Climate change means more conflict, says head of SIPRI

1:08 min

Climate change, conflict, and migration are becoming more increasingly linked, according to the new head of the leading Swedish defense think-tank SIPRI who wants the organization to begin focusing more on global warming.

In an interview with news agency Reuters, Dan Smith of the the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said a drought in Syria and high global food prices that helped accelerate social upheaval in Egypt were examples of how global warming could be connected with societal conflict.

SIPRI, according to Reuters, has traditionally reported on issues like military spending and arms control. Smith told Radio Sweden that, among other things, climate change - especially as it relates to food and water insecurity - should be a thematic focus of the institute.

Is it difficult to link global climate with security issues at the national and international level?

"I think what is difficult, to my mind a wild goose chase, a blind alley, is to try to link global climate change with causing specific armed conflicts. That's been a discussion that's been going on for a while, and I think it's completely unproductive.

"What you can show though, and I think it's fairly straight forward and there's a lot of evidence, is that a change in the climate can have and has had influence on political insecurity and political instability.

"To take possibly the most obvious example, before the civil war started in Syria there was four years of drought. And in a population of about 21 or 22 million people, 1 million had been forced off the land because water was not available for farming and their livelihoods were becoming completely nonviable. And they were coming into the cities, into the urban centers in the context of a regime that didn't really have the capacity or perhaps the will to be looking after them properly.

"And so this was part of the background behind the increasing feelings of dissatisfaction, resentment, and grievance. Which fed the first round of political mobilization against the Assad regime in early 2011. And it's off the back of that the civil war started.

"Now to say that the drought caused the civil war would be to ignore everything else that is an important factor. But to see a linkage between the drought and the political instability, which lay behind the civil war, I think is pretty clear."