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Our Interview with Moyers and Co: Syria, Drought, Climate and Security

Digging_irrigation_channels,_Palmyra,_SyriaThe Center for Climate and Security’s Co-Founder and Director, Francesco Femia, was recently interviewed by Moyers & Company’s John Light.  In the interview, Femia discusses the links between the drought, climate change and the lead-up to unrest in Syria.  The interview draws heavily from the Center’s 2012 report, Syria: Climate Change, Drought and Social Unrest and the 2013 report, The Arab Spring and Climate Change.

The full interview goes beyond Syria into broader climate and national security issues, but its essence is captured in this quote from Femia:

And when you look at the effects of the drought on people within Syria, we can see that displacement has put strains on urban areas and could have contributed to the spread of unrest in Syria.

Of course the conflict is ongoing, and it’s very difficult to study anything that’s happening in Syria at this point. We still have yet to disentangle the line from climate and drought, to displacement, to conflict. We’re not making any causal claims about climate change causing conflict, but it certainly is what the security community calls a “threat multiplier.” It makes other threats to human security worse, and in this case we see it fast at hand.

If security analysts had been incorporating environmental security variables, including climate, into their assessments of how stable Syria was, they may have been able to make a different assessment of Syria’s stability and warned policymakers.

Femia continues with what the United States should do about preparing for the security implications of climate change:

What the U.S. should do in this context is, first, focus on integrating climate change and environmental security variables into how it analyzes intelligence and how it looks at the conflict potential of a region or nation. What that means is that the analysts — not just in the intelligence community but also in places like USAID and the State Department — who look at parts of the world and try to anticipate what might go wrong in these areas, they really need to look at the climate and environmental security variables that impact people’s lives and also look out 10, 15, 20 years at potential conflicts down the line…The Department of Defense has actually been leading the charge in this area. For example, in 2010, it included climate change in its quadrennial defense review. The Navy has a task force on climate change looking at the impacts of sea level rise, not just on the Navy itself, but on how that might influence national security.

The full interview can be found here.

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