The Center for Climate & Security

BRIEFER: Climate, Water and Militias: A Field Study From Southern Iraq

By Peter Schwartzstein

This case study was written as part of SIPRI’s ‘Environment of Peace’ initiative, and is reprinted with permission.

When recruiters for Iraq’s various militias came to the North Abu Zarag Marsh near Nasiriyah in southern Iraq in August of 2014, it didn’t take them long to empty the surrounding villages of most of their young men. For weeks before, locals had watched in horror as the Islamic State (also known as IS or ISIS) had surged across the country’s north and west. And for those weeks, they had been electrified by religious clerics’ call to arms against the jihadists. A good number of the community’s most committed fighters had answered that appeal, dusting down old weapons and heading to the front. But the real exodus didn’t begin until the worst of the summer heat set in and water flow through the marsh fell to its lowest level in years.

Haidar Salim, a buffalo farmer, signed on with the Badr Organization, one of the largest and most powerful of the militias. His income had all but disappeared as his animals’ milk yields withered in the now shallow, knee-deep waters—some four meters lower than they can be. Then came his unemployed twin, Mohammed, later to die in a suicide bombing during the battle for Ramadi. The brothers were followed in quick succession by no fewer than 50 fishermen, each of whom had long since given up hope of making their nets bulge. Vendors at three marsh fish markets estimate that the local catch has fallen by at least 50 percent since 2003 due to low and excessively saline river flow. “After the summer we were all women and old men and children here,” said Sayyid Mehdi Sayyid Hashem, a community leader and overseer of an important local shrine. “After the groups came through, the marsh went with them.”

In marching off to war, many of these men invoked their patriotism and piety—and they undoubtedly meant it. But with that diminished water flow in a community where almost every profession is dependent on the Tigris and Euphrates’ irrigation of the marshlands, few could conceal the undercurrent of desperation. Bit by bit, water quantity and quality had deteriorated over the previous decade, plunging residents deeper into penury. Here at last was a chance to make at least something of a living. “When you’re hungry, when you have a family to feed, you’ll do anything,” said Salim. “I didn’t see myself as a fighter, but sometimes it’s your only option.”

This is what environmental disaster can look like, and among crumbling parts of rural southern Iraq, it is directly fueling the militarization of society.

Read, Watch, Listen: CCS Across the Web | November and December 2022

By Brigitte Hugh

Welcome to “Read, Watch, Listen” from the Center for Climate and Security (CCS), a monthly round-up highlighting some of the articles, interviews, and podcasts featuring the CCS network of experts.  

From the new National Security Strategy and the midterm elections in the United States, to the 27th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP27) in Egypt, climate security at the end of 2022 crossed continents and silos, and so did CCS expert commentary. 


  • Erin Sikorsky (Director) wrote that climate change plays a central role in the newly released U.S. National Security Strategy, demonstrating the emphasis the Biden Administration is placing on the issue. (Lawfare
  • After the November midterm elections in the U.S., John Conger (Senior Advisor) explored the opportunities for continued climate progress in the House of Representatives. (The Hill
  • In a book review of Neta Crawford’s The Pentagon, Climate Change and War, Sikorsky discussed military emissions and climate change. (Foreign Policy)
  • Journalist in residence Peter Schwartzstein wrote that environmental peacebuilding processes–especially those that include women, indigenous groups, and other marginalized communities–are one path for conflict resolution in a world of climate change. (National Geographic


  • Elsa Barron (Research Fellow) spoke about environmental peacebuilding on a panel focused on youth hopes for the future. (Geneva Peace Week)
  • Barron also traveled to Sharm el-Sheikh for COP27 where she spoke about imaginative futures built on environmental peacebuilding. (COP27 Youth Pavilion)


  • The U.S. Defense Department sent a delegation to COP27 for the first time. Conger said that doing so provides an important opportunity for engagement with allies and partners. (PoliticoPro)
  • Sikorsky noted that on the topic of climate change, Chinese leaders are less motivated by the need to collaborate with others, including the U.S., than they are by domestic concerns. (The Atlantic)  
  • The blog post written by Sikorsky and Brigitte Hugh (Research Fellow) on the security angles of the COP27 conference was cited in Just Security
  • Sherri Goodman (Senior Strategist) gave an interview on climate security. (Cipher Brief)
  • NATO held its first round table on climate and security, which was attended by Advisory Board member Tom Middendorp, representing the International Military Council on Climate and Security, a group administered by CCS. (NATO)
  • Sikorsky points out that the Biden Administration, and others, cannot continue to focus solely on the immediate crises when future impacts from climate change will require longer-term investments in communities. (E&E News)


  • Sikorsky spoke on the Warcast about geopolitics and COP27. 
  • Goodman spoke about the evolving relationship between climate change, Arctic security, and geopolitical competition. (Irregular Warfare Podcast)

Keep up with all the work being done by the experts from the Center for Climate and Security by following us on Twitter and LinkedIn and subscribing to our blog.

BRIEFER: Climate Change as a “Threat Multiplier”: History, Uses and Future of the Concept

By Sherri Goodman and Pauline Baudu

Edited by Erin Sikorsky and Francesco Femia

“Threat multiplier” has become a widely used term by scholars and practitioners to describe climate change implications for security in both the policy realm and climate-security literature. The term was coined in 2007 by the CNA (Center for Naval Analyses) Military Advisory Board under the leadership of Sherri Goodman. It captures how climate change effects interact with and have the potential to exacerbate pre-existing threats and other drivers of instability to contribute to security risks. The concept has been characterized as “definitional” in having “set a baseline for how to talk about the issue” and having shaped “the way in which people studying climate policy think about risks.” Its use has also been described as “one of the most prominent ways in which the security implications of climate change have been understood.”

This briefer provides an account of the history of the “threat multiplier” term from its creation in the context of the environmental security era in 2007 to its progressive adoption by military, policy, and academic circles in the United States and abroad. It then examines the different conceptual ramifications that have derived from the term and its evolutions in capturing changing climate security realities.


Climate Security and the Fiscal Year 2023 National Defense Authorization Act

By John Conger

President Biden signed the Fiscal Year 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on December 23, 2022, a $858 billion measure setting defense policy and authorizing spending for next year.  While the bill includes thousands of provisions addressing issues across the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), its biggest impact on climate security this year is its broad support of the efforts the DoD proposed in its budget request.

In recent years, Congress has used this must-pass legislation to highlight and respond to climate threats to national security.  Past NDAAs have directed DoD to deliver strategies and plans addressing climate-related issues such as the opening Arctic or resilience to extreme weather, and have provided a wide range of new authorities to DoD to support resilience efforts. Until now, however, the bill has given less attention to the funding authorization needed to turn the plans into action.  


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