The President and CEO of think-tank International Crisis Group, has warned the United Nations Security Council that without global action, “climate change could prove to be a slow-moving version of the current COVID-19 pandemic.”
Speaking at an informal (so-called “Arria”) session on climate and security risks 22 April, Robert Malley highlighted that climate change is already shaping conflict around the world and it will continue to do so. Malley called climate change an existential challenge that puts vulnerable populations at increasing risk. He also indicated that to deal with climate change and its impacts will require a more significant “robust action” than has been applied to date.
Malley referred to two broad categories to two categories of conflict. First are tensions within states arising from climate-related resource scarcity; these require domestic political responses that the UN may be able to support. Second are tensions between states over scarce resources – especially in the case of water – which require a diplomatic response that the UN may be able to facilitate.
Malley underscored that there is considerable consensus that climate change can cause water scarcity and increase food insecurity and resource competition. This cycle disrupts livelihoods and spurs migration, both intra- and inter-statal. This pattern, in turn, plays a role in shaping conflicts: clashes over resources, discrediting central states, or bolstering the appeal of non-state armed groups and facilitating their recruitment drives.
“In some situations, small variations in climate can contribute to significant increases in violent conflict; in others, large variations in climate will not.” Malley claims that the difference rests with the ability of the authorities to deal with the problems: “how equitably and effectively they allocate and distribute resources; how inclusive and accountable they are; whether there are good inter-community mediation mechanisms or not.” Malley also noted that political instability can contribute to climate change.
The address suggested that field-based experience and granular political analysis combined with climate expertise could produce effective conflict prevention outcomes. Malley cited examples of inter-state climate-related water resource scarcity and intra-state resource scarcity where UN support could possibly affect a positive outcome for both parties involved.
Malley suggested that the time to assess climate risks needs to be shortened. Further, geographies where climate risks intersect with fragile political constructs need to be prioritised with respect to any third-party support to be offered.
The Crisis Group, at the moment, is using COVID-19 response as an indicator of climate response: the places where the global health challenge intersects with political conditions that could give rise to new crises or exacerbate existing ones.
He concluded: “But there is one overriding political message we should take from COVID-19, which is that without prompt global, collective action, climate change could prove to be the slow-moving version of the coronavirus outbreak, reshaping economic, political and security conditions around the world.”