The tangled web of conflict, climate change and education

Cop21The recent attacks on Paris have put increased urgency on the conversations to happen at the 21st Conference of Parties or COP 21 taking place over the next couple of weeks. Because, increasingly so, arguments are being built around the links between climate change and conflict. For example, initial research describes how greenhouse gas emissions have contributed to internal conflict in Syria. Given the massive destruction to human life and property, including cultural heritage sites, the links between climate deterioration and this protracted conflict should concern us all. This blog post will explain why. And why education matters.

climate_cartoonSome have no hesitation drawing a straight line from climate change to conflict, including the US Secretary of State John Kerry, who called climate change “another weapon of mass destruction”. Most hesitate at pointing a finger at drought or a natural disaster as the sole precipitating factor of a conflict, but many are confident it is a critical element.

This cartoon (pictured left), entitled ‘Syria’s Climate Conflict’, describes the linkages between climate change and the violent unrest, noting how the drought between 2006 and 2011 marked the beginning – and the spark – of the violent troubles in the country.

Syria obviously isn’t the only country adversely affected by climate change, although sadly it is likely to dominate headlines for the foreseeable future. The graph below provides thought-provoking, visual evidence that over the past decade food insecurity has been a contributing factor to political instability in Africa and the Middle East.


Those gathering in Paris today should underscore the vast and reverberating impacts of human activities– particularly emissions of carbon dioxide– on the future of Earth’s climate system.  According to a recent report a 5–15% reduced yield of US corn, African corn, and Indian wheat is expected per degree of global warming. And, while we don’t have a proven formula to translate crop yield reduction into increased likelihood of violent conflict, the figures above provide a unmistakable warning of what might happen if the matter isn’t taken seriously.

Education provide skills to adapt and respond to climate change

Climate change is still within our grasp; we can control the extent of ‘change’ we confront. The decisions we take will determine whether temperatures will increase by the predicted 3-4°, or not. The steps we implement will also affect the likelihood of resulting conflict. We have the ability to act now to prevent the impact of climate change. Education’s role is crucial.

climate_blog2Education can give all learners adaptive skills and resilience to environmental disasters, as shown in the GMR 2012. The livelihoods of millions are dependent on access to fertile land and crop yields. Sustainable ways need to be found of using increasingly scarce natural resources to feed growing populations while adapting to the effects of climate change.

In Ethiopia, for instance, the Agricultural Sector Policy and Investment Framework 2010–2020 aims at increasing the productivity of small farms in order to decrease rural poverty and improve food security through agricultural research and training. In addition, the country’s Productive Safety Net Programme, which reached 8 million people in 2008, enabled one-third of the registered farmers to apply new techniques to their land. Positive results include some environmental regeneration, increased access to water sources and expanded use of small-scale irrigation.

Greater investment in well-focused skills training can also yield results. This is especially the case when accompanied by the preservation and dissemination of traditional knowledge about biodiversity, such as appropriate combinations of crops, trees and animals in integrated agricultural systems.

Take the Yemen’s dry highlands, for example, where much of the country’s crop production is found. Traditional methods of managing water, soil and seeds help protect them against drought, erosion and diseases. And yet, the adoption of high yield seed varieties has reduced agro-biodiversity; concurrently knowledge about alternative agricultural practices is vanishing. This loss of knowledge is significant because some wild crop species are more resistant to extreme conditions than commercial varieties. A project begun in 2010 aims to strengthen the resilience of rural communities to climate change through conservation of agro-biodiversity in rain-fed agriculture.

And COP21?

It is time for leaders to act now and meaningfully to reduce the extent and pace of climate change. Without urgent climate action wars, famines, floods, death and inequity are likely to result. We must remind them of education’s critical role in opening up a myriad of human and environmental opportunities to thwart the devastating impacts of climate change.

Let’s not underestimate the power that we hold as a global community. With digital technology each of us can play the role of educators, policy makers, learners and active citizens.  Let’s make sure that global leaders are aware of our concerns over climate change and its implications for global wellbeing. The decisions that global leaders take in Paris must include the mobilization of funds for the implementation of well-proven education solutions.



  1. I hadn’t really thought of the correlation between food scarcity and extremism this way. So many forces are at play simultaneously that it is difficult to plan out a single working strategy but the urgency is most definitely growing. The SDGs are a call to action that must be taken seriously!

  2. climate change itself is a product of affluent society which unfortunately is impacting the whole world.Its impact can be contributing factor but not the main cause.I feel it is the current social order in which rich and powerful have been trying to neglect the fact that this world is an interdependent harmony of all element which is equally applicable to human beings and nations. .

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