TOKYO – Since the November 13 terrorist bloodletting in Paris, the City of Light has been practically under martial law. In this subdued and challenging context, world leaders are now convening in the city at the United Nations Climate Change Conference to hammer out a new global agreement to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. Could disrupting the talks have been part of the terrorists’ agenda?
It certainly seems possible. After all, severe environmental conditions in much of the Middle East and North Africa’s Sahel region contribute to the sense of desperation that fuels Islamic extremism. Given this, arranging the attacks in such a way that could distract from efforts to ameliorate those conditions – while advancing the terrorists’ other goals, of course – would seem like a “winning” strategy.
The situation in the Middle East and the Sahel is certainly dire, with rapid desertification devastating pastoral economies and the livelihoods of farmers, shepherds, nomads, and those who depend on them. This combination of environmental and economic degradation has created fertile conditions for murderous Islamist movements, including Boko Haram in Nigeria, al-Shabaab in Somalia and Kenya, and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Where climate change threatens to lay waste to the environment, fanatics have banded together to lay waste to civilization.
To be sure, climate change is by no means the primary cause of Islamist extremism. Failed economies and brutal secular dictatorships, together with deep-rooted ethnic and religious rifts, have fueled a volatile combination of fear, instability, and anger. But no one should doubt that the framework of fanaticism has been abetted by the dire environmental conditions that now prevail in much of the Middle East and the Sahel.