Vicious Cycle of Climate Crisis: Depletion of Natural Resources, Violent Conflict Set to Worsen Resource Degradation, Conflict

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1.26 billion people at highest risk of conflict and displacement caused by environmental damage. A vicious cycle linking the depletion of natural resources with violent conflict may have gone past the point of no return in parts of the world and is likely to be exacerbated by climate change, said a report on Thursday.

Food insecurity, lack of water and the impact of natural disasters, combined with high population growth, are stoking conflict and displacing people in vulnerable areas, the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) said.

IEP uses data from the UN and other sources to predict the countries and regions most at risk in its “Ecological Threat Register”.

On October 7, 2021, the IEP launched its second Ecological Threat Report (ETR).

Key results

  • Eleven of 15 countries with the worst environmental threat scores are currently classified as being in conflict. Another four are classified as at high risk of substantial falls in peace, highlighting the relationship between resource degradation and conflict.
  • Half of the world’s population will live in the 40 least peaceful countries, by 2050. This will be an increase of 1.3 billion people from 2020 levels.
  • New global poll data reveals only 23% of China’s citizens see climate change as a serious threat making it the 7th least concerned country.
  • Global food insecurity has increased by 44% since 2014, affecting 30.4% of the world’s population in 2020, and is likely to rise further.
  • COVID-19 has increased food insecurity and prevented refugees from returning home.
  • With conflict having cost the global economy $600 billion in 2020, the ETR shows that COP26 negotiations need to approve resilience funding to ecological hotspots before drivers of conflict intensify.

The ETR analyses a broad range of indicators associated with ecological risk including food and water availability, population growth and societal resilience, to better understand the countries most at risk of experiencing significant deteriorations in peace.

Conflict and Ecological Threats

The IEP said:

The main finding from the ETR 2021 is that a cyclic relationship exists between ecological degradation and conflict. It is a vicious cycle, whereby degradation of resources leads to conflict, leading to further resource degradation. Eleven of the 15 countries with the worst ETR scores are currently experiencing conflict. Another four are classified as at high risk of substantial falls in peace. Many more countries are likely to fall into conflict unless these cycles are reversed.

To reverse these cycles both the ecological environment and societal resilience need to improve, which requires a systemic approach. This means a reappraisal of how development is currently undertaken.

Underlining the severity of the finding, the number of malnourished people has been steadily rising since 2016 and is forecast to rise by 343 million people by 2050, creating another driver for conflict. Food insecurity has also increased to 30.4% of the world’s population, according to FAO. This is the reversal of a trend spanning decades which has seen undernourishment steadily improve. Malnutrition is worse for men, especially in Africa where twice as many males suffer from thinness than females. Stunting is also worse in boys than girls.

Three areas of the world suffer from the greatest risk of societal collapse as a result of food insecurity, lack of water, population growth and the impacts of natural disasters. The Sahel-Horn belt of Africa, from Mauritania to Somalia; the Southern African belt, from Angola to Madagascar; the Middle East and Central Asian belt, from Syria to Pakistan. These areas are in urgent need of attention.

Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest prevalence of food insecurity, with 66% of the population deemed food insecure. By 2050, sub-Saharan Africa’s population is projected to be 2.1 billion, a 90% increase from today’s population. It also has the poorest measures of societal resilience.

The Sahel is the next focal point for potential societal collapse as demonstrated by the recent proliferation of radical Islamic groups. Niger and Burkina Faso are currently among the world’s least peaceful countries (measured by the GPI) and are amongst the worst scorers on the ETR.

Ecological Threat and Migration

The institute said:

The ETR has found that more than 1.26 billion people live in 30 hotspot countries, suffering from both extreme ecological risk and low levels of resilience. These countries are least likely to be able to mitigate and adapt to new ecological threats, which is likely to cause mass displacement.

The number of people displaced by conflict has been steadily rising with 23.1 million people from hotspot countries living outside their home country in 2020. Europe was hosting the largest number of displaced people from hotspot countries, at 6.6 million. These numbers are likely to increase by tens of millions as ecological degradation and climate change takes hold.

Steve Killelea, Founder & Executive Chairman of the Institute for Economics and Peace, said:

“COP26 provides an ideal opportunity for leaders to recognize that the ecological threats of today need to be addressed before climate change substantially accelerates them, costing trillions more to address.

“The solution to these problems lies in a more systemic approach, partially through the conscious integration of development agencies. The problems of conflict, food and water insecurity, displacement, business development, health, education and indeed climate change are interrelated, and the interconnectedness of these relationships must be recognized for them to best be addressed.”

Attitudes Towards Climate Change

It said:

New polling of over 150,000 people in 142 countries has found that the most significant emitters of carbon dioxide are countries where their citizens are least concerned with climate change. They are also some of the most populous countries in the world. Only 23% of China’s citizens see climate change as a very serious threat, while India recorded only 35%. The global average was 49.8%, with men slightly more concerned than women by 2%.

Without the buy in of the citizens of these countries, climate change action is unlikely to be effective.

Spanish and Portuguese speaking countries scored the highest and occupied 12 of the 20 top spots. Countries immersed in conflict scored poorly, with Yemen, Ethiopia, Egypt, and Myanmar having the worst scores.

The U.S. scored near the global average at 49.2%, while the United Kingdom had a relatively high score at 69.9%

The greatest gender disparity was in the Scandinavian countries of Norway, Sweden, and Finland where women scored higher than men by 21%, 18% and 13% respectively.

Food Insecurity

The institute said:

Since 2014, the number of people without access to adequate food globally has risen every year, increasing by 44%. Increases in food insecurity are associated with deteriorations in peace.

By 2050, the global demand for food is expected to increase by 50%.

Due to lockdowns and border closures, COVID-19 has amplified food insecurity further and will likely have a long-lasting negative impact on world hunger due to stagnant economic growth.

Water Stress

It said:

The ETR reveals that by 2040 over 5.4 billion people will live in countries facing extreme water stress. Lebanon and Jordan are the countries most at risk.

Sub-Saharan Africa has the most countries with the lowest levels of social resilience combined with the highest population growth. 70% of its population suffer from inadequate access to safely managed water, which will be compounded by high population growth.

Building Ecological Resilience

IEP said:

Although military interventions are necessary, they will not solve the underlying ecological issues driving the conflicts. The lesson from Afghanistan is that without well planned and executed development spending, obtaining peace is impossible. The recent fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban highlights the limits of the military and exposes a poor spending strategy. It is estimated that the total US federal expenditure on Afghanistan cost $2.261 trillion – $50,000 for each Afghan citizen currently living in the country. This is more than 100 times the average Afghan’s yearly income.

The 11 countries with the worst ETR score are Afghanistan, Niger, Madagascar, Malawi, Rwanda, Burundi, Guatemala, Mozambique, Pakistan, Angola and Yemen.

The ETR’s present edition (second edition) covers 178 independent states and territories.

The ETR combines measures of resilience with the most comprehensive ecological data available to shed light on the countries least likely to cope with extreme ecological shocks, now and into the future.

The ETR includes the most recent and respected scientific research on population growth, water stress, food insecurity, droughts, floods, cyclones, and rising temperature. In addition, the report uses IEP’s Positive Peace framework to identify areas where the resilience is unlikely to be strong enough to adapt or cope with these future shocks. The report draws on a wide variety of data sources, including World Bank, World Resources Institute, Food and Agriculture Organization, the UN, the UN Human Rights Council, Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, International Organization for Migration and IEP.


Afghanistan gets the worst score on the report, which says its ongoing conflict has damaged its ability to cope with risks to water and food supplies, climate change, and alternating floods and droughts.

Six seminars including governments, military institutions and development groups last year returned the message that “it is unlikely that the international community will reverse the vicious cycles in some parts of the world”, IEP said.

This is particularly the case in the Sahel and the Horn of Africa, which has seen more and worsening conflicts over the last decade, it said.

“With tensions already escalating, it can only be expected that climate change will have an amplifying effect on many of these issues,” the report said.

Long-lasting Warm Temperatures in Eastern U.S.

Another media report said:

For about a week after the fall equinox, much of the eastern two-thirds of the Lower 48 states enjoyed crisp, refreshing autumn weather. But now Mother Nature has changed course. Warm, humid conditions more typical of late summer have returned and show little sign of retreating.

Forecasts now call for above-average temperatures lasting at least 10 days, with high temperatures in some areas nearly 30 degrees above normal at times. The core of the anomalous warmth is predicted to focus in the north-central U.S., but above normal temperatures are anticipated to prevail in most places east of the Rockies.

The weather pattern may trigger heavy rainfall and severe storms in the central U.S. and could eventually support new tropical storm activity near the Gulf of Mexico.

It’s not clear when this warm pattern will break down, and October is almost certain to end up warmer than normal over a large part of the nation.

Unusual Heat in the Northern Plains

The heat is already baking parts of the Northern Plains, with temperatures forecast to hit 90 on Tuesday in western North Dakota, where average highs this time of year are in the 60s. Bismarck could spike to 90 and tie a record last set in 1949, while Minot is forecast to shatter its record of 87 by four degrees.

Adjacent parts of Manitoba and Saskatchewan may see temperatures climb higher than in the heart of Texas. Winnipeg is forecast to reach 82 degrees Tuesday and could see one of its longest October streaks of highs of above 68 degrees on record.

The heat is predicted to expand as far west as eastern Montana, with record-challenging highs in the mid-80s predicted around Billings.

This latest bout of heat follows an even more intense round last week when it hit 100 degrees in Hazen, N.D., the highest temperature ever recorded so far north so late in the calendar year.

The heat is combining with bone-dry conditions to bring “near critical” fire weather concerns across the northern part of the central United States, with relative humidity values falling as low as 10%.

In the coming days, periodic fall cold fronts may attempt to transport cooler air to the Northern Plains and Midwest, but the fronts will largely fizzle before they reach the Eastern Seaboard and are unlikely to displace milder-than-average temperatures in most areas.

Expansive and Enduring Warmth

The pattern of enduring warmth is the product of a bulge in the jet stream over the middle and eastern parts of the Lower 48. To the west, a dipping jet stream is set to bring cool conditions and even mountain snow in the Rockies. This part appears to be locked in for at least the next 10 days or so.

Temperatures in the central and eastern United States will remain in the 70s and 80s, delaying the traditional stairstep decline that typically occurs during October. The European modeling system shows temperatures at least 5 to 15 degrees above average east of the Rockies.

Chicago could see highs approaching 80 degrees this weekend, with sunny conditions and a slight uptick in humidity.

Columbus Day in the nation’s capital could feature highs in the upper 70s, and none of the predicted highs over the next 10 days are below the normal of 72 degrees.

The actual departures from average aren’t terribly remarkable, but the longevity of the warmth as well as the lingering summertime moisture is noteworthy.

The warm air is delaying fall foliage, which is rather faint even as far north as the Maine-Canadian border region.

The Rain and Severe Storm Threat

Where the warm and cold air masses clash, severe thunderstorms and heavy rainfall will result. Already, meteorologists at the National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center are monitoring a risk of dangerous thunderstorms across the south-central Plains and Ozark Plateau from Sunday into Tuesday of next week. Cold air arriving from the west will lift warm, moist and unstable air to the east, brewing thunderstorms with the potential for large hail and damaging winds.

An insurgence of jet stream energy aloft, meanwhile, will induce wind shear, or a change of wind speed and/or direction with height. That could manifest in a tornado risk as well.

In the southeastern U.S., a “cutoff low,” or zone of low pressure and cool air aloft, will linger for days, holding back temperatures but tapping into moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and leading to heavy rainfall. Since it’s pinched off from the jet stream, it has nothing to move it along.

Flash flood watches blanket most of northwestern Florida, Alabama and northwestern Georgia, and flash flood warnings were issued Tuesday morning southeast of Atlanta, where up to three inches of rain had already fallen.

Weather models indicate another three inches or more may fall by Friday afternoon.

Tracking the Tropics

The weather pattern is also one to watch for potential storminess in the Gulf of Mexico, especially in the middle and latter part of the month.

The upcoming pattern will feature several decaying cold fronts that will shift east with time, and pockets of spin on the tail end of them may eventually wind up in the gulf. Those eddies occasionally prove conducive to tropical development there and in the Caribbean, where water temperatures are unusually warm.

There’s no specific gulf threat at this time, but given the pattern in place, forecasters will closely monitor the situation.

Climate Change Connection

The record-challenging heat in unusual locations and duration of warm conditions over such a broad area are weather features consistent with a warming world.

Climate research has shown an expanding summer season and a trend toward shorter autumns, a pattern that this year exemplifies.

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