Does Climate Change have an Impact on Political Stability?

15 November 2021

Climate change is having a devastating impact on the environment and on human society. HART works with partners in some of the most challenging contexts on the planet and all of them are experiencing the economic, environmental, social and political consequences of climate change. As David Attenborough has said: “Our imprint is now truly global. Our impact is now truly profound. Our blind assault on the planet has finally come to alter the very fundamentals of the living world.”[1]

But to what extent does climate change affect political stability?  Whilst it is argued that climate change is not directly a cause of conflict, its effects have a profound impact on almost every aspect human existence and adds considerably to the environmental, social and political pressures that create instability.

Does Climate Change lead to political instability?

The ICRC identifies seven main points concerning the link between change and conflict.[2]

  1. Of the 25 countries deemed most vulnerable to climate change, 14 are mired in conflict. This does not prove a direct link between climate change and conflict. However, it does suggest that countries enduring conflict are less able to cope with and adapt to the impact of climate change.
  2. Nevertheless, scientists generally agree that whilst climate change may not directly cause armed conflict, it significantly exacerbates existing social, economic and environmental challenges, including the pressure for different groups to share diminishing resources, and so increases tribal and communal tensions and the risk of conflict.
  3. People living in conflict zones are among the most vulnerable to the climate crisis and among the most neglected by climate action.
  4. Adapting to climate change can require major social, cultural or economic changes. A whole agricultural system might need to change, or diseases new to a geographical area might need to be dealt with. Such changes themselves can either provoke conflict or adaptation to them can be rendered even more difficult by conflict.
  5. Too often, the natural environment is directly attacked or damaged by warfare. Attacks can lead to water, soil and land contamination, or release pollutants into the air. Explosions can contaminate soil and water sources, destroy essential infrastructure and environment and harm wildlife. In Fao, south of Basra, Iraq, people blame their water and farming problems on the felling of date palms for military purposes during the Iran-Iraq war.
  6. International humanitarian law (IHL) provides protection to the natural environment. For example, by prohibiting attacks on objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, such as agricultural areas and drinking water, IHL hopes to protect these resources from additional conflict-related violence. Too often however, in the violence of war, this humanitarian law is ignored.
  7. The climate crisis is altering the nature and severity of humanitarian crises in ways that require considerable structural changes, political will, good governance and technological knowledge to address. In the most vulnerable areas, this capacity may not be available.


It would seem therefore that the links between climate change, its consequences, and political instability and even violence are indisputable. There is therefore a desperate need for both determined and collective climate action and an end to violence against civilians. The trend of increased violence against humanitarian workers, civilians and assets cannot continue and is also a violation of international humanitarian law. At HART, we see these links impacting the work of all our partners in Asia and Africa, and stand with all those who urge governments and individuals to make the necessary changes to ensure that the challenges presented by climate change are addressed.

[1] ‘A life on our Planet’. 2020



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