3.9 Refugees and conflicts

Conflicts over access to water and fertile land will increase with increasing populations. The armed conflicts in Syria can in many instances be traced back to lack of water for farming due to less water in the rivers of Euphrates and Tigris in combination with long and severe droughts. The outcome of the Iraq and Syrian conflicts may rest on who controls the region’s dwindling water supplies.

More wars? According to NATO climate change-related risks are significant threat multipliers. (Photo: Å. Bjorke)

Global warming, climate change and droughts are increasingly severe in the Middle East. According to NASA, the Eastern Mediterranean areas experience the worst drought in 900 years. Millions of people have had to move from their land to nearby cities or to other countries in order to survive.

The Earth’s climate is changing at a rate that has exceeded most scientific forecasts. Some families and communities have already started to suffer from the negative side of climate change, forced to leave their homes in search of a new beginning.

For UNHCR, the consequences of climate change are enormous. Scarce natural resources such as drinking water are likely to become even more limited. Many crops and some livestock are unlikely to survive in certain locations if conditions become too hot and dry, or too cold and wet. Food security, already a significant concern, will become even more challenging.

People will have to try and adapt to this situation, but for many this will mean a conscious move to another place to survive. Such moves, or the adverse effects that climate change may have on natural resources, may spark conflict with other communities, as an increasing number of people compete for a decreasing amount of resources.  UNHCR: The storm ahead

Refugee – Mitrovica. From the Balkan wars. (Photo: Å. Bjørke)

Refugees are in extreme situations. Unfortunately, there will most likely be many many more in the near future. Most climate refugees tend to become Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), and have as such no formal nor legal rights as refugees until they cross a national border. Climate refugees have until now, no special legal status.

Climate change – a risk multiplier

The NATO Parliamentary Assembly – Fully convinced that climate change-related risks will affect international security through increased natural disasters; stress on economic, food and water security; risks to public health; internal and external migration; and resource competition;

Acknowledging that climate change-related risks are significant threat multipliers that will shape the security environment in areas of concern to the Alliance and have the potential to significantly affect NATO planning and operations;

Recognising the need to supplement climate action with efforts to strengthen the resilience of states and societies at risk through adaption measures, development and humanitarian aid, and peacebuilding and conflict prevention programmes;


Do we really need more armed conflicts? Efficient mitigation of global warming will reduce tension. (Photo: Å.Bjørke)

Long-term changes in climate will produce more extreme weather events and put greater stress on critical Earth systems like oceans, freshwater, and biodiversity. These in turn will almost certainly have significant effects, both direct and indirect, across social, economic, political, and security realms during the next 20 years. These effects will be all the more pronounced as people continue to concentrate in climate-vulnerable locations, such as coastal areas, water-stressed regions, and ever-growing cities.
National Intelligence Council (2016) Implications for US National Security of Anticipated Climate Change

What US intelligence agencies just said about the climate crisis (2021)

“Climate change will increasingly challenge the ability of states to deliver services and provide stability. Extreme climate events, in particular, can strain the social fabric and the relationship between governments and populations. While government responsiveness in the face of disasters can strengthen the social contract, poor and slow responses are likely to weaken it, contributing to further instability and feeding into the downward spiral of fragility, violence and vulnerability”
Climate diplomacy (2017) Insurgency, Terrorism and Organised Crime in a Warming Climate. Analysing the Links Between Climate Change and Non-State Armed Groups

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HomeChapter 33. Impacts
3.1 More water vapor
3.2 Sea level rise
3.3 Polar sea ice
3.4 Air pollution
3.5 Acidification
3.6 Health
3.7 Extreme weather
3.8 Economy
3.9 Refugees and conflicts
3.10 Glaciers
3.11 Tipping points
3.12 Biodiversity
3.13 Water
Chapter 44. Ecosystems