UN links climate change and terror recruitment ahead of Cop27

Think-tank finds affects of climate change are leading people to join armed groups

Research has found people in parts Iraq, where its Tigris river is dying, are joining armed groups after suffering from the effects of climate change. AFP
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A UN think tank has found growing evidence of links between areas hit hard by climate change and the number of people joining armed groups.

Large-scale surveys and studies carried out by researchers from the UN University's Centre for Policy Research found that, aside from being widely felt and experienced, climate change is making it increasingly difficult for people to maintain their livelihoods through farming, keeping livestock and fishing.

As a result, without a source of income, the researchers found, there are indications that people are turning to armed groups in findings that were discussed in the run-up to next week's Cop27 global climate conference in Egypt.

In Iraq, ranked the fifth most at-risk country for climate breakdown, the think tank found climate change was widely felt across the country.

"In Tal Afar, of those respondents who knew people whose livelihoods were impacted by climate change, 29 per cent knew of people who had joined a range of armed groups as a result," it said.

"This included not only ISIS [which has historically exploited grievances linked to drought and agricultural loss] but also potentially groups that mobilised to combat ISIS."

The data was collected in climate-vulnerable conflict-affected areas in Iraq, Colombia, and Nigeria and was presented this week at Geneva Peace Week.

Researcher Dr Siobhan O’Neil, programme manager of the Managing Exits from Armed Conflict [MEAC] Initiative, called for action.

“The evidence suggests that to be effective, efforts to prevent and respond to armed conflicts must be climate-sensitive," she said.

"Climate change is not just an international security issue, it is a human security issue that requires an urgent, holistic, and multi-sector response.”

In Colombia, the research team found increased deforestation, mining, and other forms of human-induced environmental degradation were reported in surveys across the country’s diverse geography. Of respondents who had experienced economic difficulties due to these changes, 14 per cent knew of someone who had joined an armed group as a result.

In a survey of 139 former members of armed groups, 19 per cent of those who reported that human-induced environmental degradation had increased in frequency or severity in their communities said these were among the reasons that they themselves had become involved with an armed group.

They found a similar picture in Nigeria, where 15 per cent of those who knew people who had experienced livelihood challenges due to climate change, knew someone who had joined Boko Haram as a result.

"Indeed, when former associates of Boko Haram themselves are asked about the impact of climate change on their trajectory into the group, 16 per cent of those who acknowledge climate change-related difficulties, said these were part of the reason they became involved," it said.

"MEAC was never intended to be a climate security research project, but to truly understand trajectories into and out of armed groups in the countries where it works, it is impossible not to consider climate change’s effects."

Updated: November 04, 2022, 1:21 PM