Climate Change and Security

Climate Refugees and the War on Resources Approaching Europe

Climate change has received a lot of attention in the wake of floods, famines and overall warming of the planet causing disruptions in the international arena. Azira Ahimsa and Andy Laub analyze the effect of climate change on social and political issues while those affected by climate change turn to the West for hope.


With each passing year, droughts, floods, natural disasters, and sea-level rise are intensifying due to climate change. Global surface temperatures have risen about 2 degrees Fahrenheit. The World Bank predicts approximately 143 million people will become climate migrants seeking more viable places to live in 30 years. The impact of climate change is already felt in reduced yields and extreme weather conditions affecting crops and livestock. It will also make it hard to feed the forecasted 10 billion of the world’s population in 30 years.

A simple definition of Climate Change by Bill Nye is ‘A long-term change in the earth’s overall temperature with massive and permanent ramifications’. Human activities and natural orbital variation have been identified as significant causes of climate change that results in global warming.

For much too long, climate change has been seen only from the physical science point of view. When in reality, the social science perspective of climate change is no less frightening. Climate change has a multidimensional nature. The area of physical science, however, is not properly equipped to address the socially-induced questions of climate refugees, war on resources, global conflicts and national security in relation to climate change.

The main point to take away from this assessment is that it is vital to conduct accurate climatic research for the purpose of providing our political leaders with precise and good quality data to enable them in taking considerable actions during the policy-making process. The decision they will make on this is a key decision that will decide the fate of Europe in the face of upcoming climate refugees and climate conflicts.


Factors in the environment affected by climate change that force people to leave their homes include food scarcity, deteriorating human health, limited water availability, and change in the condition of a natural landscape. Firstly, food production around the world will be at risk because of higher temperatures, erosion of coastal zones, degradation of soil layer, the spread of pests and diseases, uncertain pattern of precipitation and increased frequency of extreme events. The number of people at risk of hunger will increase as droughts occur more frequently and more severely in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Southern Europe and Australia. The effect of this on livestock and water availability coupled with the rapid population growth and urbanization rate will create a catastrophe.

Secondly, the changing weather patterns, the change in water and food quality, and the change in the ecosystem have an impact on human health. In 2004, WHO released a study estimating Climate Change to be responsible for 3% of Diarrhea, 3% of Malaria, and 3.8% of Dengue Fever deaths worldwide. The rapid urbanization will worsen the already plummeting population health due to Climate Change.

Thirdly, changes in precipitation and surface waters -e.g. river flows, are impacting the freshwater systems and the melting of inland glaciers contribute to the sea level rise. This in turn affects the salinization of groundwater that results in the decrease in freshwater availability for humans. Southern Africa and Brazil will be hit the worst by this.

Lastly, the rise in sea levels, drier mid-continent areas and wetter coasts is likely to spark mass human migration. Millions of climate refugees will be displaced by shoreline erosions, coastal flooding, and severe drought. Migration caused by climate change will most likely be from rural areas in third world countries to towns and cities, the refugees consider more developed with a surplus of resources for them to get by. In the short-run, these climate refugees will add to the stress of the existing refugee crisis Europe is facing right now.

Human mobility does not come without a cost. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development announced grants of $1 billion in 13 states to help communities adapt to climate change. Based on the data from the UN, an estimate of 50 million to 200 million people could be displaced by 2050 because of climate change. The impacts will accumulate over time and affect other sectors that are seemingly less threatened by climate change, for example the economic sector. There will consequently be a change in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and the social cost of carbon. The increasingly vulnerable social system will lead to global losses resulting from the fall of productivity levels.


Secure livelihood and one’s well-being are the minimum standard human beings hold up to in order to lead a fully functioning life. Changes to the local environment caused by climate change will inevitably harm one’s quality of life and force them to unwillingly leave their homes. These people are what we call climate refugees or environmental migrants. The influx of refugees has been proven over time to turn into a source of political conflict.

The migration crisis Europe is going through not only exemplifies the failure of the policy in place, but also of European politics. It highlights the lack of preparedness and visionary thinking from European leaders. The risk of this happening is not something too far out of the European leaders’ remarkable forecasting abilities but most leaders chose to neglect it at the risk of it being too late. The year 2015 was greeted with over one million refugees and migrants knocking on Europe’s door. Europe is seen as a haven of stability in the eyes of the refugees fleeing from their incredibly fragile countries. This already critical situation in Europe will become worse when climate refugees start to flood the European borders.

A recent report for the G7 detailed the likelihood that climate change will increase competition for resources, intensify existing tensions and destabilize market -all leading to a substantial increase in the vital risk of social unrest. Unfortunately, factors that determine a state’s resilience to climate change are (1) wealth, (2) strong institutions, and (3) cohesive societies. All the things the fragile states at risk lack.

The year prior to the first Syrian protests, a severe heatwave in Russia due to climate change laid waste to the wheat harvest, triggering the imposition of export controls and a spike in international wheat prices that drove up the cost of bread in the largest wheat importing region in the world -i.e. North Africa. When people took to the streets of Cairo in 2011, they were waving loaves of bread to protest the corrupt regime of Hosni Mubarak. The causes were multiple and inter-related. This is why the security sector including the Pentagon group has labelled climate change a ‘threat multiplier’. It presses areas already stressed and on the brink to a tipping point of social unrest.

Today’s refugee crisis happening at the front door of Europe should be a wake-up call to an even bigger issue. Global average temperatures by far have risen to 1-degree Celsius. An even greater impact in the form of social and economic dislocations with profound implications for displacement will be inevitable, especially once the predicted target of 2-degree Celsius temperature increase is reached.

Should Europe be concerned about Climate Refugees? Angela Merkel recently stressed that the next big project for Europe is the issue of asylum. The current refugee crisis should be a lesson to develop early-warning systems that will monitor, mitigate, and prepare for future migration, food, water, and land crises as climate change gathers pace.


As mentioned earlier, a number of major conflicts in the past were suggested to have links to climate change, including:

  • Prolonged drought started a rift between herders and farmers during the war in Darfur
  • Prior to the Civil War in Syria, 1.5 million people were displaced because of crop and livestock failure as a result of the sustained drought
  • Islamic insurgency fueling anti-government sentiment by exploiting the issue of natural resource shortages in Nigeria
  • Droughts and extreme high temperatures sparked violence during the Somali Civil War

Another problem that leads to climate conflict is the inability of fragile and conflict-prone states to manage risks of climate change that will leave them unready to face the challenges. This is where the study of climate change using the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) comes in handy. Since the historical record is proven insufficient in predicting future climatic risks, foresight can only have an effective outcome if researchers have an up-to-date understanding of the situation in the field.


One common factor in many internal conflicts is the armed groups that consist of young men whose expectations for a better life have been frustrated due to contractions in their livelihoods.

History has repeatedly shown us that armed groups often are recruited from refugee camps because they are vulnerable subjects. As Mark Gough from the Rockefeller Foundation stated ‘Human security depends on a system where each rational individual calculates that it is more profitable not to rebel


Scientists and researchers study past climatic variability on various time scales to gain valuable information that will help policy makers plan accordingly for future change in climates and the impacts it will bring

The research in Climate Change also gave an idea of how much influence humans have on the climate system. Records collected in the past thousand years showed the increase in global temperature in the 20th century – this is a result of a build-up in the last 1200 years, giving researchers the opportunity to assess how fast the rate of Climate Change’s impacts are unfolding.

The current advanced method of climate forecasting utilizes sophisticated computer models of the climate system. These models are made to simulate most aspects of the modern day climate by comparing simulations of past climate change with observations from paleo climatic records. Unfortunately, this method is still not adequately helpful.

Past climates were studied with the help of satellites and historical data. However, the problem with satellite record is the observation time that is much too short to give a glimpse of the changing climate as it can only cover the last 20 years’ timeframe.

Yet, current methods of climate change research have proven inadequate time and time again because the unprecise outcome has left the decision makers of the world constantly perplexed on what to do and the appropriate measure to take in the face of climate change.

On a brighter note, the latest technology in the form of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have emerged, letting researchers and scientists predict how fast the climate change is developing and how severe the impact of climate change currently is. Progress with UAV technology has rapidly advanced and been used throughout various sectors of the economy -no longer only used for the military. The result of a climate change study using the technology of UAVs can be useful for policy makers because it allows them to obtain adequate knowledge based on an up-to-date precise by-the-minute data. Better quality of information is central to formulate appropriate policy responses on the regional and global level, especially to a problem as pressing as the climate change.

One overall key solution in the area of climate change always has to be renewable and alternative energy sources such as wind and solar power. Wind and solar energy are both cheaper, more efficient and good for a sustainable environment that will help reduce the carbon footprint and impact that climate change is having. According to a report by the Australian government in 2016, the reduction of energy costs from 3 to 13%. A project currently underway in Lima, Ohio seeks to combine wind and solar efforts to complement one another, with a 175 megawatt wind farm combined with a 150 megawatt solar farm can provide electricity for cheaper to as many as 175,000 homes.

If the EU has the slightest intention to save the world from the impacts of climate change, the time is now. In just a few years’ time, climate refugees will flood into Europe and by then there will be nothing else for the EU to do but cry tears of regret in the middle of a warzone. The damage will be irreversible and will last a lifetime, affecting not only the refugees but every family on this planet including yours and mine.

This is a battle Europe cannot afford to lose. We are racing against time. We need to act now.

Azira Ahimsa is an Exchange Participant Manager at AISEC and an Account Manager at Integra Holding ApS. She received her Master of Science in Defense, Diplomacy and Development from Durham University, School of Government and International Affairs and her Bachelor’s degree from University of Western Australia.

Andy Laub is the Director for Partnerships and North Korea Analyst at Political Insights. He also serves as the International Chapters Director for Young Professionals in Foreign Policy. Andy received his Master of Science in Global Affairs from New York University.

Please note that opinions expressed in this article are solely those of our contributors, not of Political Insights, which takes no institutional positions.

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