By Kofi Adu Domfeh
A new report has found that the complex risks arising from climate change, fragility and conflict can contribute to the emergence and growth of terrorist groups, like Boko Haram and ISIL.
The new report: “Insurgency, Terrorism and Organised Crime in a Warming World”, by Berlin-based think tank, Adelphi, found that climate change multiplies and interacts with existing threats, risks and pressures, like resource scarcity, population growth and urbanization.
Report author, Lukas Rüttinger, said these factors together could lead to fragility and violent conflict in which these groups can thrive.
“Already vulnerable areas could get pulled into a vicious cycle, leading to the rise of terrorist groups who will find it easier to operate, with consequences for us all,” Rüttinger said.
Terrorist groups are increasingly using natural resources – such as water – as a weapon of war, controlling access to it, further compounding and exacerbating resource scarcities. The scarcer resources become, the more power is given to those who control them, especially in regions where people are particularly reliant on natural resources for their livelihoods.
For example, around Lake Chad, climate change contributes to resource scarcities that increase local competition for land and water. This competition in turn often fuels social tensions and even violent conflict.
At the same time, this resource scarcity erodes the livelihoods of many people, aggravates poverty and unemployment, and leads to population displacement. Terrorist groups such as Boko Haram gain power in this fragile environment.
As climate change affects food security and the availability of water, and land, affected people will become more vulnerable not only to negative climate impacts but also to recruitment by terrorist groups offering alternative livelihoods and economic incentives.
Sometimes, terrorist groups try to fill the gap left by the state by providing basic services to build support among the local population. As climate impacts worsen, some states will increasingly struggle to provide services and maintain their legitimacy.
The report comes as famine, drought and war threaten millions in the region around Lake Chad, in Africa. On March 31, the UN Security Council passed a resolution on the Lake Chad region – home to Boko Haram – outlining their concern about the interplay of factors leading to the crisis there and calling for better collaboration amongst UN armed to deal with the situation.
The resolution, which also calls for the UNSG to issue a report on the crisis, came after UNSC ambassadors visited the region recently.
The report echoes the UN’s findings. It finds that dealing with climate change, boosting development and strengthening governments will reduce the threat of terrorism.
It also says climate action, development, counter terrorism strategies and peace building should be tackled together holistically – rather than in isolation which they are often are at present and which risks making each of the factors worse.
Other recommendations include improving the rule of law and strengthening local institutions to help reduce the risk that climate change presents to the rise and growth of terrorist groups, as well as being a core component of adaptation and peace building writ large.
People who are vulnerable to recruitment by terrorist groups are often reliant on agriculture for their livelihoods, so development efforts should focus on ensuring those livelihoods are sustainable in a changing climate.
Lastly, cities are often the pressure valve when climate, conflict and fragility occur – building resilient cities will therefore minimize the chances of tensions spilling over.
“A broader perspective will help to better address the root causes of the rise and growth of non-state armed groups,” Rüttinger said.