The evidence is mounting that climate-related droughts, floods, and other events lead to political instability and human conflict. Some cities are especially vulnerable to the “threat multiplier” of climate change.
We know that climate change imperils coastal communities around the world and endangers food and water sources, and that political and religious extremism feed off instability and cause bloodshed. But because each contributes to the other, the future of millions may be at risk.
A 2013 University of California, Berkeley study analyzed 60 previous studies and concluded that the connection between climate change and human conflict is strong. Droughts and famines, floods, wildfires, and other events caused at least in part by climate change lead to instability that extremist groups can take advantage of to create conflict.
A more recent report by CNA, a research nonprofit with national-security expertise, focuses on the connection between water stress and conflict. “Water stress can empower violent extremist organizations and place stable governments at risk,” the authors write. Some experts believe we are heading towards a point where water will be more difficult to come by and brutal wars will be fought over control of fresh-water resources.
Sherri Goodman, a senior fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center and the United States’ former deputy undersecretary of defense for environmental security, coined the term “threat multiplier” to describe how climate change accelerates security risks. She said water stress is a source of instability around the globe.
“When there is a shortage or scarcity of water, it can be used to make people vulnerable and can be used by combatants, terrorists, or others to put innocents in precarious positions for exploitation, to force migration, and to target vulnerable populations,” Goodman said. “You can see that that’s happened now in Yemen. You can see the patterns of prolonged drought in Syria, which forced migration.”
Where else could climate change prove especially destabilizing? Experts say the cities below are among those most at risk of climate-related conflict. The good news is that at least two of them are taking measures to prevent it.