real roots" of the conflict in Darfur lie in long periods of drought in the 1970s and 80s – pushing nomadic communities southwards and leading to confrontations with sedentary Fur and Masalit tributes – and that this is the "first climate change war". But this is an extreme simplification of a very complex situation in Sudan, the main driving dynamic of which has been the determination of the political centre – the NCP regime in Sudan – not to allow the transfer of any real power to the country's long marginalised peripheries. Darfur is simply one of a number of overlapping circles of conflict – there's the five-year-old war between the Darfur rebel movements and the government; the proxy war that Chad and Sudan are fighting by hosting and supporting the other's rebel groups; and the longstanding conflict between North and South, with the negotiated peace there highly fragile as recent events in Abyei have vividly demonstrated.

There have been recurring land tensions between sedentary and nomadic tribes in Darfur and elsewhere, but, as recently underlined by the UN Environment Program for Sudan, increasing rural poverty and displacement to cities have been a more measurable outcome of environmental degradation than conflict as such. More generally, it is interesting to note that the United Nations Human Development Report of 2006 concluded that while reduced access to water constituted a significant threat to the realisation of development goals, it had not proved a major security risk. Any detailed analysis of the evolution of the crisis in Darfur or anywhere else, makes clear the sheer number and complexity of factors which affect when and where violence will emerge, and whether it will continue.

Further complicating any attempt to leap into confident predictions about the impact of climate in generating conflict, is the growing body of work stressing the potential climate change may actually have for generating intra- and inter-state collaboration – in other words, conflict prevention. Water is an important example. While its distribution has certainly often generated tension between states – as it is now doing for example in Central Asia – historically, water scarcity has more often worked to favour cooperation between them. Interstate dialogue prompted by diminishing water supplies, particularly, can build trust and institutionalise cooperation on a broader range of range of issues. Pakistan and India is a current example, with the need to manage water distribution being an incentive to conflict negotiations, with one of the six committees established to manage tensions in 2004 being explicitly devoted to water management.

A much more localised example comes from Uganda. In two regions of this country long affected by a brutal civil war, international organisations have been working with local NGOs, local service providers and affected communities to develop water provision schemes to service the local area. All parties have been brought together to identify how project implementation might best be used to reduce existing community divisions and promote dialogue between local governments and the localities they serve, dialogue that has continued and consolidated since. The value of the project has not only been to reduce current and latent source of tension. It also worked to institute accountable democratic structures and, critically, strengthen capacity to manage conflict without recourse to violence, thereby helping to reduce the potential for its future emergence.

All this makes for a need for caution in any talk about future "resource wars". Environmental stress can form an important backdrop to future violence, reduce opportunities and avenues for conflict resolution and fuel long-term patterns of instability. But it is rarely sufficient in itself to explain large-scale violence, and it may even lead to cooperative outcomes where we least expect it. The crisis in Darfur, violence in the oil-rich Niger Delta, ongoing tensions over access to water in Central Asia all have a clear environmental dimension – but we must not lose sight of the specific and political causes of violence that fuel instability and sadly will likely continue to in the future. The bottom line is that every conflict has its own dynamic, and there is no substitute for understanding all the factors at work.

Bottom lines for policymakers

For all the need for caution that I have been stressing, none of this means that there is nothing useful that can be said or done in policy terms about the climate-conflict nexus. One can take action by way of mitigation, and adaptation.

For all the problems that exist in making the connection in particular cases, the connection in general terms is compelling enough for this to be an important reinforcing argument – supporting all the others out there – for effective global action, now, to mitigate climate change, through a coordinated effort from all states, backed up by the necessary resources, to reduce carbon emissions in order to slow and hopefully eventually stop global warming. This is a critical time to be taking stock, as states meet for the third time this year, in Accra, to discuss how to broker a new post-Kyoto agreement that can drastically curb emissions, while assisting developing countries meet targets without undermining work to reduce poverty and promote economic activity. Without binding commitment to stem the pace of climate change our efforts to manage its impacts will always be working against the tide.

Adaptation means policymakers taking action right now to improve the capacity of societies to adapt to the effects of climate change, whatever they may be and whenever they may be felt. The focus should be on limiting vulnerabilty to potentially damaging socio-economic effects and associated human security risks, for example by:

  • developing initiatives to reduce reliance on climate sensitive activities, improve governance and invest in physical infrastructure;
  • making efforts to bolster disaster preparedness and early warning, including improving military and civilian rapid response capabilities;
  • incorporating forward-looking resource management considerations in peacebuilding and post-conflict reconstruction efforts; and
  • accelerating diplomatic efforts to encourage cooperation over resources before environmental stresses increase.

These propositions closely track some of the basic tools that NGOs like mine have long been advocating for conflict prevention generally, and that many governments and intergovernmental organisations like the UN and EU have been working to improve and refine – good governance, early warning, resource management, effective and timely diplomacy. Much of the framework for implementing climate sensitive responses is, as a result, to some extent already in place – the real challenge, as always, is mobilising the political will and the resources to make it happen.

A good example of the role of effective governance and institutional structures in mitigating conflict risk associated with environmental stress – and, by extension, the negative impact of poor governance and a collapse of necessary institutional structures – comes from Central Asia. The erosion in the post-Soviet era of political structures for coordinating access to shared water reserves – centering on two rivers flowing to the Aral Sea – has had a defining role in the escalation of inter-state tensions. The removal of Soviet oversight, rising nationalism and inter-state competition have all played a role in preventing the emergence of viable and accountable systems for negotiating access to supplies. These factors must be set against parallel socio-economic pressures – rising demand for water to service the dominant cotton industry, and falling supplies, driven partly by the widespread use of wasteful and inefficient irrigation practices. Mismanagement and corruption at the state level has in turn prevented translation of cotton revenues into meaningful social and economic development – creating the conditions for economic stagnation, widespread poverty and political repression at home as elites seek to retain the bulk of cotton's spoils. It is a heady and dangerous mix.

Policymakers in most parts of the world have, it needs to be acknowledged, come a long way in recent years in recognising the link between development and security. The fields were for a long time neatly drawn, with little overlap: development specialists dealt with poverty alleviation; diplomats and defence experts focused on security issues. But the idea of "conflict-sensitive development" has increasingly entered the lexicon of international policymaking – on the back of research confirming the myriad costs of violent conflict for human, economic and environmental security and the evident risk that poorly targeted aid poses for exacerbating conflict’s dynamics

Responding to potential future seeds of instability – the ‘traditional’ development issues of inequality, poverty or resource stress – should form part of a wider agenda of preventing conflict outbreak and recurrence. This includes work to develop accountable political institutions, create equitable systems for managing resources and consolidate the rule of law. Such a forward-looking approach is essential to ensure that societies are able to manage socio-economic stress – whether driven by climate change or otherwise – quickly, effectively and without violence erupting.

In summary, we know that climate change is a hugely important global issue, and we have multiple reasons for tackling it – preventing potential new causes or multipliers of deadly conflict is just one of them. From a conflict analysis perspective, we must remain focused on the intimidating task of trying to understand the multiple pressures and tensions that fuel contemporary violence – of which those induced by climate change are just some. Climate change should not dominate conflict analysis, nor should anxiety about new sources of conflict dominate the climate debate. But there is sufficient connection between them for us to know that in redoubling our efforts at both mitigation and adaptation we certainly won't be wasting our time.

Special Coverage / Global

COP: A Special Series

In the run-up to COP27, Crisis Group experts contribute their views on how climate change shapes the conflicts and crises they work on.

The climate crisis is here – and, more and more, it fuels deadly conflict. 

Around the globe, millions already experience record heat waves, droughts, floods and rising sea levels. The impacts of climate change are already transforming ecosystems, increasing food insecurity, water scarcity and resource competition, while disrupting livelihoods and spurring migration. The relationship between climate change and deadly conflict is complex and context-specific, but it is undeniable that climate change is a threat multiplier that contributes to violence by exacerbating political, social and economic tensions. Half of the most climate-fragile countries also face violence and, as the world warms, climatic distress plays an increasingly central role in many of today’s conflicts.

World leaders must act now to protect the people most vulnerable to the climate crisis.

As global leaders prepare for COP27 in November, Crisis Group is working to bring climate security into the climate change conversation. It is not possible to have effective climate adaptation, one of the main focuses of the conference, without understanding the specific ways in which climate stressors exacerbate conflict risks. Support for the most vulnerable to avoid unnecessary suffering needs to be rooted in a deep understanding of conflict dynamics and risks in a country. It is impossible to treat climate fragility and conflict on two separate tracks.  

This series of Crisis Group publications looks at why climate change debates remain incomplete, as they often fail to examine the links between climate stress and violent conflict.

For more work on this subject, please see our global issue page Climate Change and Conflict.

VIDEO | Lord (Mark) Malloch-Brown talks about climate finance shortcomings

Crisis Group co-founder Lord (Mark) Malloch-Brown talks about the shortcomings of global climate financing efforts and explains how conflict-affected countries are the most impacted by this conundrum.

Published 18 November 2022. Available here.

VIDEO | Susana Malcorra talks about climate finance and its challenges

Crisis Group's co-chair Susana Malcorra talks about how conflict-affected countries receive less support to deal with the impacts of climate change and why this is problematic.

Published 15 November 2022. Available here.

TWITTER SPACE | Tackling the Impact of Climate Change on Conflict and Security

Why do countries who suffer from both the impacts of climate change and violent conflict receive less funding than war-free states?

World leaders should address this imbalance at COP27 and ensure that countries reeling from the consequences of this deadly combination receive their fare share of funding.

In this Twitter Space Nazanine Moshiri, Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst for Climate and Security in Africa, Andrew Ciacci, Crisis Group’s Researcher for Climate Environment and Conflict, and Giorgio Gualberti, Climate and Environmental Finance for the OECD, talk about the link between climate change and conflict for COP27.

Published 9 November 2022. Available here.

VIDEO | Climate and Conflict at COP27

Ahead of COP27, which starts on November 6 2022, Nazanine Moshiri, Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst for Climate & Security in Africa, speaks about the need to acknowledge the role climate plays in conflict dynamics and the need to ensure climate financing mechanisms are conflict sensitive.

Published 5 November 2022. Available here.

VIDEO | Climate Change and Violent Conflict in Somalia

In this video, Crisis Group's Senior Analyst for Climate & Security in Africa, Nazanine Moshiri, and our Senior Analyst for Eastern Africa, Omar Mahmood, speak about the complex relationship between climate change and violent conflict in Somalia, and how important it is to be aware of this and address it at COP27.

Published 3 November 2022. Available here.

VISUAL EXPLAINER | Giving Countries in Conflict Their Fair Share of Climate Finance

The twenty-seventh annual UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP27) is scheduled to kick off 6 November in Sharm al-Sheikh, Egypt, and “climate financing” is high on the agenda.

At the last COP, reducing future greenhouse gas emissions took centre stage. But in 2022, Egypt is determined to focus on drumming up greater financial support for states struggling with the effects of climate change. Donors will be pressed to follow through with commitments to help climate-affected states tackle challenges such as endangered livelihoods, growing displacement, and sharpened competition for land and water. 

As the discussions unfold, conference participants should keep in mind that many of the states suffering most from climate-related effects – which tend to be located in Africa and elsewhere in the Global South – are also in the throes of conflict. Against this backdrop, COP27 participants should work both to unlock long-promised funding and to ensure that conflict-affected states, which have been under-financed to date, receive their fair share. Working in such places will require funders to do the difficult work of finding ways to mitigate the risks these settings pose. 

Published 1 November 2022. Available here.

VISUAL EXPLAINER | Floods, Displacement and Violence in South Sudan

Stresses brought about by climate change – including record-breaking droughts, floods and heat extremes – are an important driver of internal displacement in the Global South. The impact that displacement in turn has on conflict dynamics is amplified in fragile states, where political instability and poor governance undermine climate resilience, impede humanitarian support and pave the way for communal friction.

A prime example is South Sudan, reeling from its recent civil war, where four consecutive years of historic flooding have exacerbated food and livelihood insecurity. Rising waters have sent pastoralists fleeing south, where their presence has increased tensions and contributed to violence in the Equatoria region.

Published 27 October 2022. Available here.

PODCAST | Getting Climate Security in Africa on the Agenda for COP27

On this episode of The Horn, Alan Boswell hosts a roundtable with Nazanine Moshiri, Crisis Group’s senior analyst for climate and security in Africa, Robert Muthami, climate change policy expert at the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung in Kenya, and Hafsa Maalim, an associate senior researcher with SIPRI, on how African leadership can shape the agenda of this year’s COP27. They discuss the ways in which African leaders and civil society actors take action to mitigate the impact of climate change on the continent and how the international community, particularly the Global North, can help them tackle these challenges. They also address the importance of placing climate-induced security risks higher on the agenda in the COP27 negotiations and highlight the ways in which climate change can potentially drive and shape conflict in African countries.

Published 26 October 2022. Available here.

EVENT | How can Climate Risk Management be Strengthened in Conflict Zones?

Climate change’s destabilising impact is increasingly visible across the globe, with more frequent and severe weather events and temperature extremes contributing to insecurity and conflict. While climate change’s relationship with conflict is complex, areas experiencing instability, poor governance, and poverty tend to be more vulnerable to both climate change and deadly violence; half of the most climate fragile countries also experience conflict. In order to effectively address this volatile mix, climate policy and financing must take account of conflict dynamics. This panel investigates how to do so in terms of both climate change’s relationship to conflict and the challenges that climate insecurity poses to humanitarian relief.

The event took place 20 October 2022. The recording is available here.

VIDEO | Hot Spot: Drought and Conflict in Laikipia, Kenya

Climate change, politics and resource competition are colliding again in a deadly combination on Kenya’s fertile Laikipia plateau. When previous rainy seasons failed, in 2011 and 2017, herders from Kenya’s arid and semi-arid regions took their cattle to lush Laikipia, sometimes leading to violent clashes among rival herder communities or between herders, on one hand, and farmers and ranchers on the other. But the violence in 2022 has been particularly pitched. In counties like Laikipia and Baringo, armed clashes have led to at least 95 deaths since September last year.

Crisis Group visited the Laikipia region recently. We talked with herders and farmers about the devastating drought, the loss of cattle, the violence in the area and intercommunal tensions.

Published 7 October 2022. Also available here.

VIDEO | There is very little time left to save lives in Somalia

Displaced people in Dollow, a town situated on the border with Ethiopia, told Crisis Group that the drought has decimated livestock and the drought destroyed the farming capacity of entire villages.

Almost three million animals have died and food prices have soared even higher following the crisis in Ukraine. Conflict is also driving many Somalis to this area, as people flee fighting between Al-Shabaab and security forces. Today, the worst possible outcome is here, as many agencies predict a famine in several of Somalia’s districts. There is a small window of opportunity to try to prevent famine. Humanitarian organisations require immediate and safe access to all people in need, and more funding to tackle the crisis.

Published 22 September 2022. Also available here.

TESTIMONY | Climate Change and Human Rights

In a 28 July hearing before the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Crisis Group’s Future of Conflict Program Director Robert Blecher spoke about climate change and conflict.

Published 28 July 2022. Available here.

VIDEO | Climate and Politics Drive Tensions in the Run Up to the Kenyan Elections

Climate stressors in Kenya are causing tensions between herders and farmers, a situation that could be further exacerbated in the run up to another potentially contentious election on 9 August. In this video Crisis Group's senior analyst for Climate & Security in Africa, Nazanine Moshiri, reports from Laikipia County in Kenya. She examines the situation, what’s at stake, and emphasises the link between climate and conflict.

Published 3 August 2022. Available here.

PHOTO ESSAY | Drought, Violence and Politics: Inside Laikipia’s Cattle War

A historic drought in Kenya is coinciding with a hotly contested election. Nerves in central and northern Kenya are fraying, as climate stresses intensify intercommunal conflict and amplify electoral tensions.

Published 20 July 2022. Available here.

TWITTER SPACE | What did the G7 Summit Achieve on Ukraine and Climate Security?

In this Twitter Space, Crisis Group colleagues have a conversation about the G7 summit and how two priority issues – climate change and the war in Ukraine – were handled during the meeting.

Published 29 June 2022. Available here.

VIDEO | The link between climate change and conflict is dangerously overlooked

In this video, Crisis Group President & CEO Comfort Ero speaks about why the link between climate change and conflict must receive more attention. In the lead up to COP27 it is important to remember that without addressing this link, we will continue to see livelihoods threatened, aggravation in conflict-affected countries, widespread competition for scarce resources and an inability for conflict-affected countries to deal with these crises going forward.

Published 23 June 2022. Available here.

SPECIAL BRIEFING | 7 Priorities for the G7: Managing the Global Fallout of Russia’s War on Ukraine

Two subjects will likely preoccupy the G7 heads of state when they meet starting 26 June: the war in Ukraine and the related spikes in commodity prices worldwide. The leaders need to show that they will address the economic woes as well as other crises.

Published 22 June 2022. Available here.

PODCAST | Climate, Conflict and the Implications of Russia’s War on Ukraine

In this episode of War & Peace, Olga Oliker talks to Crisis Group expert Champa Patel about the complex relationship between climate and conflict ahead of a G7 summit that has set “climate neutrality” as one of its core goals – despite concerns that the green transition will take a backseat amid the Ukraine war.

Published 21 June 2022. Available here.


In the lead-up to COP26, held in Glasgow in October/November 2021, Crisis Group experts contributed their views below on why the climate change conversation remains dangerously incomplete without examining the increasing impact of climatic distress on conflict.

VIDEO | Climate Change and Conflict

The relationship between climate change and deadly conflict is complex and context-specific. Climate change affects every aspect of life, damaging food systems, displacing millions, and shaping the future of conflict. 

It is undeniable that climate change is a threat multiplier that is already increasing food insecurity, water scarcity and resource competition, while disrupting livelihoods and spurring migration. In turn, deadly conflict and political instability are contributing to climate change.

As this introductory video lays out, Crisis Group’s work on climate change and conflict relies on field-based research and analysis to provide insights into how policymakers might best influence and respond to these complex changes to mitigate conflict risks. Find our work on climate and the future of conflict here.

Published 17 November 2021. Available here.

ONLINE EVENT | Global Warning: How Climate Change Drives Risks of Conflict

This event brings together Crisis Group analysts, EU officials and member states, as well as experts from civil society, in a participatory roundtable discussion. They provide insights on how policymakers might best influence and respond to these complex climate changes to mitigate conflict risks.

Online event 16 November 2021. Recording available here.

VIDEO | A Broken Canopy: Deforestation and Conflict in Colombia

In Colombia, deforestation is inextricably linked to conflict. The peace deal between the government and the FARC guerrillas included promises to safeguard the country’s jungles. 

But when the FARC laid down their weapons at the end of 2014, other armed groups moved into the vacuum, accelerating forest loss in nature reserves by encouraging cattle ranching, coca farming and other unregulated businesses. Meanwhile, victims of the war, displaced from their land, also contribute to the cutting of forests as they seek new means of survival.

For this video, Bram Ebus, Crisis Group consultant for the Andes, travelled to deforestation hotspots to investigate.

Published 11 November 2021. Available here.

Q&A | Getting Conflict into the Global Climate Conversation

World leaders are meeting in Glasgow to talk about what to do to ameliorate the mounting climate crisis. In this Q&A, Crisis Group experts Ulrich Eberle and Andrew Ciacci explain why these discussions cannot neglect questions of war and peace.

Published 5 November 2021. Available here.

For more work on this subject, please see our global issue page Climate Change and Conflict.

OP-ED | Stopping the Violence Devouring Colombia's Forests

In this Op-ed for Newsweek, Crisis Group consultant, Bram Ebus outlines that in Colombia, where both the perpetrators and victims of conflict drive the razing of forests, it is impossible to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation without addressing the root causes of violence.

Published 4 November 2021. Available here.

REPORT | A Broken Canopy: Deforestation and Conflict in Colombia

Colombia’s vast forest is fast receding, partly because guerrillas and criminals are clearing land for farming, ranching and other pursuits. These unregulated activities are causing both dire environmental harm and deadly conflict. Bogotá should take urgent steps to halt the damage.

Published 4 November 2021. Available here.

SPECIAL COVERAGE | Summary of Co-Chairs’ Conclusions

On 14 September 2021 Crisis Group, Africa Confidential and the Royal African Society co-hosted the Climate, Conflict and Demography in Africa conference. In this summary, its co-chairs highlight five messages to help one of the hardest-hit and most neglected continents in the fight against climate change.

Published 21 October 2021. Available here.

Q&A | Can the UN Security Council Agree on a Climate Security Resolution?

UN Security Council members are negotiating over a draft resolution on climate security, which, if it passes, will be the first of its kind. In this Q&A, Crisis Group experts Ashish Pradhan, Ulrich Eberle and Richard Gowan explain what is at stake in the talks.

Published 20 October 2021. Available here.

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