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A recently-released study by Jan Selby and colleagues analyzes existing research on the intersection of climate change and conflict in Syria. The article, published in the Journal of Political Geography, includes a critique of a 2015 study published by the Center for Climate and Security’s (CCS) Caitlin Werrell, Francesco Femia and Troy Sternberg (and a short briefer by CCS from 2012), as well as two other studies by Colin Kelley et al (2015) and Peter Gleick (2014). More research into the climate-conflict nexus in pre-civil war Syria is certainly welcome for better understanding the risks and informing future policies for addressing them. In this study, Selby et al. point to some important gaps in the data on the connection between displaced peoples and social and political unrest, and the possible role of market liberalization in the Syrian conflict. However, the study does nothing to refute the role of climate change in Syrian instability in the years before the war, while muddying the waters on the subject through a few mischaracterizations that are worth addressing at some length. (more…)
By Dr. Colin Kelley, Senior Research Fellow, The Center for Climate and Security
A new study provides the strongest evidence to date that the drying of the eastern Mediterranean Levant region over recent decades is very likely the result of human influence on the Earth’s climate system. This research uses tree-ring data in the Old World Drought Atlas to better characterize year-to-year and decade-to-decade natural rainfall variability over the greater Mediterranean basin. (more…)
Imperial College London’s Angle Journal recently published an article by Center for Climate and Security Co-directors Caitlin Werrell and Francesco Femia titled “The Nexus of Climate Change, State Fragility and Migration.” Here is an excerpt from the introduction:
The greatest migration since World War II is under way. Refugees are flowing in record numbers from Syria to both surrounding countries, and Europe. It is a humanitarian crisis of the highest order.
The proximate cause of this migration – the most immediate reason for it – is the long and brutal conflict in Syria. But a humanitarian crisis of such a historic and horrific scale necessitates the asking (and answering) of broader questions concerning a range of potential underlying contributors and causes. Here we examine the role of climate change with regard to state fragility and migration, and propose three guiding principals for governments to follow when faced with complex and uncertain climate-related threats.
Click here for the full piece.
On Syrian Refugees and Climate Change: The Risks of Oversimplifying and Underestimating the Connection
It unfortunately took the heart-wrenching image of a dead Syrian child on a Turkish seashore to fully alert the international community to an unfolding disaster: the greatest refugee crisis since World War II. As the crisis ensues, many in the public eye have been asking the question: What is behind this extraordinary exodus? Essentially, what is the proximate cause? The answer to that question is straightforward. A brutal civil war in Syria has left many people with little choice but to flee. Some commentators are asking another question, however, that seeks to illuminate “ultimate” causes of an unstable Syria, and the current crisis. Namely: What were the conditions that led Syria to collapse, and how can we prevent these crises in the future? And in that context, does climate change have anything to do with it? The answer to that is complex, of course. (more…)
On Saturday, July 25, the Center for Climate and Security’s Caitlin Werrell and Francesco Femia spoke to MSNBC’s Alex Witt about the intersection of climate change, natural resource mismanagement and instability in Syria, as well as the broader national and international security implications of a changing climate. Click on the image below for the full interview.
For more on the Center for Climate and Security’s research on the subject, see:
2012: Syria: Climate Change, Drought and Social Unrest
2013: The Arab Spring and Climate Change
2015: Did We See it Coming? State Fragility, Climate Vulnerability, and the Uprisings in Syria and Egypt
The SAIS Review of International Affairs has just published an excellent new volume titled: “The Era of Man: Environmental Security on a Changing Planet.” Contributors to the volume include a range of key experts in the climate, environmental security, security studies and foreign policy fields, covering topics that span sectors and the globe.
The Center for Climate and Security’s contribution to the volume includes an article by Werrell, Femia and Sternberg titled “Did We See it Coming? State Fragility, Climate Vulnerability, and the Uprisings in Syria and Egypt,” which builds on reports from 2012 and 2013. The article examines two popular indices, one measuring state fragility and the other measuring climate vulnerability, to assess whether or not deteriorating water and food security dynamics in both countries in the years leading up to the uprisings, were captured in these different tools.
The Center for Climate Security’s Advisory Board member, Dr. David Titley, and his colleague Katarzyna Zysk, also contributed to the volume with: “Signals, Noise, and Swans in Today’s Arctic.” The article looks at ‘the “signals” (ongoing trends), the “noise” (short-term fluctuations) and the “swans” (the wild cards) in the environmental changes in the Arctic and their geopolitical implications.’