In 1988 the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to provide the world a clear scientific view of climate change and its potential environmental and socio-economic impacts.[1] Today, 195 nations are members of the IPC, and thousands of scientists from all over the world contribute to the work of the IPCC. All research and reports are stringently reviewed, critiqued, and alternative explanations explored. To date five Assessment Reports have been released in multi-parts. At the end of 2007 the IPCC was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The Sixth Assessment Report should be finalized in 2022.

This October 2018, the IPCC released a Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5oC. [2],[3] The dramatic report provides the most extensive warning yet on the risks of rising global temperatures. (2018 is already on course to be the fourth warmest year in the 20th century.) It predicts the “most likely” arrival at 1.5 degrees C by 2030 will mean “rapid far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.” The report details impact on coral reefs, fisheries, artic ice, weather, poverty, and social upheaval including wars and migration.

There is an extensive body of research including economics, political science, and ancient and modern history that argues that climate changes can and will cause increased violence across 12,000 years of history.[4],[5],[6] Most recently, there is evidence that supports the idea that global warming helped push Syria into civil war since drought, crop failures, and high food prices helped fuel the early unrest in Syria.[7],[8] Military strategists in the Pentagon have previously taken the idea of climate wars seriously;[9],[10] however, after President Trump announced he was withdrawing the United States from the Paris climate accord the current administration has chosen to question the significance of climate change, and recent Pentagon strategy documents have removed all references to climate change.[11], [12]

Not everybody agrees that there is a direct link between climate change and increased conflict.[13],[14] Much of the doubt about the relationship results from the inherent complexities of war and peace. Given so many political, social, economic, and environmental factors it is difficult to apply quantitative analysis, come to strong conclusions and predict the future of conflict. There is no doubt that impoverishment and human insecurity will arise from climate change, but it is not proven there is a causal relationship to war. Interceding and mixed with these causes are the additional human traits fighting for the same goals of power, territory, money and revenge. Some would argue that scarce resources could also lead to cooperation, international intervention, and resolution of conflict. Smith and Vivekananda (2007) proposed 12 recommendations for addressing climate change that might avoid conflict:4

  1. Move the issue of conflict and climate change higher up the international political agenda.
  2. Research the indirect local consequences of climate change.
  3. Develop and spread research competence.
  4. Improve knowledge and generate policy through dialogue.
  5. Prioritize adaptation over mitigation in fragile states.
  6. Develop the right institutional context: good governance for climate change.
  7. Prepare to manage migration.
  8. Ensure national adaptation plans of action are conflict-sensitive.
  9. Climate-proof peacebuilding and development
  10. Engage the private sector
  11. Link together international frameworks of action.
  12. Promote regional cooperation on adaptation.

Even limiting average world temperature change to 1.5 degrees C will result in incredible stress among nations stressed by drought, social disruption, and poverty. Large adaptation and mitigation investments, and behavior changes will be required to limit impact to even moderate levels. The IPCC special report predicts the need for annual world investment in just energy systems of around $2.4 trillion between 2016 and 2035! 3

Yes, such investments appear gargantuan, but given the implications of climate change to the occurrence of peace or war, can we afford to ignore or discount the likelihood that climate changes could destroy international peace?


[2] McGrath, Matt (2018), Final call to save the world from ‘climate catastrophe’, BBC News, Science and Environment, 11 pp.

[3] IPCC (2018), Global Warming of 1.5 o C, WMO and UNEP IPCC SR1.5, 34 pp.

[4] Smith, Dan and Vivekananda (2007), A Climate of Conflict: The links between climate change, peace and war, UNICEF, 48 pp

[5] Illing, S. (2017), How climate change could lead to more wars in the 21st century,, 6 pp.

[6] Burke, M., Hsiang, S.M., and Miguel, E. (2013) Quantifying the Influence of Climate on Human Conflict, Science Vol. 341, Issue 6151, 1212.

[7] Kelley, C.P. et al. (2015), Climate change in the Fertile Crescent and implications of the recent Syrian drought, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, 112 (11) 3241-3246.

[8] Meyer, R. (2018), Does Climate Change Cause More War?, The Atlantic Newsletter, 10 pp.

[9] UN Climate Change web site, October 14, 2014

[10] McGeehan, T. (2017), A War Plan Orange For Climate Change, Proceedings Magazine, Vol. 143/10/1.376, U.S. Naval Institute, 11 pp.

[11] Ali, Idrees (2017), Pentagon strategy document will not include climate change: official, 2pp.

[12] Alton, Adam (2018), New Climate Censorship Tracker Comes Online, Scientific American, ClimateWire, 4pp.

[13] Notaras, Mark (2009), Does Climate Change Cause Conflict?, Our World, United Nations University, 4pp.

[14] Burke, M. et al. (2010), Climate and Civil War: Is the Relationship Robust? Working Paper 16440, National Bureau of Economic Research, 17 pp.

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