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Climate change and the increase in armed conflicts

- If the planet's temperature increased by 2°C, the number of armed conflicts could increase by 13%.

Climate change and the increase in armed conflicts

Climate change is called the global variation of the Earth's climate. It is important to note that our planet has undergone cyclical changes and alterations in the climate over millions of years. However, it was in the 18th century during the Industrial Revolution that human activities began to have a major impact on the Earth's climate. Currently, there is an almost general consensus in the scientific community that human activities cause alterations in the global climate system. In 2014, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change noted in its Fifth Report “human influence on the climate system is clear and increasing, and its impacts are observed on all continents. If left unchecked, climate change will increase the likelihood of severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts on people and ecosystems” [1].

In recent years, the occurrence of extreme weather events that affect thousands of people while damaging ecosystems has been more and more frequent. Social networks have helped to make visible the damage caused by extreme weather events in recent years, such as forest fires in California, the Amazon, Australia, or the effects of extreme droughts in various parts of the African continent. Due to the above, more and more people around the world have mobilized to demand that their respective governments take urgent action to face the climate emergency. At the same time, concern has also grown regarding security problems that could be generated due to climate change. It is a fact that the presence of extreme climatic phenomena has made it increasingly common for governments to face various crises derived from these events.

Climate change could cause many governments globally to begin to have problems in dealing with crises that may arise due to the effects of extreme weather events. A study led by Stanford University published in the journal Nature indicates that if the planet's temperature increases by 2°C, the probability of the outbreak of armed conflicts in the world increases by 13%. On the other hand, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) points out in its report “When rain turns to dust” that 12 of the 20 countries most vulnerable to climate change are also affected by armed conflicts.

So far, climate change itself has not been the cause of any armed conflict. However, the effects of this phenomenon put at risk many of the factors that human beings need to live. Extreme weather events put crops, water supplies, medicine availability, safe areas to live at risk, among many other things that could, in the long run, affect the ability of governments to meet the basic needs of their population, generating waves of resource grabbing that could erupt into violent conflict.

The effects of climate change will affect most of the world in the long term. However, in the short term, thousands of people in different countries are already victims of the negative effects of climate change. It is increasingly common for small confrontations between farmers and ranchers to arise in some regions of Africa and the Middle East in which both parties seek to obtain water resources to continue their work. Fighting between fishermen in the South China Sea over marine resources has also become increasingly common in recent years. In different cities around the world we have witnessed the hoarding of resources when there are waves of heat or extreme cold.

The above examples illustrate what happens when resources are not enough to satisfy everyone. The effects of climate change put at risk the already insufficient resources to satisfy a world population that continues to grow and consume at dizzying levels. In 2019, the Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, declared before the Security Council “the exploitation of natural resources, or the competition for them, can and does lead to violent conflicts. Preventing, managing and solving them is one of the biggest and growing challenges of our time” [2] .

The possibility of increased violence due to extreme weather events could lead humans to a new crossroads where we may have to face the rise in armed conflicts. The outbreak of this type of conflict could occur mainly in countries with high degrees of social and economic inequality, weak institutions or with few possibilities of adaptation to climate change.

The case of the conflict in the North of Mali.

Mali is a landlocked state located in West Africa. It is the eighth largest country in Africa and is rich in natural resources. The outbreak of the conflict in the North of Mali dates back to 2012. However, the conflicts within the country can be traced back to the pre-colonial period in the 15th century. Currently, the conflict is a range of problems that include: political instability, ethnic conflicts, intervention by foreign powers, struggle for natural resources and the presence of extreme weather events.

Since 1960 the temperature in Mali has increased by 0.7°C. A considerable increase taking into account that the Paris Agreement established limiting the increase in temperature to 1.5°C. The rise in temperature in Mali has caused climatic phenomena to become increasingly intense. Every year the country suffers a series of extreme droughts that put at risk the already fragile security of the people of Malín. With the outbreak of the conflict in 2012, the State lost the capacity it had to help the inhabitants of northern Mali to face the problems generated by droughts and desertification. This caused large waves of people to be forced to leave their homes and had to move to the south of the country.

In 2019, the President of the ICRC indicated "climate change adds a complicating factor in a region where underdevelopment, endemic poverty, widespread crime and violence already give rise to an extremely fragile quality of life" [3\ ] . The effects of climate change in Mali have meant that the country's population has to face increasingly dangerous situations in order to access basic resources such as water or food. On the other hand, extreme weather events have greatly exacerbated the pre-existing conflicts between the different actors involved, being yet another impediment to progress towards conflict resolution.

So far, climate change has not caused the outbreak of any armed conflict. However, in various areas of the world where there are active armed conflicts, extreme weather events occur. These phenomena are becoming more frequent and more severe. Governments in conflict zones do not have the capacity to address such conflict and at the same time undertake resilience actions against the changing climate. The population is doubly vulnerable due to the violence of the conflict and sometimes without the possibility of accessing basic resources due to inclement weather. It is a fact that extreme weather events are one of the factors that contribute to thousands of people in conflict zones having to leave their homes to move to areas where they can meet their basic needs.

The case of the Conflict in Northern Mali helps exemplify how climate change can be a factor that seriously aggravates a conflict that has been going on for a long time. The effects of climate change currently make many people vulnerable, living both in conflict zones and in peaceful zones. However, the more common extreme weather events become, the number of hot spots around the world will increase exponentially. Clearly whatever the number of active conflicts in the world represents a security risk. Climate change with all its consequences is not just an environmental problem. The effects of this phenomenon must be addressed from different angles in order to move towards truly useful adaptation and resilience mechanisms.

In this sense, the effects of climate change could make it necessary to rethink the concept of traditional security. Current evidence indicates that extreme weather events (fires, droughts, floods, etc.) represent a great risk to the internal security of various countries around the world. Especially in regions of the world where there are active armed conflicts. In this sense, taking action to face the effects of climate change must be recognized as a global security issue. Climate resilience actions must be on the security agendas of all countries in the world. Recognizing the fight against climate change as a security issue could represent a great advance to initiate real actions to safeguard the lives and basic rights of millions of people around the world.


    1. Grupo Intergubernamental de Expertos sobre el Cambio Climático. «Cambio climático 2014: Informe síntesis», 2014.

    2. Santos, María. «Los conflictos armados crecerán hasta un 26% por el cambio climático». El Ágora diario del agua, 2016.,en%20varios%20puntos%20del%20planeta.&text=%E2%80%9CLa%20explotaci%C3%B3n%20de%20recursos%20naturales,y%20lleva%20a%20conflictos%20violentos

    3. Comité Internacional de la Cruz Roja. «Malí-Níger: el cambio climático y el conflicto crean un mezcla explosiva en el Sahel», 2019.

    4. Comité Internacional de la Cruz Roja. «When rain turns to dust»», 2019.

    5. Noticias ONU. «El cambio climático y las guerras en muchos países no son coincidencia». Paz y seguridad, 2018.

    6. Werrel, Caitlin y Franceso Femia. «Con el cambio climático, el riesgo de nuevos conflictos». UNESCO.

    7. Nature. «Climate as a risk for armed conflict», 2019.

    8. Comité Internacional de la Cruz Roja. «El conflicto en Malí», 2019.

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