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Climate Change and Conflict

As world leaders gather at the United Nations for the 72nd Regular Session of the UN General Assembly, this year’s theme is “Focusing on People: Striving for Peace and a Decent Life for All on a Sustainable Planet.” This theme is in contrast with President Trump’s “America First” policy, which emphasizes isolationism. This was evident in President Trump’s UN speech as well as his decision to leave the Paris Climate Accord, a framework designed to fight “atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases.” In one of his tweets in 2012, Donald Trump wrote, “the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” Throughout the international scientific community, there’s widespread unanimity about the existence of anthropogenic climate change. Nevertheless, President Trump’s stance on climate change is obstinately rejecting a carbon consumption driver of rising sea-levels, more intense natural disasters such as forest fires, droughts, hurricanes and other threats.

Violence is a profound threat and it is likely exacerbated by climate chaos. Global warming as an important effect on civil conflicts has been recently debated by many scholars and policymakers. Scholars from backgrounds as diverse as economics, climate science, peace studies, and political science have explored the adverse effects of climate change and ecological changes on civil conflicts.

Undoubtedly, climate change is a problem that all countries have to struggle with, but the costs and benefits of rising global temperatures often differ across countries and regions. From severe floods across South Asia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, parts of the Gambia to hurricanes in the Caribbean, Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico, the effects of climate change, particularly natural disasters, rising sea-levels, and growing resource shortage are often quoted as the cause to loss of livelihood, economic decay, forced migration, and an increased uncertainty in some parts of the world.

Most reports on the effects of climate change imply that poor countries would endure the burden of climate change. For instance, in 2010, the Department of Defense first highlighted the security threat of global warming, as “an accelerant” for conflict. A study entitled, “Warming increases the risk of civil war in Africa,” presentedto the United States National Academy of Sciences suggests that rising temperatures in Africa have corresponded with substantial upturns in the possibility of civil conflict. Also, Ban Ki-moon, former U.N. Secretary-General once termed the conflict in Darfur, Sudan as the “world’s first climate change conflict.” Similarly, a study conducted by the Unites States Institute for Peace recognized a “basic causal mechanism” that “links climate change with violence in Nigeria.” It is believed that severe drought facilitated the instability in Nigeria, which was exploited by Boko Haram. In Syria, climate change is not the reason of the six-year civil war, nonetheless, ISIS is exploiting the country’s worst droughts, which displaced hundreds of thousands into extreme poverty and food insecurity. I am not insinuating that climate change creates terrorists, rather, the conditions in these countries helps terrorist groups to readily recruit and thrive. The supposition is that water scarcity, decreasing crop yields, advancing desertification and resource shortages from rainfall patterns stemming from climate change added to or exacerbated conflict in these countries.

President Trump’s position on climate change is unhelpful. The United States is among the biggest carbon polluters in the world, yet it is resigning from its global leadership position to mitigate the consequences climate change, which demands international cooperation. Without the Unites States’ commitment and global leadership to fight climate change it will unequivocally bring more uncertainty across the world. The “America first” policy, particularly leaving the Paris Climate Accord, could have an overwhelming impact on regions where dependence on farming and other climate sectors for production are way of livelihood. It also controverts the status of the United States in the international community. In cumulative terms, the United States has more to squander if the economic effects of climate change are not addressed. Are these worthy, pragmatic, ethical, or realistic risks?

In order to efficiently address the adverse effects of climate change on societies globally, a thorough approach is needed at both the local and international levels. The UN along with regional organizations must develop a framework for sustainable development and economic growth for communities that are most affected by the impact of climate change.

This framework ought to be centered on a low-carbon economy, that reduces both greenhouse gases and other climate pollutants to mitigate climate change and decrease threats to global security and prosperity.  

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Foday Justice Darboe is a Ph.D. candidate in Conflict Analysis and Transformation.

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