Climate change may stoke unrest, conflict, says report

  • Sep 14, 2020
  • Inquirer News

MANILA, Philippines — More than a billion people could be displaced from their homes in the next 30 years as the climate crisis threatens to drive mass migrations, conflict and civil unrest across the world, an environmental economic report released last week said.

According to the inaugural Ecological Threats Register (ETR) report conducted by the Sydney-based Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), as many as 1.2 billion people could be displaced by 2050, especially in poor, underdeveloped countries that do not have the resources to cope with “ecological shocks.”

The report analyzed the risk profiles of 157 countries, including the Philippines, based on available data on six ecological threats: population growth, water stress, food insecurity, droughts, floods, cyclones, and rising temperatures and sea levels.

It found that the countries with the highest risk of mass displacements are also conflict areas like Pakistan, Ethiopia and Iran. “In these countries, even small ecological threats and natural disasters could result in mass population displacement, affecting regional and global security,” the report said.

Even regions with high resilience against disasters like Europe and North America “will not be immune from the wider impact of ecological threats,” the report said, as rapid population shifts coupled with political unrest would likely trigger mass flights of refugees.

“Ecological threats and climate change pose serious challenges to global [peace]. Over the next 30 years, lack of access to food and water will only increase without urgent global cooperation,” said Steve Killelea, founder and executive chair of the Institute for Economics and Peace. “In the absence of action civil unrest, riots and conflict will most likely increase. COVID-19 is already exposing gaps in the global food chain.”

Overall, the report pointed out that the climate crisis would pose “serious challenges to global development and peacefulness.”

“The adverse impacts will disproportionately affect the world’s poorest and most vulnerable and create spillover pressures on neighboring countries through mass movements of people,” it said.

According to the report, it was imperative to invest substantially in resilience measures to avert critical disasters, especially in unstable countries.

At least 60 percent of the countries covered in this report would face flooding threats because of rising sea levels and temperatures. Water and food scarcity would follow as the global population outpaces the world’s resources.

The Philippines falls into the medium-risk group on the ETR, alongside China, United States, Russia and North Korea. This means that the Philippines— already geographically predisposed to natural disasters like storms, floods and earthquakes—faces at least three ecological threats in the coming years.

In 2019 alone, the country had the second-highest number of displaced people in the world after being pummeled by at least 16 natural disasters. This, including the devastating Typhoon “Tisoy” (international name: Kammuri), led to over 4 million internally displaced people in the country, the report said.

The Philippines was also the only Asia-Pacific country among the 12 states with the highest prevalence of food insecurity — a list dominated by sub-Saharan Africa states. By 2040, the report estimates that the country, along with China, Indonesia, Australia, Mongolia and Timor-Leste would face extreme water stress.

The report said foreign aid, among others, could help build resilience to ecological shocks, especially in developing countries. The Philippines, for one, ranks fifth among the countries that receive the most financial aid, pegged at $993 million.

While climate-related aid is an emerging area of development assistance, “in practice, it is difficult to separate from broader developmental objectives, such as poverty reduction, improved access to water and sanitation and emergency aid in crisis situations,” the report said.

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