Conflict driven by ecological damage, report says

Countries affected by ecological damage and conflict are trapped in a vicious cycle where one problem reinforces the other. And climate change is expected to make matters worse.

Ecological threats will lead to widespread conflict and massive migration unless major efforts are made to limit the damage, according to a report by a global think tank released Thursday.

It precedes the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, where world leaders hope to agree on concrete actions to tackle climate change.

For its second report on ecological threats, the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) assessed 178 independent states and territories to find those most conflict-prone to ecological threats.

He looked at food risks, water-related risks, rapid population growth, temperature anomalies and natural disasters, and combined this data with national measures of socio-economic resilience – such as the functioning of communities. governments, strong business environments, and acceptance of the rights of others, among others – to produce the 2021 Ecological Threats Report.

“We are trying to better understand how strong the relationship between ecological damage and conflict is. And it turned out to be much stronger than we expected, ”Founder and Executive Chairman Steve Killelea told DW. “Ecological damage and conflict are intertwined, and I mean intertwined. “

The spiral of conflict and ecological damage

Their research found that regions threatened by conflict and ecological damage – such as natural disasters, resource scarcity and temperature anomalies – fall into a kind of feedback loop, where each problem reinforces the other.

“Resources are degraded, you fight for them, conflict then weakens all infrastructure and all social systems, and it also destroys resources further, which now creates more conflict,” Killelea said. “Then you also have the different ethnic or religious groups and the old animosities of past conflicts, so it’s easy to fall back in that direction again. “

A sheepdog wanders near a giant wind turbine that is part of the Windsol de Collarmele, in central Italy, a wind farm located about 100 kilometers east of Rome. (PA)

One region that falls into this loop is the Sahel – on the southern border of the Sahara Desert – where systemic problems, such as civil unrest, weak institutions, corruption, high population growth, and lack of food and resources. adequate water supplies each region. other.

IEP research found that these issues increased the likelihood of conflict and facilitated the rise of many Islamist insurgencies in the region.

Islamic terrorist groups have taken advantage of local disputes over dwindling resources such as water and grazing land to advance their cause and gain power, he said.

The regions most at risk

Serge Stroobants, IEP director for Europe, Middle East and North Africa, told DW that the report identified 30 countries in the hotspot facing high levels of ecological threats, which were also characterized by by high levels of corruption, weak institutions, poor business environments. and a misallocation of resources.

The three regions most at risk of societal collapse are the Sahel-Horn of Africa belt, which stretches from Mauritania to Somalia, the southern African belt, from Angola to Madagascar, and the belt of the Middle East and Central Asia, which stretches from Syria to Pakistan.

A protester holds up a sign as he attends a Friday for the Future climate strike as environment ministers gather ahead of the COP26 meeting in Glasgow, Milan, Italy. (Reuters)

And these countries, in addition to being exposed to new conflicts, are also susceptible to massive migration. More than 50 million people were forcibly displaced by conflict and violence in sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and North Africa in 2020.

“Today, about 1.26 billion people live in these 30 countries, and so we say they are at high risk of conflict and displacement caused by environmental damage,” Stroobants said.

Is climate change a factor?

The report found that while many ecological threats, such as food and water scarcity, exist without climate change, they are inevitably exacerbated by it, potentially pushing countries into new or deeper conflicts and pushing more people out of their homes. By 2050, climate change is expected to displace 86 million more people in sub-Saharan Africa alone.

“Climate change is certainly an aggravator and accelerator of the effects and impact of these ecological threats in these very specific countries,” Stroobants said, referring to the countries most at risk.

Nina von Uexkull of the Department of Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University – who was not involved in the IEP report – told DW some areas are at risk of conflict because of the climate change.

“In today’s societies, the overall impact of climate on conflict risk is considered minor compared to other factors, but some regions of the world are indeed vulnerable to climate factors translating into security risks. internal, ”she said.

Dutch riot police prepare to board Greenpeace’s Beluga II when a protest by climate activists breaks down at a Shell refinery in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. (PA)

“In particular, research suggests that regions with ongoing conflicts, political marginalization and economic dependence on agriculture are at high risk of conflict as a result of climate-related hazards.”

And the developed countries?

Countries in Europe and other highly developed regions face threats from natural disasters and climate change, but they are resilient to the worst problems caused by ecological threats, according to the report.

This is thanks to strong governance, social safety nets, wealth and other factors.

Speaking on the recent floods in Belgium and Germany, Stroobants said: “Yes, there has been an impact, but the two countries are already in the process of rebuilding themselves. Only a few people have been displaced, they have been well taken care of and they can return to their villages.

“It’s completely different in other parts of the world where both the impact can be greater, but you can also be exposed to multiple threats and not just one or two,” he said.

According to von Uexkull of Uppsala University, although these countries are largely resilient, they face risks of civil unrest as well as possible future migration.

“The richer and more resilient countries should be unlikely to experience large-scale violence,” she said.

What is their proposed solution?

Limiting climate change will not fully mitigate the risk of ecological threats to conflict, the think tank said.

It calls on governments and international agencies to integrate structures that combine health, food, water, refugee aid, finance, agriculture, development and other functions. He says the siled nature of relief and development agencies does not allow for an agile response to systemic regional issues.

“You can detach people from all the different agencies out there to form something unified, something on a smaller level. You will get much better efficiency, much higher productivity and probably better suited to the needs of the problem as well, if you focus on systemic interventions, ”Killelea said.