CLIMATE CHANGE, INSECURITY, AND CONFLICT: NO SECURITY ISSUE IS A FARAWAY ISSUE

Sources: MSF, Adobe Spark

Industrialised countries pollute the most, but vulnerable countries suffer the most from climate change. Food security and well-being are threatened, and the exhausted people flee to industrialized countries that, however, deplore immigration. Everything is connected.

On the fiftieth anniversary of their foundation, Greenpeace and Médecins Sans Frontières have discussed the intertwine between climate change, well-being, and equity on one hand and insecurity and conflict on the other at the Internazionale Festival in Ferrara.

The food for thought provided by the dialogue – moderated by Marco Fratoddi with Andrea Pinchera (Greenpeace), Monica Rull Villa (MSF), Ndoni Mcumu (Black Women in Science) – inspires several reflections which, if we shrink them to the bone, can be reduced to the statement that in a globalized world, no security issue is a faraway issue. 

Climate change is the most blatant example of this, as it is one of those tangled issues of which the immediate effects appear far away from its causes. But be careful: the effects are just apparently far. 

How is climate change related to insecurity and conflict? 

The voice of MSF, Medical Director Monica Rull Villa, reported that the organization is intervening more and more in areas affected by the climate crisis, as the latter inevitably impacts well-being and health. For instance, diseases distributed by vectors like Malaria, Dengue, and Zika Virus are positively related to climate conditions: an increase in temperature, rainfalls, and humidity may cause the proliferation of mosquitoes, escalating transmission.

Higher temperatures also affect water quality and sanitation, impacting eutrophication. As a consequence, bacteria multiply, oftentimes causing diseases like, to mention one, Cholera, which causes an estimated 95.000 deaths each year. Likewise, malnutrition, despite being multifactorial, is enhanced by rising temperatures as drought and flooding can destroy staple food crops. 

Climate change, therefore, affects environmental determinants of health and well-being and, on top of that, it has an impact on violent conflict. Although the scientific community generally agrees that conflict is, most of the time, not a direct consequence of climate change, it is widely recognised that the latter is a threat multiplier that exacerbates socioeconomic conditions and increases the likelihood of interpersonal violence.

Furthermore, oftentimes unendurable standards of living lead people to having no choice but extreme poverty or affiliation to criminal or terrorist organisations. 

One example: Darfur 

The World Food Program reports that nearly ¼ of Sudan’s population is food insecure. The Sudanese region of Darfur is one of the most blatant examples of the severe impact that climate change can have in vulnerable regions affected by conflicts. 

In Darfur, food security is mainly determined by rainfalls, however, temperature and precipitation changes alter the productive potential of rain-fed agriculture, affecting food security in the region. The wet season was much more consistent before climate change impacted it severely, and although the population has historically adapted to the environmental variability of the region developing livelihood resilience, climate conditions are increasingly unsustainable. 

Locally, the supply/demand disequilibrium for food and agricultural products caused a rise in prices, leading to economic volatility and the displacement of 1.87 million people. Severe and periodic droughts have made already limited water resources even more inadequate to satisfy the needs of the population.

As a result, Arabs, Christians, and Animists often compete for land and water, sparking conflicts such as the major Land Cruiser War (2003) that resulted in the death of hundreds of thousands of civilians and that has been labeled the first climate change conflict.

Climate change exemplifies that everything is connected

This year’s report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) confirms the results of the precedent panel with more precision: human action undisputedly affected the past’s climate system and still has the potential to determine the future course of climate.

From the evidence there is no doubt that CO2 emissions have a major impact on climate change but, factually, the states that emit less CO2 are those that are paying the highest price.

The African countries have always faced or adapted to very harsh conditions, but the worsening of their situation is not caused by those same countries that are vulnerable, rather, they are contributing the least.

And as our economic activity indirectly impacts their security, “their” – the us/them dichotomy, we will see, is pointless in the context of the climate crisis – insecurity impacts us.  

Going back to the previously mentioned example, Darfuris were among the protagonists of Europe’s so-called refugee crisis that Italian and European politicians across the spectrum have addressed as a threat to national identity and security.

Young men, exhausted from discontent, have taken the risks that leaving from Libya to attempt the Mediterranean route implies to escape from the threatening bombshell that ethnic violence interlocked with resource scarcity results in.

Relatedly, there is growing concern that the refugee crises of the future will be caused to a large extent by climate displacement, a term referring to the mass migration of people who are forced to leave their homes that, due to conditions related to climate change, have become inhabitable.

While many people are already on the move, it is estimated that by 2050 climate change could displace 216 million people, mainly due to floods that will result from rising sea levels. If we add to this that the world’s population is growing, the prospect of the lands being submerged becomes even more frightening. 

As the panelists demonstrated, everything is connected, and no security issue is a faraway issue. We are the cause of the effects we fear, although the connection cannot be grasped at first glance. To avoid catastrophic consequences, as highlighted by Andrea Pinchera, we must engage with the ethic of responsibility. Humans are agents of climate transformation, which means that they have the power to modify the world. Power, however, implies responsibility, in space and time, and we cannot ignore this. 

Lucrezia Ducci

Nata a Roma, classe 1998, è appassionata della sicurezza internazionale in tutte le sue sfumature da quando l’ha approcciata durante un semestre di scambio presso l’École de Gouvernance et Économie de Rabat, in Marocco. Da sempre vive per alcuni mesi l’anno in Tanzania, dove svolge attività di volontariato per l’associazione Gocce d’Amore per i Bambini dell’Africa. Dopo essersi laureata a pieni voti in Politics, Philosophy and Economics presso la LUISS di Roma con una tesi in diritto internazionale sul conflitto nel Sahara Occidentale, si è immatricolata nel programma magistrale in Security and Risk Management presso la University of Copenhagen, durante il quale ha approfondito i critical security studies e condotto ricerca sulla sicurezza ambientale e lo sfruttamento delle risorse in aree di conflitto, sui conflitti protratti e il peacebuilding, sulla politica identitaria e sulla comunicazione politica in contesti di emergenza. Ha svolto stage formativi presso il Ministero della Difesa, il Center for Near and Abroad Strategic Studies e l’associazione The Bottom Up. Attraverso la collaborazione con think tank come lo IARI e il The International Scholar analizza e scompone problematiche attuali, per spiegarle al pubblico rispondendo in maniera semplice a domande complesse come “Qual è la relazione tra sicurezza ambientale e conflitti?”, “Perché la pirateria è legata allo sfruttamento delle risorse marittime?” etc. Nonostante strizzi l’occhio alle politiche globali, le sue aree geografiche di specializzazione, anche in relazione alle sue esperienze personali, sono il Medio Oriente e l’Africa. Inoltre, Lucrezia è appassionata di equitazione e scuba diving, viaggia frequentemente per studio e per impulso, ama approfondire nuove culture e fare hiking nei posti più disparati. Per lo IARI è caporedattore dell’Area Difesa e Sicurezza.

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