Climate change and conflict

Climate is changing everywhere, but it is people living in fragile circumstances who feel the effects most severely. Climate change and conflict continue to cause massive suffering among people by intensifying inequality.

For West Africa, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change forecasts an average increase in temperature of 3.3°C by the year 2100, which could increase to 4.7°C in the northern half of Mali. Samuel TURPIN / Humans & Climate Change Stories

Download ICRC report on climate change and conflict: When rain turns to dust

The double front line of climate change and conflict pushes people out of their homes, disrupts food production and supplies, amplifies diseases, malnutrition and weakens health-care services. Of the 20 countries ranked the most vulnerable and the least ready to adapt to climate change by the ND-Gain Index, 12 are in conflict.

People living through conflict frequently tell us about the massive environmental changes they are witnessing. Their daily lives are not only made more difficult by the violence they experience, but also by a changing climate and environment.

In places like Somalia, which have been weakened by decades of conflict and fragility, droughts have repeatedly forced people to move – and so have floods. In the Sahel, an unpredictable climate and environmental degradation make the survival of remote and impoverished communities more difficult each year. Their coping mechanisms are being radically eroded by violence and instability.

There is a lot of energy to find solutions, but we must help people strengthen their ability to cope with the effects of climate change and violence, as this explosive mix is not going away anytime soon.

Peter Maurer, ICRC President

In Yemen and Iraq, the water scarcity, which challenges health, food and economic security, is exacerbated by institutional weakness. In many cases, conflict also directly harms the very ecosystems on which people rely to survive.

These communities live under extreme stress. Any shock further destabilizes them. The fact that people live in situations of conflict should not put them on the front lines of climate change. But it does, because institutions, essential services, infrastructure and governance, which are key to helping people adapt to climate change, are weakened in conflict situations.

This is the reason why, as a humanitarian organization, we are working to adapt our responses to adequately support populations coping with the cumulative impacts of climate risks and conflicts.

But humanitarian organizations alone will not be able to address the exponentially growing needs resulting from unmitigated climate change. We are already unable to meet humanitarian needs.

Climate risks can lead to development reversals and systemic breakdown, particularly in fragile and conflict-affected states. We need to join forces across the humanitarian sector, and beyond, to mitigate climate change and ensure that people are adequately supported as they adapt to the climate crisis now and into the future.

And we, as a sector, must lead by example and make our operations more sustainable – by limiting the damage we cause to the environment and making sure that our operations are resilient to extreme weather events.

We need to join forces across the humanitarian sector and beyond to mitigate climate change and ensure that people are adequately supported as they adapt to the climate crisis now and into the future. Inaction is not an option.

Robert Mardini, ICRC director general