Emerging Technologies

Is the global refugee crisis linked to climate change?

Chris Arsenault
Writer, The Thomson Reuters Foundation
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Climate change is “adding fuel to the fire” of worsening political instability and unrest around the world, an expert told a security forum.

“We are experiencing a surprising uptick in global insecurity… partially due to our inability to manage climate stress,” Columbia University professor Marc Levy, who conducts studies for U.S. government agencies, said on Tuesday at the Global Security Initiative, a research body in Arizona.

Ongoing violence in Syria, for example, is connected with climate change, Levy said.

A record drought in Syria from 2006 to 2010 wreaked havoc on agriculture, spurring an exodus of unemployed rural residents into urban areas and intensifying dissatisfaction with the government.

Refugees fleeing conflict and violence in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Sudan are now streaming into Europe.

“Some of those migrants are fleeing areas that are hard to live in because of climate stress,” he said, adding that global warming is just one of many factors contributing to the recent refugee crisis.

Nations grappling with climate change will be “tempted” to pursue policies that benefit themselves in the short term but make others worse off, he said.

Russia banned grain exports following a heat wave in 2010, benefiting domestic consumers, but causing a supply crunch, rising prices and hunger in other regions.

“Countries are buying up long-term access to farmland in sub-Saharan Africa,” Levy said. “It’s good for their food security, but it’s creating problems” for African consumers and small landholders.

This article is published in collaboration with Thomson Reuters Foundation trust.org. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

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Author: Chris Arsenault is a senior online producer with Al Jazeera English specialising in Latin America, natural resources and environmental conflict.

Image: Migrants wait to be transported to an immigration centre in the coastal city of Misrata, Libya. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny
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