How Climate Change Threatens Global Security

What do climate change and global security have in common? According to U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice, everything. When speaking at Stanford University last month, Rice warned that America faces no greater long-term challenge than climate change, calling it an “advancing menace that imperils so many of the other things we hope to achieve.” For Rice, the danger of climate change lies not in its ability to spark the change necessary to create conflict, but in its ability to amplify social, political and environmental tensions.

According to Rice, climate change intensifies the already “unholy nexus” between human insecurity, humanitarian crises and state failure. The rise of Boko Haram, genocide in Darfur and civil war in Syria all have ties to a changing climate. “In Nigeria, prolonged drought contributed to the instability and dissatisfaction that Boko Haram exploits. The genocide in Darfur began, in part, as a drought-driven conflict. In the years prior to civil war breaking out in Syria, that country also experienced its worst drought on record. Farming families moved en masse into urban centers, increasing political unrest and further priming the country for conflict.”

Prolonged inaction on climate change threatens the quality of life for millions of people worldwide. Sea level rise, increasing geographic range of tropical diseases – for humans and livestock –  and ocean acidification all stand to impede global efforts to a secure and sustainable future for all. “These aren’t marginal threats”, Rice argues, “[t]hey put at risk the health and safety of people on every continent.” Swift and immediate action on climate is imperative. The social dimensions of climate change are complicated, but understanding how they contribute to national and global security is critical to a complete understanding of the risks facing society today.

Interested in sharing this information with your students? You can find the complete transcript of Susan Rice’s remarks here. You can also help your students deepen their understanding of the link between climate change and security by researching conflicts in Nigeria, the Sudan, and Syria. This comic from the creators of the film, Years of Living Dangerously and Symbolia Magazine is a great resource for exploring the connection between drought and Syria’s civil war.