Climate change helps to create an environment in which terrorists can thrive, a report commissioned by the German government warned on Thursday. It has corroborated evidence of terrorism, insurgency and organised crime thriving in climate-vulnerable Lake Chad, Guatemala, Syria and Afghanistan. The complex risks arising from climate change, fragility and conflict can contribute to the emergence and growth of terrorist groups, like the Boko Haram and Islamic State (IS), said the report titled “Insurgency, Terrorism and Organised Crime in a Warming World” by Berlin think-tank Adelphi.
The report commissioned by the German Foreign Office has found climate change multiples and interacts with existing threats, risks and pressures, like resource scarcity, population growth and urbanisation. Report author Lukas Rattinger said these factors together could lead to fragility and violent conflict in which these groups could thrive. “Already vulnerable areas could get pulled into a vicious cycle, leading to the rise of terrorist groups who will find it easier to operate, with consequences for us all,” Rattinger said.
Terrorist groups are increasingly using natural resources such as water as a weapon of war, controlling access to it, further compounding and exacerbating resource scarcities. The scarcer resources become, the more power is given to those who control them, especially in regions where people are particularly reliant on natural resources for their livelihoods. For example, around Lake Chad in Africa, climate change contributes to resource scarcities that increase local competition for land and water. This competition in turn often fuels social tensions and even violent conflict.
At the same time, this resource scarcity erodes the livelihoods of many people, aggravates poverty and unemployment, and leads to population displacement. Terrorist groups such as Boko Haram gain power in this fragile environment. As climate change affects food security and the availability of water, and land, affected people will become more vulnerable not only to negative climate impacts but also to recruitment by terrorist groups offering alternative livelihoods and economic incentives.
Sometimes, terrorist groups try to fill the gap left by the state by providing basic services to build support among the local population. As climate impacts worsen, some states will increasingly struggle to provide services and maintain their legitimacy. The report comes as famine, drought and war threaten millions in the region around Lake Chad.
On March 31, the UN Security Council passed a resolution on the Lake Chad region – home to Boko Haram – outlining their concern about the interplay of factors leading to the crisis there and calling for better collaboration amongst UN armed to deal with the situation. Adelphi is a leading independent think tank and public policy consultancy on climate, environment and development.