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kv Blogs
12 October 2017

How Climate Change Impacts Global Security

Anyone familiar with the work of The Tej Kohli Foundation will know of our interest in the issue of human-caused climate change. Climate change is one of the most serious challenges we face today, but its impact stretches even further than many realise. Here, we explore the links between climate change and global security, and what can be done to tackle them.

Although the link between climate change and security may not seem obvious at a cursory glance, tracing the ripple effects of shifting climates causes a distinct pattern to emerge. For most of human history, shifts in climate conditions have driven the mass movement of people, contributing to such major historical events as the foundation of Egypt and the fall of the Roman Empire. When climate conditions make a civilization unsustainable, mass migration, destabilisation and often conflict are the results.

This is a pattern we are seeing recurring once again. Recently, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) warned that over 20 million people worldwide are at risk of starvation, due in part to massive declines in agricultural capability caused by rapidly shifting climates. Widespread drought, and the resulting mass movement of people from rural communities into overcrowded cities has been highlighted as one of the major destabilising factors leading to the current horrific conflict in Syria – which has had serious security implications across every corner of the globe. One of the defining characteristics of modern conflicts is the inability to limit them to a single, contained theatre of conflict.

What is particularly significant is how people’s perceptions of the link between climate change and security would appear to affect their views on the issue. Recent research by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s Center on Terrorism showed that only 38% of respondents were familiar with the links between climate change and increased threats to global security. Only 14% were specifically aware of the argument that climate conditions in Syria had likely caused or exacerbated that conflict.

However, despite this lack of awareness, the survey also showed that people were more likely to support action on climate change if could be linked to national security concerns. Although climate change is an international problem, these findings could still help in raising awareness and changing attitudes towards climate change for the better. One of the hurdles faced in communicating the issue of human-caused climate change is its sheer scale – a threat so vast and global can be hard for individuals to grasp onto, but focusing on tangible, recognisable concerns could help to crystallise the issue in people’s minds.

If highlighting links between security and climate change can lead to a greater awareness of the issue, this could prove hugely beneficial when it comes to radical, ambitious schemes to combat climate change – such as physicist Steven Desch’s proposal for a $400 billion endeavour to refreeze melted Arctic ice. Recently, our own co-founder Tej Kohli launched the Kohli Impact Investment Initiative – a $25 million fund run by Kohli Ventures and aimed at supporting tech companies involved with disruptive technologies that carry the potential for positive social and environmental impact.

At a time when the ground-breaking Paris Agreement is under threat, support for these projects and a major shift in public opinion and engagement could all play a crucial part in winning the battle against climate change and reducing risks to global security.