What has conflict got to do with the climate and ecological crisis? - Extinction Rebellion UK

What has conflict got to do with the climate and ecological crisis?

Climate change increases the likelihood of violent conflicts, creating a cycle in which conflict impedes countries’ efforts to reduce carbon emissions and adapt to climate change. At the same time, violent conflict directly exacerbates climate change and contributes to ecological degradation. 

“Climate change can indirectly increase risks of violent conflicts in the form of civil war and inter-group violence by amplifying well-documented drivers of these conflicts such as poverty and economic shocks.” IPCC, 2014

Of the 25 countries most vulnerable to climate change, more than half are currently also in conflict. Those on the frontlines of the climate emergency are likely to be also suffering from violence and oppression.1

The Darfur conflict in Sudan is the first acknowledged ‘climate change conflict’ triggered by ecological crises, drought and rapid desertification, but almost certainly will not be the last.2 In Libya and Myanmar the oppression and conflicts that have ravaged these countries have made them extremely vulnerable to climate change. The first 2 months of the current escalation of conflict in Gaza released more carbon than the combined annual footprint of 20 of the world’s most climate-vulnerable nations.3

The arms industry has a significant environmental impact due to the extraction of raw materials and military activity is estimated to cause 20% of all environmental degradation.4 In 2023, NATO’s total military carbon footprint reached 226 million tCO2e.5

The interconnectedness of the climate and ecological emergency and conflict touch upon a myriad of interrelated issues, including deforestation, drought, water scarcity, displacement, extractivism, famine and disease. The complexity of the relationships extends beyond mere cause and effect. Both the climate emergency and conflict are perpetuated by institutions and corporations entwined in a web of exploitation. This exploitation is rooted in historic oppression, colonialism, racism and poverty, inextricably binding these issues together. 

These echoes of causes from the past resonate with a warning, as we stand on the precipice of a future likely to witness a deepening entanglement between environmental devastation and violence against each other. As the world grapples with increasing levels of conflict, the trajectory seems ominously clear — violent conflict and climate catastrophe are on the rise.

The toxic structures of power are manifested by governments, corporations, military establishments, financial institutions, and the arms trade. They perpetuate conflict and destruction — against the planet and against each other — through the systems that exploit resources, land or people, because very few experience equal participation in power. power is not readily relinquished, nor is it generously distributed.

If we seek lasting solutions to these crises, we need a paradigm shift towards empowering communities and individuals. A citizens’ assembly on climate and ecological justice would involve active participation in decision-making processes, amplification of marginalised voices, and the fostering of inclusivity in the corridors of power. Only through a collective and deliberate effort to redistribute and democratise power can we hope to address the complex challenges of climate change and conflict and forge a more sustainable, equitable and peaceful future.

1 ND-GAIN Vulnerability  
2  The World’s First Climate Change Conflict Continues | Think Global Health
3 Emissions from Israel’s war in Gaza have ‘immense’ effect on climate catastrophe | Israel-Gaza war | The Guardian
4Angus, I., 2016. Climate Change and the Responsibility of the Military. Facing the Anthropocene, p. 4.
5Climate Crossfire | Transnational Institute

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