10 December 2018

In a recent article for Foreign Affairs, Strauss Distinguished Scholar Dr. Joshua Busby and his co-author Nina von Uexkull explore how climate shocks can intersect with several risk factors  to contribute to instability and humanitarian crises. The article suggests that understanding the sources of instability is the first step in mitigating risk in countries that are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

In his analysis, Busby identifies three risk factors that make such countries particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change: (1) a high level of dependence on agriculture, (2) a recent history of conflict, and (3) discriminatory political institutions. Busby reports, “research suggests that in countries that display some or all of these risk factors, climate extremes are especially likely to lead to disastrous outcomes, including violence, food crises, and the large-scale displacement of populations.” He identifies twenty countries that share the first two factors and nine additional countries that face all three. He stipulates that these countries will struggle with climate shocks, and they are especially at risk for water shortage and drought.

The hope is that this information will inform policy. In countries experiencing large-scale violence, Bubsy notes that putting an end to the conflict should of course be the top priority. However, for countries where the conflict has already ended, Busby urges policymakers to bolster their capacity to detect and respond to crises, improve job opportunities, utilize intervention methods developed to prevent famine, and consider how their agricultural sectors can adapt.

Ultimately Busby asserts, “Unabated climate change is likely to amplify the challenges of these high-risk countries in decades to come. They will see more extreme consequences, and their already fragile governments will become even more hard-pressed to manage violence and feed their populations. Understanding where instability is most likely to occur is an important first step to reducing risk.”