Climate Change and Extreme Drought Linked to Political Instability, Unrest, and Conflict

The world cannot ignore the role of climate change in worsening political instability and unrest, Columbia University professor Mark Levy warns.

Editor’s note: Recent terror attacks in Turkey, Bangladesh, Yemen, Iraq, Cameroon and Saudi Arabia underline the urgent global need to understand and address the root causes of instability. Two pieces from Thomson Reuters Foundation and The New York Times from 2015 examine the role of climate change in political stress, conflict, and violence. 

“We are experiencing a surprising uptick in global insecurity… partially due to our inability to manage climate stress,” Columbia University professor Marc Levy explained at the Global Security Initiative, Thomson Reuters Foundation reported last year.

The New York Times also reported last year on a 2015 study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that drew one of the strongest links yet to the connection between global warming and human conflict. Researchers in the study determined that the extreme drought in Syria between 2006-2009 was most likely caused by climate change, and that this drought was a factor in the violent uprising that began in Syria in 2011.

Levy linked ongoing violence in Syria to climate change and a record drought starting in 2006. The ensuing crop failure caused a mass exodus of unemployed rural residents, dissatisfied with the government, to spill into urban areas. These refugees, fleeing conflict and violence in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Sudan, are now streaming into Europe, Thomson Reuters explained.

“Some of those migrants are fleeing areas that are hard to live in because of climate stress,” Levy explained. He was clear to point out that global warming is just one of many factors contributing to the refugee crisis of recent years. Still, climate change is ‘adding fuel to the fire’ of worsening instability and unrest around the world, Levy stated.

Image: A 2013 aerial view of the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, which houses about 80,000 Syrians forced to flee their homes | Image Credit: US Department of State

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