Cli­mate change and con­flict, a per­fect storm

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS - By Ma­ri­ette Le Roux

Violence has cast a long shadow over a cli­mate sum­mit open­ing in Paris to­day, two weeks af­ter 130 peo­ple were killed in a co­or­di­nated ji­hadist on­slaught on the French cap­i­tal. As more than 150 world lead­ers pre­pared to meet un­der height­ened se­cu­rity, an­a­lysts warned of an in­creas­ingly war-torn fu­ture fac­ing hu­man­ity if they fail to limit global warm­ing. The Paris at­tacks on Novem­ber 13 were claimed by the Is­lamic State group that has a bru­tal war in Syria - a con­flict rooted in part, ex­perts say, on an his­toric drought from 2006 to 2010.

It drove some 1.5 mil­lion farm­ers and herders off their land and into cities and towns like Homs, Palmyra and Da­m­as­cus. “It’s not a co­in­ci­dence that, im­me­di­ately prior to the civil war in Syria, the coun­try ex­pe­ri­enced the worst drought on record,” US Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry said in Milan last month. Ac­cord­ing to Francesco Femia of The Cen­ter for Cli­mate and Se­cu­rity in Wash­ing­ton DC, re­search has shown the Syr­ian drought “was made two-to-three times more likely be­cause of cli­mate change”. Many a re­port has sug­gested that wa­ter scarcity, ex­ac­er­bated by global warm­ing, has fu­elled deadly con­flicts in the Mid­dle East and Africa, thus con­tribut­ing to the flood of refugees seek­ing a bet­ter life in Europe and else­where. Ex­perts warn the sit­u­a­tion is likely to worsen as cli­mate con­di­tions be­come more hos­tile to hu­man sur­vival - and peo­ple be­come more des­per­ate.

‘Threat Mul­ti­plier’

While cli­mate change is not, on its own, a direct cause of con­flict, com­pe­ti­tion for dwin­dling wa­ter and land re­sources can cer­tainly fan flames in an al­ready volatile sit­u­a­tion, say an­a­lysts. “Cli­mate change is a ‘threat mul­ti­plier’,” Femia told AFP. “If, in a cer­tain place, you in­tro­duce cli­mate stress to the kinds of nat­u­ral re­source de­fi­cien­cies that can con­trib­ute to state fail­ure or con­flict, you in­crease the like­li­hood of a con­flict oc­cur­ring.”

In July, an in­ter­na­tional team of sci­en­tists, pol­icy an­a­lysts, fi­nan­cial and mil­i­tary risk ex­perts, cau­tioned that food and wa­ter short­ages would boost fu­ture con­flicts over re­sources, mass mi­gra­tion and state fail­ure. Even so­phis­ti­cated gov­ern­ments may be un­able to deal with the com­bi­na­tion of pres­sures, said the re­port en­ti­tled “Cli­mate Change, a Risk As­sess­ment”. “The ex­pan­sion of un­governed ter­ri­to­ries would in turn in­crease the risks of ter­ror­ism,” with large num­bers of marginalised and dis­en­fran­chised peo­ple to re­cruit from, said the re­port com­piled for pol­i­cy­mak­ers.

Ne­go­tia­tors from 195 na­tions will gather in Paris un­til De­cem­ber 11 to craft a pact to stave off worst-cas­esce­nario cli­mate change by lim­it­ing emis­sions of cli­mate-al­ter­ing green­house gases. The goal is to limit warm­ing to two de­grees Cel­sius above mid19th cen­tury lev­els, when in­dus­tri­alscale emis­sions be­gan. Even a 2 C in­crease will mean a land-gob­bling sea level rise, longer and more fre­quent droughts, and in­creas­ingly acute wa­ter short­ages, sci­en­tists say.

But the pro­jected im­pacts worsen sig­nif­i­cantly be­yond the two de­gree thresh­old. A re­cent re­port by the Wash­ing­ton-based World Re­sources In­sti­tute warned that “high wa­ter stress” in Syria and its neigh­bors “will likely de­te­ri­o­rate in the com­ing decades”. “A well-doc­u­mented path can con­nect wa­ter scarcity to food in­se­cu­rity, so­cial in­sta­bil­ity and po­ten­tially vi­o­lent con­flict,” it said, adding that “cli­mate change am­pli­fies scarcity wor­ries.”

Ear­lier this month, Toby Lanzer, the UN’s hu­man­i­tar­ian co­or­di­na­tor for the Sa­hel, warned that Europe’s mi­grant cri­sis will be­come worse if the Paris cli­mate sum­mit fails coun­tries in the drought-stricken Lake Chad basin. Some 2.5 mil­lion peo­ple in the re­gion have been dis­placed by a toxic mix of drought, poverty and con­flict. An es­ti­mated 850,000 mi­grants have en­tered the Euro­pean Union so far this year, mainly from the Mid­dle East and North Africa.

‘In­creas­ing Ev­i­dence’

“There is in­creas­ing ev­i­dence ... that there may be a sta­tis­ti­callysig­nif­i­cant cor­re­la­tion be­tween cli­mate change and con­flict,” Femia said. This was borne out, he said, “in places like Kenya, where a chang­ing cli­mate has been linked to con­flicts be­tween pas­toral­ists and farm­ers, and in Syria, where a mass in­ter­nal dis­place­ment of peo­ple may be con­nected to po­lit­i­cal tur­moil.” — AFP

Syr­ian civil de­fense work­ers evac­u­ate a wound­ed­man from the scene of a air strike in the rebel- held city of Douma in East­ern Ghouta on the out­skirts of the cap­i­tal Da­m­as­cus yes­ter­day. East­ern Ghouta is the largest rebel strong­hold in Da­m­as­cus prov­ince, and is reg­u­larly tar­geted by gov­ern­ment air strikes. — AFP

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