On connecting climate change with security and armed conflicts


  • Malin Mobjörk
  • Mikael Eriksson
  • Henrik Carlsen

Publish date: 2010-09-14

Report number: FOI-R--3021--SE

Pages: 111

Written in: English


The overall aim of this report is to describe and summarise the ongoing scientific debate on the connection between climate change, security and armed conflicts. A pivotal component of this involves identifying how the international community defines "security", and perhaps more importantly how various concepts are used within this context. The report also aims to provide an analysis of the security implications of climate change for Swedish defence and security policy, as well as for the Swedish civilian and military crisis management system. Three general questions are treated in this study: 1. What security concepts are used in relation to discussions on climate change? 2. What consequences are expected from climate change on security-related issues? 3. What types of armed conflicts risks are identified in the literature on climate change? To answer these questions, the investigation primarily focused on the scientific literature (mostly peer-reviewed material). This limit was set in order to promote fact-based analysis of prevailing scientific knowledge on the connection between climate change and security. On some occasions, we have also included major and widely cited policy documents. In essence, this report shows that research on climate change and armed conflicts to a great extent uses a state-based concept of security, while discourses on climate change and vulnerability generally tend to adopt a human security approach. The main difference between these two approaches concerns a widened conception of who is exposed to the security threats. It is now generally accepted that there are a number of threats that can intimidate a state´s security apart from military threats. Accordingly, security analysis are conducted on a variety of threats, for instance energy security, economic security and environmental security. hence, climate change and its consequences should be treated as an additional threat that can be directed towards the state as well as the individual. As noted in this report, a limitation of the great bulk of studies investigating the implications of climate change on security is that they mainly emerge from historical analyses. Moreover, a number of these historically based studies are derived on the basis of the interlinkages between altered natural resources, climate change and conflicts. Thus, they have limited value in predicting what is to come in the future for security (as a result of climate change) and the parameters used are not sufficient. When future protections are made, these are primarily drawn from the IPCC´s estimation of climate change (particularly from the fourth assessment report from 2007). The present investigation is also based around the IPCC data, but it includes an úpdate of the scientific knowledge for those areas that are considered essential for security matters (bradly defined), namelyfreshwater resources, food production and health. These topics are the focal point in a regional analysis focusing on Europe, Africa, Asia, Russia and the Arctic. The brief regional discussion shows that the changes are greater than expected in the fourth assessment report from IPCC. This particularly concerns warming of the oceans, sea level rise and the reduction in Arctic sea ice in the summer. Moreover, actual measues show that the greenhouse gas emissions are higher than expected in the scenarios from IPCC. This is the foundation for acknowledging extreme climate scenarios here. Since analyses of the security implications of climate change are primarily based of the IPCC scenarios, this investigation was unable to analyse the security implications of extreme climate scenarios in detail. However, the assessments made acknowledge the dynamics that characterise conflicts in general and that climate change is expected to aggravate already existing conflicts risks. Hence, climate change is in itself not linked to the conflict outbreak, but the effects resulting from climate change are regarded as deteriorating the possibility of securing basic needs such as food and water, which in itself can constitute a conflict risk. We also acknowledge that the starting point for the climate debate is primarily research on natural resources; this means that the analysis of the effects of climate change not is comprhensive. In order to visualise the connection between climate change and security, we set up a conceptual framework (figure B). The starting point is three pathways linking climate change with security and armed conflicts. The first path emerges from international politics and climate discourse, which concerns e.g. power relations between nations, but also notions of the security thrats following climate change. The second path focused on altered natural resources and how these are linked to security. The third path focuses on disasters following climate change.

Share page on social media