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The Myth of Climate Wars?

Rather than resisting the securitization of climate, advocates and policymakers should be promoting the climatization of security. This means highlighting the shortcomings of current security frameworks and promoting gender inclusiveness and local leadership as holistic and long-term solutions for peace and sustainability.

NEW YORK – In the years leading up to Syria’s civil war, the country endured three consecutive record-breaking droughts. By forcing internal displacement, the droughts arguably contributed to the social tensions that erupted in popular protests in 2011. But that does not mean that the Syrian conflict is a “climate war.”

As extreme weather events proliferate, it’s becoming increasingly easy to find a link between climate change and violent confrontations. In Sudan, the ethnic cleansing carried out by former President Omar al-Bashir has been tied to the Sahara Desert’s southward expansion, which fueled social unrest by exacerbating food insecurity. Territorial disputes in the South China Sea have also been connected to food-security concerns, rooted in competition over access to fishing areas. Some now warn of a “brewing water war” between Egypt and Ethiopia, triggered by the latter’s construction of a dam on the Nile River.

But the “climate war” narrative is deeply flawed. From Syria to Sudan, today’s conflicts are the result of multiple complicated and interrelated factors, from ethno-religious tensions to protracted political repression. While the effects of climate change can exacerbate social and political instability, climate change did not cause these wars. This nuance is important, not least for the sake of accountability: climate change must not be used to duck responsibility for resolving or averting violent confrontations.

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