The Syrian Civil War has been one of the most devastating conflicts of our time. Lesser known, however, is that some of the roots of the conflict can be linked to climate change issues. Due to a drought and harvest losses, food prices in Syria have gone up about 26% annually; this coupled with many other socioeconomic grievances were some of the reasons why Syrians took to the streets in 2011 to join in mass protests.
Climate Change as a Threat Multiplier
Climate change is not typically thought to cause violence, but is rather considered to be a “threat multiplier.” According to Oxford University Press, this means that climate change is “something that interacts with existing pressures (such as social conflict, economic inequality, large-scale migration, or competition for resources) and further compounds these issues.” Such a mixture of turmoil can increase the likelihood of instability and conflict.
Thus on today, the International Day of Peace, it is important that we recognize that climate change is not just an environmental issue but a very real human one as well. In working to mitigate climate change, we are also indirectly working to create a more peaceful world.
How climate change exacerbates conflicts
One manifestation of climate change conflict is how a scarcity of resources can lead to disagreements about who has rights to them. This is especially true for people who depend on natural resources to make a living. For example, in Northern Kenya, drought has been threatening the livelihoods of nomadic pastoralists who traditionally have herded cattle. Since this is becoming less and less viable, many are turning instead to fishing on Lake Turkana. However, as the lake borders Ethiopia, deadly conflicts have arisen due to competition between Ethiopians who had been fishing there before and the new Kenyan arrivals.
Unfortunately, climate change tends to wreak the most havoc on states that are already vulnerable to begin with. Although they typically release the least amounts of greenhouse gases, countries in the Global South are the ones who suffer disproportionately from the effects of climate change. These are also usually places whose infrastructure and governments are less equipped to deal with things like natural disasters.On top of that, natural disasters can disrupt the economic activity of states that already struggle with high levels of poverty. Combining factors like this can create a toxic environment more prone to violence. In fact, nearly a quarter of deadly armed conflicts in the countries with the most diverse ethnic makeups from 1980 to 2010 occurred at around the same time as an extreme weather event.
Fighting climate change for peace
Investing in renewable energy, agribusiness, and water management are some of the steps we can take to try and prevent conflicts over scarce resources and severe natural disasters. If one considers all of the conflicts that have arisen over petroleum alone- both wars and political tensions-, increasing the use of renewable energy could ease some of those pressures. Such investments also contribute to green economic growth, which creates jobs and alleviates poverty. Since poverty increases the risk of violent conflict, taking steps to reduce it also indirectly leads to more peace.
Climate change is often thought of as simply an environmental problem, with critics arguing that we need to take care of humans before the planet. However, given climate change’s link to human problems, doing something about it will not only help the Earth but also can allow humanity to live more peacefully.
By: Alise Brillault