Rising sea levels, gradually shifting weather patterns, and more extreme weather events are all devastating evidence of a rapidly changing climate. These impacts are creating unprecedented challenges for millions of people who are already burdened by poverty and oppression. While climate change places compounded stress on our environment, it also affects our economic, social, and political systems. It undermines development gains and even leads to shortages in basic necessities like food and water.
A Burden to Developing Countries
According to the World Meteorological (WMO), our planet is now nearly one degree warmer than it was before industrialization. In the first 10 months of 2018, the global average temperature was 0.98C above the levels of 1850-1900. Reports also showed that the 20 warmest years on record have been in the past 22 years, with 2015-2018 making up the top four. Unfortunately, if this continues, temperatures may rise by 3-5C by 2100.
Research suggests that Earth has lost around one-third of its arable land over the past 40 years mainly due to climate disasters and poor conservation. This forces millions of people to live on deteriorating agricultural land, putting them at risk of depleted harvests that can lead to worsening hunger, poverty and displacement. At the same time, droughts caused by climate change have affected more than one billion people in the last decade.
The most affected of all sectors is the agriculture industry, the primary source of food and income for many people in developing countries. Previous reports show that more than 80% of drought damage was absorbed by agriculture between 2006 and 2016. 2017 data from the World Bank showed that drought had wiped out enough produce to feed 81 million people every day for a year since 2001. These impacts have caused massive food shortages in many nations, forcing families to leave their homes and migrate to other countries.
BBC, an operational business division of the British Broadcasting Corporation responsible for the gathering and broadcasting of news and current affairs, reported that faster-growing cities are the most at risk, including megacities like Lagos in Nigeria and Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Nearly 95% of cities facing "extreme" risks from rising temperatures and extreme weather brought on by climate change are in Africa or Asia.
While everyone across the world has been affected by climate change, the most vulnerable people are living in the world’s poorest countries. The world’s 2.5 billion smallholder farmers, herders, and fisheries, in particular, who depend on the climate and natural resources for food and income are the most affected. For years, several environmental threats have increased their risk and their dependency on humanitarian aid. This includes increasingly unpredictable weather patterns, shifting seasons, and natural disasters.
For people living in marginalized communities, the impacts of climate change are a real matter of life and death.
How Climate Change Increases Conflict
Climate-related disasters have become one of the main fears of people depending on nature for their food and livelihood. According to the World Bank, natural disasters cost about $18 billion a year in low- and middle-income countries and trigger wider disruptions for households and firms costing at least $390 billion a year. The impact of extreme natural disasters is equivalent to a global $520 billion in annual consumption, which forces about 26 million people into poverty every year.
Without urgent action, climate impacts could push an additional 100 million people into poverty by 2030, which increases the likelihood of conflict. Climate change increases the likelihood of competition and conflict over resources in the most vulnerable nations. According to Climate Central, a nonprofit organization that researches and reports the science and impacts of climate change, nearly a quarter of deadly armed conflicts in the countries with the most diverse ethnic makeup from 1980 to 2010 were found to have occurred at around the same time as an extreme weather event.
“It’s significant that you can make that statement — that nearly 25% of those conflicts coincided with some type of climate-related disaster,” Jonathan Donges, a Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research scientist, said.
A 2019 study published in the journal Nature found that the climate crisis influenced between 3% and 20% of armed conflict risk over the last century - an influence that will likely increase dramatically. The researchers discovered that the influence of climate on conflicts would increase more than five times with four degrees Celsius of warming - a 26% chance of a substantial increase in conflict risk. This is because climate change-driven extreme weather and related disasters can lower farming and livestock production, damage economies, and intensify inequality among social groups.
According to Stanford News, an online site that provides the latest news from and about Stanford University, all of these impacts may increase the risks of violence among communities. “Knowing whether environmental or climatic changes are important for explaining conflict has implications for what we can do to reduce the likelihood of future conflict, as well as for how to make well-informed decisions about how aggressively we should mitigate future climate change,” co-author Marshall Burke, assistant professor of Earth system science, said.
A recent study published in the Global Environmental Change journal provided evidence that climate-related crises increased the risk of armed conflict in places that were already experiencing ethnic tension. The researchers analyzed conflicts in 50 vulnerable countries using global statistical analysis, observation data, and regional case study assessments. These nations have amounts of ongoing ethnic conflict, low levels of development, and large populations.
According to Earther Gizmodo, an environmental news website, the findings of the study showed that almost one in three wars in the past 25 years broke out within a week of climate disruptions like heat waves or droughts. Co-author Carl-Friedrich Schleussner from Climate Analytics explained that this explains how the occurrence of disasters increases the risks of an outbreak.
"Only countries with large populations, the political exclusion of ethnic groups and relatively low levels of economic development, are susceptible to disaster-conflict links. Measures to make societies more inclusive and wealthier are, therefore, no-regrets options to increase security in a warming world,” lead author Tobias Ide from the University of Melbourne said.