Climate & ViolenceHow Climate Change Contributes to Global Violence

By Alex Alvarez

Published 27 October 2021

Whether through drought, extreme heat waves, food insecurity, lack of potable water, changing disease vectors or any number of other impacts, large swaths of the globe will increasingly suffer from unhealthy and dangerous conditions brought about by climate change. Climate change can amplify intolerance and persecution and facilitate violent conflict, including war and genocide. Collective violence doesn’t just erupt spontaneously but is brought about by specific triggers and situations, and many of these relate to the consequences of climate change.

On 1 November, the much-anticipated United Nations summit on Climate Change, known as COP26, is set to take place in Glasgow, Scotland. Its goal is to devise a global strategy on cutting emissions to keep alive the possibility of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, a Paris Accord threshold beyond which the consequences become far more severe and even catastrophic. Some, such as U.S. Climate Envoy John Kerry, have suggested this conference is one of our last chances to prevent some of the worst outcomes of climate change. To add to this sense of urgency, the 2021 Lancet report on Health and Climate Change, released in early October, lays out in stark and grim detail the myriad ways in which the direct and indirect consequences of climate change pose significant threats to the health and well-being of humans around the world on a scale we have not experienced in the modern world. Whether through drought, extreme heat waves, food insecurity, lack of potable water, changing disease vectors or any number of other impacts, large swaths of the globe will increasingly suffer from unhealthy and dangerous conditions brought about by climate change that threaten to overwhelm the ability of communities and governments to cope and adapt to these emerging challenges.  

To add to this grim forecast, not long after the Lancet report was released, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence distributed the first-ever National Intelligence Estimate on Climate Change, which warns of global instability and heightened tensions and conflict between nations as the consequences of a warming world. Representing the collective assessment of all 18 U.S. intelligence agencies about the risks these changes hold for national security, the report not only identifies regions and nations that are particularly vulnerable to instability and conflict, but also points out that such situations tend to produce large number of refugees that are vulnerable to exploitation and persecution, can destabilize surrounding regions and create massive humanitarian disasters. 

These reports come on the heels of earlier publications that only serve to highlight the crisis we find ourselves facing. One U.S. government report released in 2020 detailed the financial and human costs of climate change for the United States and concluded that climate change will cost hundreds of billions of dollars annually and will result in thousands of additional deaths every year from the direct and indirect consequences of a warmer world.