Sum Up: Link Between Climate Change and Security

By Engin Polar, International Security Research Assistant

A contributing factor of the Arab Spring uprisings that erupted across the Arab world in 2011 that does not receive the attention it deserves is human-induced climate change. Change acts as a threat multiplier by worsening already existing problems such as hunger, water scarcity, poverty, displacement, and inequality. The long-term trend of increasing heat, droughts and less rainfall in the Middle East has prolonged devastating droughts and famine in the region.

For example, from 2006 to 2010, a severe drought in Syria created conditions for the collapse of the agriculture in the northeast which triggered the migration of over a million Syrians from rural areas into the cities. Syrian resources had already been exploited and mismanaged for decades by the Assad regime, the mass migration of millions into urban areas further exasperated existing problems in civil society such as unemployment, poverty, and inequality, which were some of the main reasons millions took to the streets to demand democracy and human rights. Furthermore, in 2010, the Hosni Mubarak led Egyptian regimes decision to reduce food subsidies enraged the Egyptian people, contributing to the motive for an uprising that would eventually see the Mubarak regime fall. Failure of regimes to respond to or even prepare for the severity of human-induced climate change due to failed management strategies, corruption, and resource exploitation played a role in sparking the Arab Spring which caused the collapse of regimes which had suppressed dissent and maintained control for decades.

Another set of revolutions and uprisings like the Arab Spring seems likely given the consistent trend in increasing temperatures and the problems this creates as well as the consistent failure of regimes across the region to enact policies aimed at combating human-induced climate change. The reliance of citizens on the government for services in countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain means that future security of the regime depends on whether or not the nation is adequately fed, protected and compensated. Increased occurrence of drought, famine, heat waves, and flooding will lead to increased dissent and unrest in which the lack of rights, food security and freedoms will once again be put at the center of grievances by disenfranchised citizens.

This long-term trend of increasing temperatures may not be the primary cause of the conflicts raging on across the Middle East, however, it is undeniable that the effects of climate change act as a threat multiplier making issues manufactured by the cronyism of authoritarian regimes such as widespread hunger, poverty, and inequality much worse.

Climate change has been proven to be a major contributing factor to the contemporary proliferation of armed conflict, migration, and terrorism across the region. Therefore, combating climate change is an issue of national security for Arab leaders and their Western backers such as the U.S. and the UK who are deeply invested in the preservation of their allies in the Middle East.

Engin Polar is a second-year student at the University of Toronto in the Peace, Conflict, and Justice program in the Munk School. He is also the Founder & President of Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) University of Toronto Chapter and is passionate about advancing international justice & universal human rights.