top of page

Climate Change and Conflict

We often hear the term ‘Anthropocene’ when speaking about climate change, what does it mean? In basic terms, the ‘Anthropocene’ refers to our current era, in which human action has great weight in transforming and determining the future of all life on Earth. In scientific terms the Anthropocene is understood as how:

“The cumulative sum of human activity is disrupting many aspects of planetary functions, and moving them outside the modest range of variability that has defined the Holocene, and in a different, warming direction that is (or soon will be) outside of the range of the Pleistocene glacial-interglacial cycles.”

Recent socio-historical developments have characterized the ways in which we interact with our planet and how this affects climate change. From the beginning of globalization to the introduction of a capitalist world order, human-to-earth relations have transformed from living amongst nature to systematized exploitation. From the speed and scale of mining raw materials, to our consumption of goods and services, our actions have altered environmental normalcy. In turn, the severity and number of natural disasters have increased, from extreme draughts to devastating floods. These changes have indirectly been the cause of increased international migration and conflict.

Climate and Conflict

There are two ways in which climate and conflict interact, one being that a conflict is created because of climate change, such as a draught leading to forced migration or resource wars, and the other, vice-versa, where the conflict itself creates climate change, such as the destruction of land and soil where bombs are dropped. An example encompassing both pathways is the effects of the Gulf War on the land and people in the Gulf peninsula. Because of the amount of shelling and landmines, the agricultural soil became contaminated and the land unlivable, thus, forcing the migration of hundreds of people. The burning of oil and gas in Kuwait contributed towards air, water and soil pollution and 0.1% of the total CO2 emissions, ultimately, local and regional effects were much worse than the overall global.

Conflict is a huge driver of emissions, and an extremely underreported issue. A lot of data is lost because of the security concerns of reporting them, or because when it is reported it does not account for indirect emissions made during the production of arms or the shipping of them. Conflict here refers to societal violence between two or more socio-political groups, such as a civil war. The reason why climate change is often an indirect cause of conflict, is because it exacerbates current tensions and inequalities. Poor countries with weak governments are at a higher risk of conflict due to poor organization of resources or a reduced welfare system, climate catastrophes only expose and add weight to these issues.

Climate Led Migration

The climate crisis puts tension on already fragile systems, primary or direct effects could be food insecurity or the destruction of buildings, a secondary effect is displacement of the people affected. In 2021, the Biden Administration directed a report on climate change and migration, the report stresses how interlinked the two issues are, pointing to how they will be an important issue in the coming decades. Climate led migration, displacement and relocation are set to increase dramatically in the coming years- even with major state and non-state intervention.

Global conflicts between 2011-2021 have resulted in around 84 million displaced people- this refers to refugees, asylum seekers, migrants and internally displaced people. Data from 2019 shows that 56% of all migrant groups fall under the category of ‘internally displaced people’. Although forced migration is mostly internal, it is also an international issue constantly shaping contemporary global politics. The ‘security migration nexus’ refers to how migration is treated as a security threat, and borders are increasingly securitised and militarised. The dangers of this is the increased xenophobia and violence towards migrants.

Resource Wars

Internal migration largely occurs from a rural to urban setting- this is an issue because; as peri-urban areas become more densely populated, resources become scarce - making them more prone to conflict. Resource wars often appear to be ethnic wars, however, their inception is due mainly to two things. Resource wars can be centered around the scarcity or finite quantity of resources. Conflict may center around the limits of a resource and the necessity for it, which is why resource wars are more prone to occurring in lower-income countries. Alternatively, conflict may arise over the competition over a commodifiable resource and gaining rights over it- this is more likely in states with weak governments who are prone to aligning with foreign companies, seeking private interests- as opposed to national interests. The issue intersects with debates on climate justice, colonialism, and climate equity.

The current era of anthropogenic climate change has ushered an unprecedented number of displaced people globally. This has created precarious living situations for millions of people across the world. The inability of state and non-state actors to address both the climate issue and forced migration has left millions lacking basic human rights.

Question: What examples can you think of for a climate led conflict?


bottom of page