Over the past decades, the way we talk about climate change has evolved. When Scientists began to uncover worrying evidence of human-induced climate change in the 1970s and 1980s, the emerging problem of ‘’global warming’’ was seen by policy-makers, when not ignored altogether, as an environmental issue of peripheral concern.
By the 1990s, as climate modelling became more sophisticated, it became clear that reducing greenhouse gas emissions would have dramatic impacts on the way we produce power and transport ourselves. Given that doing so would necessitate drastic changes in our use of fossil fuels, climate change became an economic and energy policy issue.
More recently, analysts and campaigners have begun to view climate change as a major threat to international security. They argue that climate change, by redrawing the maps of water availability, food security, disease prevalence, coastal boundaries and population distribution, could exacerbate existing tensions and trigger new conflicts.
Africa, though the least responsible for per capita greenhouse gas emissions, is seen as the continent most likely to suffer its worst consequences.
The security threat posed by climate change has therefore become the subject of unprecedented international attention even as the UN Paris Agreement aims to reduce emissions by 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2030. At an African Union debate, President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda called greenhouse gas emissions an “act of aggression” by the developed world against the developing world. Also, in April 2007, a group of retired U.S. generals released a widely-circulated report arguing that climate change will act as a “threat multiplier” that will make existing concerns such as water scarcity and food insecurity more intractable. (NPR, 2007)
In short, the security implications of climate change have caught the political imagination, generating a perceptible shift in the way decision-makers discuss the subject.
The scientific basis for climate change is increasingly well established and there is considerable evidence of the physical impacts of climate change in terms of raised sea levels, altered precipitation patterns and more frequent and fierce storms.
However, there is comparatively little research on the empirical links between climate change and conflict.