10 Insights on Climate Impacts & Peace

Ten 'known knowns' about the links between climate change, security and peace.
A photo from the cover of the 10 Insights report, showing a human eye looking into the distance. The iris is replaced with a satellite image of earth.

Climate change is one of the most pressing political issues of our time. Apart from impacting people, economies and ecosystems, climate change can drive conflict, lead to fragility, challenge the stability of states and societies, and undermine security worldwide. These are not just future security risks, but visible today and projected to increase in the future.

The following ten 'known knowns' of climate security provide an outline of the key ways in which climate change interacts with social, political, economic and environmental drivers of conflict and fragility and why addressing these risks is integral to achieving international peace and security: 

1. A real, present, and varied danger

The impacts of climate change on peace and security are already with us. Climate change can exacerbate challenges such as rapid population growth and urbanisation, competition for resources, environmental degradation and inequalities, thereby worsening existing tensions and increasing the risk of conflict. But different types of conflict have different drivers, and people living under different conditions will experience climatic shocks in diverse ways. Rather than looking for a singular link between climate and conflict, it is important to examine the diverse set of possible risks and the complex interactions between social and environmental factors.

2. Increased competition for natural resources such as land and water ​​​​​​

Climate change reduces the availability of natural resources such as land and water. In conflict zones or in areas where certain groups face political exclusion and where governments are weak, natural resource scarcity can worsen existing disputes and decrease already low levels of socio-ecological resilience. This can increase social tensions in and between communities, deepen political conflicts and aggravate diplomatic tensions.

3. Climate change leads to unstable livelihoods, migration and illegal coping mechanisms

Global warming disrupts where people live, what they can eat and how they earn a living, leading to unstable and illicit livelihoods and increased migration. In already fragile or conflict-ridden regions, this impacts instability, violence and decreases resilience. We are already experiencing these risks, which are undermining social balances within and between communities and increasing pressure on rapidly growing urban areas and cities. 

4. Climate change impacts make the world’s food supply unstable

Countries with high levels of hunger and limited access to sufficient quantities of affordable, nutritious food, are often also highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, making agriculture more difficult. This impacts everyone, but has disproportionate consequences on import-reliant countries and those who rely on agriculture for survival. As food prices and food insecurity increase globally, so will livelihood insecurity, protest and conflict.

5. Extreme weather events make effective governance difficult

With climate change, the likelihood and intensity of extreme weather events such as droughts, cyclones, floods and storms increase in many regions. In fragile states where governments are already stretched, infrastructure is weak and services are poor, effective government responses following natural disasters can be difficult. Elsewhere, disasters may be an opportunity for governments to increase public support.

6. Poorly designed climate and security policies have unintended side-effects

Due to the rapid pace of climate change and climatic risks, it is important to have ambitious and quick mitigation and adaptation policies. However, if climate policies are badly designed or don’t consider conflict dimensions, and if security policies ignore people’s climatic vulnerability, they can have unintended consequences on the lives and resilience of individuals and communities.

7. Weak governance mechanisms increase the security risks of climate change

Evidence points out that climate change is more likely to provoke violence in places where institutions and governments are weak. For example, poor infrastructure and weak access to education or healthcare have proven to increase the risk of violence following drought. In this way, improving governance is central to reducing the security risks of climate change.

8. We are underestimating the scale and scope of how climate change impacts security

Climate-related security risks are complex and vary in intensity, meaning that they often remain under-researched. Existing research has mostly focused on direct impacts where links are easier to identify, such as violent conflict or short-term variations in temperature and rainfall. However, climatic shocks also contribute to conflict in indirect ways, for example by impacting inequality, livelihoods and health. To avoid underestimating the scale of climate security risks, both must be examined.

9. The impacts of climate change will grow significantly in the years to come

The effects of climate change on international peace and security are already visible, and will intensify with global warming over the years to come. As temperatures continue to rise, many of these existing impacts will worsen and affect more and more people. Simultaneously, other, unknown effects of global warming will materialise, creating large uncertainties over how future climatic changes will affect people, societies, peace and security.

10. We are lagging behind the changing risk landscape

Strategies to address climate change – such as adaptation, stabilisation, peacebuilding and development – rarely adopt a broad view of how climate change impacts conflict and security. Due to this, they are lagging behind the reality of climate-security linkages. In order to be effective, responses must cross sectors and policy areas, integrating climate, disaster risk reduction, development, humanitarian, stabilisation and peacebuilding efforts.