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Managing Cascading Security Implications of Climate Change

April 22, 2020  |  FP Analytics Special Report

In 2010, the U.S. Department of Defense identified climate change as a key threat to global stability that is contributing to poverty, food and water scarcity, environmental degradation, and the weakening of already fragile states. These compounding factors have also spurred increased voluntary and forced migration. That was a decade ago. The DoD’s assessment reflects what has since become increasingly acknowledged among security experts, international institutions, and climate scientists: that climate change is a threat multiplier that has no boundaries. Rising global temperatures, and the attendant growing stress on natural resources, particularly water, and agricultural productivity, are threatening global security at multiple levels, including by:

  • Exacerbating resource scarcity that threatens to undermine government legitimacy and regional stability;
  • Enabling weaponization of vital water infrastructure, creating new terrorist threats; and
  • Stoking regional instability that is contributing to growing incidence of environmental migration.

These multivariate security threats require deeper understanding, strategic planning, and transnational cooperation among the public, private, and non-governmental sectors in order to design and implement effective mitigation and adaptation measures at scale.

However, despite the United Nations’ (UN) and other multilateral institutions’ stated commitments to tackling climate change, including by slashing emissions, divesting from fossil fuels, and broader decarbonization measures, the Conference of Parties (COP) process has languished, and populist leaders are rolling back environmental protections and doubling down on fossil fuel industries, notably coal. Despite unprecedented levels of climate data and scientific analysis enabling leaders to foresee and plan for these risks, many national action plans remain hamstrung, constrained by political realities and other urgent priorities. Meanwhile, the fires continue to burn, and climate-related disasters rage on.

The current global economic environment and fragility of populations, once again made clear by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, make addressing these manifold, interconnected risks ever more urgent, requiring thoughtful diplomacy and clear, strategic planning. This FP Analytics Special Report is a call to action for all stakeholders to do just that.

The current global economic environment and fragility of populations, once again made clear by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, make addressing these manifold, interconnected risks ever more urgent, requiring thoughtful diplomacy and clear, strategic planning.

With these urgent issues in mind, and a conviction in the power of simulation and scenario planning, Foreign Policy, in collaboration with our partners, convened a series of Climate and Security PeaceGames in November 2019. We brought global leaders, diplomats, policy planners, and subject-matter experts together in Paris and Abu Dhabi to think through and “game out” responses to these types of cascading events that climate change is triggering and exacerbating.

The Climate & Security PeaceGames were convened not only to prepare for future crises, but also to address sources of instability that are already materializing. This Special Report sheds light on these pressing and under-reported challenges, and distills recommendations for action gleaned from experts working on these issues around the world. Identifying effective, multi-stakeholder and cross-border strategies to mitigate these risks is increasingly urgent. FP Analytics’ Special Report is a call to action for all stakeholders to do just that.

MENA - An Early Warning System for the Climate-Security Threat

MENA An Early Warning System for the Climate-Security Threat

Above: Displaced Yemenis receive food aid on Aug. 15, 2018, in the northern district of Abs. ESSA AHMED/AFP

Since 2007, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has experienced chronic droughts, which have played a role in exacerbating civil unrest and conflict—a climate-security nexus that has largely gone under-reported. The region, principally reliant on agriculture for food and employment, has seen low crop yields and increasingly parched farmland, which have increased migration to urban areas and triggered widespread food shortages. Rising sea levels are contributing to salination of the soil along the Nile, Tigris, and Euphrates rivers, which are vital sources of freshwater that feed the fertile deltas upon which the agriculture industry and millions of people’s livelihoods depend. The Middle East, including the Gulf states, is the largest wheat and grain importer in the world, meaning that weather phenomena impacting crop yields in other regions can have a substantial and immediate impact in the MENA region. Though not commonly linked in major media nor the geopolitical discourse, the 2011 Arab Spring represents a prime example of the social and political instability that can stem from climate-related disruption. Widespread protests over the price of bread, which had skyrocketed due to climate-related agricultural shocks affecting grain prices in 2010—notably the sustained droughts in Russia, Ukraine, and China, the major staple commodity suppliers to MENA—precipitated the Arab Spring. Torrential rains in Canada, Australia, and Brazil at that time compounded the shock and further rocked global grain markets, thus threatening food security elsewhere.

More than 35% of MENA’s population and 13% of GDP depend on agriculture, making climate-related economic shocks a major threat for the region.

The dynamics in the MENA region and the Nile Basins are not isolated but rather emblematic of this pressing global issue. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has identified the Blue and White Nile River Basins, critical water sources for the twelve countries it traverses, as one of the areas most vulnerable to climate change. The Nile, which sustains 300 million people, is currently managed via the cooperative Nile Basin Initiative (NBI), a non-binding intergovernmental framework established in 1999. While it has been successful in improving transnational cooperation and resource-sharing, particularly regarding early flood and drought warnings, the lack of a binding legal framework laying out sharing provisions and enforcement mechanisms is an ongoing challenge for the organization and the region. Governments upstream and downstream are prioritizing domestic access, and conflicts of interest are intensifying as droughts become more frequent and devastating, and other sources of freshwater grow scarcer.

Food Security Threats Intensifying

Food Security Threats Intensifying

Above: A nearly empty dam is shown on March 7, 2018, on a farm in Piketberg, South Africa. WIKUS DE WET/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

These compounding climate risks directly affect food security in the Middle East and North Africa, which is highly vulnerable to weather-related shocks that disrupt logistics as well as production. The region relies heavily on waterways including the Black Sea and Turkish Straits, the Suez Canal, and the Strait of Hormuz for access to staple grain exports (largely from Ukraine and Russia), all of which are at risk of closure due to extreme weather events. Chatham House recently described these waterways as key “chokepoints” whose vulnerability to closure could easily create or exacerbate food scarcity and political insecurity in the MENA region. Just over one-third of grain imports to the region pass through a maritime chokepoint, which is the only transportation route. These vulnerabilities are being compounded by longer-term climatic changes. The World Economic Forum (WEF) has predicted that just 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming globally by 2030 could lead to a 40 percent loss in maize crops in sub-Saharan Africa, another key breadbasket for the Middle East, and the UN has predicted a significant loss in agricultural and livestock productivity in the MENA region going forward.

These 4 crops make up 2/3 of human caloric intake, with each degree of warming projected to adversely impact yields.


Projected yield declines for each 1 degree of C warming

-7% Corn
-6% Wheat
-3.2% Rice
-3.1% Soy

Impacts on agriculture and food security present direct and growing threats to employment and livelihoods. Agriculture is a major source of employment in the region: in Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia, more than half of all employment is linked to farming and livestock rearing. The MENA region’s outsized youth population (ages 15–24), growth rate, and high rate of youth unemployment make it exceptionally vulnerable to civil unrest from a growing number of unemployed and disenfranchised citizens: As of December 2019, youth unemployment in Egypt was at 32.4 percent, and in Sudan it was 27 percent, although Ethiopia was doing relatively well at 2.8 percent, according to data from the World Bank.

The compounding risks are intensifying. The collapse of the agriculture industry due to crop failure or supply chain disruptions in any of these countries would not only lead to food shortages, price spikes, and widespread hunger, it would devastate farmers’ incomes and throw millions of people out of work. Under such circumstances, farmers and agricultural workers will be pressured to migrate to urban centers to seek work, which will exacerbate overcrowding, intensify competition over already scarce jobs, and elevate risks of social and civil unrest.

“The main reason people are moving is because they don’t have anything to eat...”


These issues are not isolated to MENA. Based on current trends, global demand for water is projected to exceed sustainable supply by 40 percent in 2030, while the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimates that by 2050, 4 billion people could be living in water-scarce areas. In Central America—where 30 percent of employment in Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, and 13 percent of employment in Mexico, is in agriculture—climate change is predicted to have a significant impact on maize, bean, and coffee production as El Niño weather events become more extreme, and precipitation in the winter months decreases. The World Bank identifies Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, and South Asia as the three key hotspots for this kind of agricultural degradation.

Politicization and Weaponization >of Water by State and Non-State Actors

Politicization & Weaponization of Water by State and Non-State Actors

Above: A water vendor pushes a cart on April 30, 2013 ahead of a military vehicle in Baga, Nigeria. IUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Water scarcity, in particular, remains a subject of economic and security concerns for national governments and key external stakeholders in the region, with events occurring in MENA foreshadowing the types of water-related conflicts and resource-management challenges that will increasingly apply to, and be instructive for, the rest of the world. Notably, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) project, started in 2010, has been a focal point and increasing source of tension for the last decade, given its potential to deprive or potentially cut off Egypt from its primary water source: 85 percent of Egypt’s water supply travels through Ethiopia (96 percent beyond Egypt’s borders generally), making the two countries highly interdependent and the stakes of resource negotiation and management exceedingly high. Recent mediation talks between the two countries, hosted by the U.S., failed to reach a consensus on how to fill the dam’s reservoir, which has the potential to hold as much water as Egypt currently absorbs annually. At the same time, the dam promises economic revitalization in Ethiopia—including job creation and the potential to make it the largest electricity exporter in Africa, as it will nearly triple Ethiopia’s current capacity to generate energy. However, restrictions on water use threaten the basic food and water security of countries downstream that have for years relied on outdated and non-binding agreements on water usage. Domestically, the GERD is a symbol of national pride and unity, but it has the potential to become a flashpoint for growing tension and civil unrest due to its long construction delays and ever-growing budget. The dam was initially scheduled to be finished in 2015, and a previous shortfall in funding was met by civil servants donating their salaries, and a widespread fundraising campaign among Ethiopian residents and its large diaspora community.

The Arab region contains 13 of the world’s 17 most water-stressed countries. Climate change in the Arab region threatens to reduce food and water productivity a further 20% by 2030.

Source: World Resources Institute

the Arab region

This is not just a localized issue. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), as of 2020, 60 percent of the world’s transboundary river basins lack a cooperative management framework, making them ripe for future international tension, and potential sites of exploitation by malicious actors. The MENA region is just one among several regions grappling with cross-border tensions over shared water resources. The Indus Waters Treaty, signed by India and Pakistan in 1960, is perhaps the longest-standing water-sharing agreement in the world, and it has remained in place despite India and Pakistan’s long-running cold conflict and regular border disputes, particularly over the status of the Jammu and Kashmir regions, where a number of the subcontinent’s rivers begin. Analysts and diplomats would be remiss to take the treaty for granted and must continue to monitor the situation, with the aim of safeguarding the region’s water sources and managing their use to mitigate future cross-border tensions. The Mekong river in China is another subject of concern, as China’s widespread hydroelectric power program threatens the volume of water the river and its tributaries bring downstream to Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia.

In addition to exacerbating tensions between national governments, non-state actors are increasingly weaponizing vital water resources to achieve their goals. Most notably among them are the Islamic State (IS) and al-Shabaab. Recent analysis by Dr. Marcus King of the George Washington University and the Center for Climate and Security highlights how in 2014, the capture of the Mosul Dam by IS led directly to U.S. forces becoming more deeply involved in the fight against the terrorist group, and thus in the Syrian conflict. The dam’s strategic position on the Tigris, upstream from the Green Zone in Baghdad, gave IS the ability to threaten the entire U.S. infrastructure in Baghdad, creating a situation in which American forces could only protect themselves by entering further into the fight against the terrorist group. It has also been discovered that IS taxed residents in Raqqa for access to their water sources, enabling the group to fund its administration of its territory and to buy and produce weapons for its ongoing war. More recently, in 2018, al-Shabaab diverted water from the Juba River to disrupt the surveillance of American Green Berets and Kenyan forces in the area. The sudden floodwaters forced the troops to change their route and enabled the insurgents to mount a successful ambush, resulting in the death of one American soldier, and a public-relations victory for the terrorist group. These incidents demonstrate that weaponization of water works. With the resource likely to be increasingly wielded as instrument of war, effective management is crucial to security.

6 ways water is becoming a weapon of war

6 ways water is becoming a weapon of war

Strategic Weaponization

Using water to destroy important areas, infrastructure, or broad populations

Tactical Weaponization

Using water to destroy, disable, or deny access to military targets in the battlespace

Coercive Weaponization

Providing water to fund territorial administration or to acquire weapons, with the goal of achieving legitimacy

Unintentional Weaponization

Attempting water weaponization, causing collateral damage to the environmentor to the local population

Instrument of Psychological Terrorism

Threatening to withhold or contaminate the water supply to create fear among noncombatants

Instrument of Extortion or Incentivization

Providing water to reward or punish subject populations and to support legitimacy of the perpetrator


Instability and Resource Scarcity Driving Internal Displacement and Migration

Instability and Resource Scarcity Driving Internal Displacement and Migration

Above: A man walks into Katsikas refugee camp on April 4, 2016, in Katsikas, Greece. ISTOCKPHOTO

In addition to jeopardizing domestic security, climate-related instability and resource scarcity are predicted to be the largest causes of forced migration in the coming decades. The WEF estimates that in 2019, 16.1 million people were displaced due to climate-related factors and predicts that by 2050 that number will jump more than twelve-fold to 200 million people. These migrants will join the 70.8 million refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) reported by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in 2019, but they are not currently protected by the same regime of international laws and norms that guide the treatment of people forcibly displaced by persecution and conflict. This will leave “environmental migrants” vulnerable to abuse and mistreatment as desertification, extreme weather conditions, and rising sea levels increasingly disrupt agriculture and create regional instability.

In the MENA region, the effects of climate change have already led to widespread insecurity and conflict. As noted above, crop failure within the region has contributed to growing unrest, as increasing numbers of rural dwellers have moved to urban settlements, exacerbating overcrowding and higher levels of unemployment. In Syria, where civil conflict still rages, agricultural failures between 2006 and 2009 led to around 800,000 people losing their livelihoods and basic food supplies. As early as 2011, the UN was already reporting that one million Syrians, out of a population of 21 million, had been driven into food insecurity, and more than 1.5 million people had moved from rural regions to cities and displacement camps, including to Aleppo, Damascus, Dara’a, and Homs. Dara’a was the site of the some of the earliest protests in Syria’s conflict, when unemployed young men were arrested and tortured for posting anti-Assad graffiti.

The world could see up to 1 billion climate migrants.


Both forced and voluntary migration affect the national politics of home, transit, and host countries. With respect to Syria, for example, UNHCR estimates that 6.6 million Syrians are internally displaced, and a further 5.6 million have fled the country entirely, seeking shelter in Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan, and crossing the Mediterranean into the European Union. The displacement has enabled the Assad regime to consolidate power at home and has stoked nationalist sentiments in EU border countries, including Greece, Hungary, and Italy. The compounding issues fuel a vicious cycle, with climate-linked insecurities driving further internal displacements, migrant camp overcrowding, risky border and sea crossings, and urban densification.

These pressures are spreading globally. The World Bank predicts that by 2050, without strong action on climate change, 143 million people worldwide may be internally displaced. In Latin America, for example, it is predicted that up to 2.6 percent of the region’s total population may become what the World Bank is terming “internal climate migrants.” Humanitarian concerns and pressure on national resources from the migrant crises continue to mount, underscoring the transnational impact of climate change and its increasing influence on politics. Effective responses to climate change-related instability must recognize the multi-dimensional nature of the risks to more effectively mitigate and manage its impacts.

FP PeaceGames

FP PeaceGames An Innovative Approach to Mitigating and Managing Climate and Security Threats

Above: Foreign Policy managing editor Ravi Agrawal leads the Climate & Security PeaceGame at the 2019 Paris Peace Forum.

Identifying effective, multi-stakeholder and cross-border strategies to mitigate these risks is increasingly urgent. It was with these urgent issues in mind and the conviction in the power of simulation and scenario planning that, in November 2019, Foreign Policy along with its partners convened a series of Climate and Security PeaceGames, bringing together global leaders, diplomats, policy planners, and subject-matter experts in Paris and Abu Dhabi, to think through and “game out” responses to these types of cascading events that are being triggered and exacerbated by climate change. The PeaceGames were produced in partnership with the Paris Peace Forum, Körber Stiftung, and the Emirates Diplomatic Academy, with support from the United Arab Emirates. The urgency of the issue was palpable due to the recent spate of record-breaking heatwaves around the world, which caused deaths, hospitalizations, and economic stress and make diplomatic breakthroughs and concrete action ever more urgent.

FP PeaceGames are scenario-based crisis simulations that offer participants a chance to address the challenges of diplomacy and peacebuilding with the same creativity and focus that traditionally have been devoted to war games. With the primary goal of peacefully resolving or avoiding conflicts, these simulations also strengthen communication among stakeholders; enable more strategic and effective planning; and inform policy, investment, and resource-allocation decisions. Participants take on the role of another key stakeholder in the crisis, enabling them to see the issues through another lens, more deeply understand other actors’ incentives, and think creatively about solutions.

Learn More

The Climate & Security PeaceGames were convened not only to prepare for future crises, but also to address sources of instability that are already materializing. In the face of seemingly intractable disagreements and stalled action, these crisis simulations endeavored to chart a path forward. As disasters linked to climate change occur with increasing frequency, exacerbating resource scarcity and instability in many regions of the world, this simulation challenged participants to think through and respond to immediate climate-related crises, and to plan long-term adaptation and mitigation strategies.

Set in 2030 in the Middle East and North Africa, the Climate & Security scenario was developed through in-depth research and consultation with subject-matter experts and incorporated specific events and climate-related crises that are already beginning to unfold. Throughout the PeaceGames, participants responded to cascading climate-related crises triggered by a widespread and long-lasting drought.

Participants assumed the roles of key actors within the region, including governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and the private sector, which enabled them to assess the crises from a new perspective and to more deeply understand other actors’ incentives and motivations for action. While actors such as the United States, China, and Russia are critical to addressing climate-related problems, the simulation focused on regional actors, given their high degree of influence over security, stability, and migration routes in this scenario. Centering dialogue around these key stakeholders also helped to ensure that the regional actors most affected were given a prominent seat at the table.

The Scenario Climate & Security Threats in 2030

Looking ten years into the future to 2030, the FP Climate & Security PeaceGame scenario portended the potential consequences of predicted rising temperatures, increased salination, and chronic drought to the Middle East and North Africa region and beyond.


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Key Takeaways

The 2019 PeaceGames hosted a wide variety of participants, including experts focusing on climate change, migration, and the MENA region; public policymakers working in governments around the world; youth representatives seeking climate action; and aid workers and development practitioners confronting the realities of climate change in the field. The result was four distinct and varied simulations, with differing outcomes—however, a number of key shared takeaways emerged:

Inclusive Policymaking is Needed to Mitigate Economic Vulnerability

Governments can create in-country resiliency against climate change by improving the standard of living for all residents. This will reduce vulnerability to radicalization and the threat of widespread instability.

Need for Cross-Border Climate Strategies and Agreements, Particularly on Resource-Sharing

The effects of climate change are not contained by borders—an effective response must not be either. Control of freshwater resources and infrastructure will determine who has power locally and regionally and necessitates clear agreements over resource sharing.

Proactive Dialogue and Planning Among Stakeholders are Needed

Actors must be proactive, not reactive, in their responses to climate change. As the future consequences of inaction become clearer and easier to predict, actors must plan ahead and begin implementing adaptation strategies now.

Crisis Mitigation Must Be Coupled with Long-Term Investment

The impacts of climate change are often felt as a short-term crisis leading to a long-term, intractable issue. Effective responses will balance immediate crisis response with investments that foster climate resilience.

It is clear that public, private, and non-state actors, not only in the most acutely affected regions but across the world, must identify, share, and implement best practices for combatting both the immediate and slower-onset impacts of climate change. Effective responses will require coordination and collaboration among the key stakeholders, including governments, international institutions and supranational organizations, NGOs, and the private sector.

Calls to Action

Climate and security experts are increasingly sounding the alarm: failure to respond proactively to the current and future effects of climate change will disproportionately damage the world’s poorest and most vulnerable populations—and the impacts will be felt by all. The explicit recommendations and calls to action that emerged from the over eighty PeaceGames participants from around the world include:

International Organizations & Supranational Governing Bodies

Calls to action

Designate a globally recognized classification for climate-related migrants in order to close the protection gap that currently exists under the 1951 Refugee Convention.

While acknowledging that, as a threat multiplier, climate change may not be the primary cause of displacement, the UN can take as its starting point the 2009 Kampala Convention, which was adopted by the African Union in 2012 and imposes the obligation on signatory states to protect IDPs uprooted by man-made and natural disasters, and the 2018 UN Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, which lays out a framework for safe and successful voluntary migration, including for environmental reasons. In addition to the rights laid out in these agreements, a comprehensive declaration on the status of climate-related migration must also address the legal rights and humanitarian protection available to those who seek asylum in other countries on the basis of climate-related threats.

Identify sustainable funding sources and aid distribution processes ahead of a crisis, develop resilient coordination and communication channels, and pay into in existing funds to respond to climate-related threats with investment and aid.

The UN’s Green Climate Fund (GCF), established in 2010, is an example of a successful climate fund, utilizing donations from developed countries totaling over $10 billion to stimulate private investment in sustainable energy and climate-resilient infrastructure countries in the world’s least-developed countries. Smaller, regional funds can emulate this model to ensure the widespread proliferation of innovative green technologies regardless of national or municipal wealth and spending priorities. The Climate Investment Funds (CIF) is another notable example of innovative financing aimed at catalyzing investment in renewable and resilient technologies in developing and middle income countries. Mobilizing $8 billion in financing from donor countries and working alongside international development banks, CIF is innovating to lower the cost and risk of project financing to better align with renewables projects and scale projects in regions traditionally under-served by other investment funds.

Coordinate regional defense capabilities to anticipate, ameliorate, and manage climate-related conflicts and instability.

Rising incidence of water-related conflicts and climate-linked social instability and civil unrest in MENA and around the world necessitate enhanced awareness and increasing integration of climate-related risks and security threats within collective and national defense security strategies. While defense was not a primary focal point of PeaceGame dialogue, establishing task forces within regional security organizations and commitments from member governments’ national defense forces to coordinate on climate-risk assessments and actions plan could help mitigate threats, align resources, and streamline responses. Establishing and funding a climate and security task force or working group within the African Union’s Peace and Security Council, for example, could be one approach.

UN Green Climate Fund (GCF) Developed a Sustainable Funding Model for Projects in the Most Vulnerable States

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The GCF, established in 2010, is the world’s largest fund dedicated solely to assisting developing countries to respond to climate change and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. The Fund distributes climate finance pledged by developed countries to those that are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, including Small Island Developing States (SIDS), African States, and Least Developed Countries (LDCs). Its initial donations were sizeable, more than $10 billion in total, but equally if not more notable, GCF has established a sustainable funding model that works to stimulate private-sector spending and green investment to create a multiplier effect on its initial public investment. The GCF has made a commitment to allocating 50 percent of its funding to adaptation projects, distinguishing itself from some other climate-finance entities with its focus on fostering resilience.

UN Green Climate Fund (GCF) developed a sustainable funding model for projects in the most vulnerable states
A woman harvests rice in a flooded rice field on Oct. 13, 2017, in Vietnam’s Nam Dinh province. AFP/GETTY IMAGES

National Governments

Calls to action

Invest in climate resiliency by reducing populations’ vulnerability to economic shocks.

Improving living standards overall will contribute to greater resiliency within communities to withstand future climate-related shocks from sudden weather events or crop failure. Lessons can be learned from low-income countries and locally active NGOs that are focusing on strengthening local health services, increasing energy efficiency, building weather-resistant homes and climate-resilient public infrastructure, and investing significant sums into early warning systems and economic diversification. The World Bank emphasizes that governments should prioritize needs-driven planning to create strategies that respond to the specific vulnerabilities of each country, and highlights the work of NGOs including Mercy Corps and Concern Worldwide, which are working with farmers in sub-Saharan Africa to diversify their income streams and cultivate drought-resistant crops.

Establish treaties and agreements with neighboring territories to codify the equitable cross-border sharing of water sources and other key natural resources.

As can be seen from the slow progress of the negotiations over the GERD and usage of the Nile waters, these agreements can take years to negotiate. It is therefore vital that neighboring countries be proactive in seeking consensus over the shared usage of natural resources before they reach a point of scarcity. The World Bank recommends that parties learn from the Indus Waters Treaty, which lays out a clear and neutral arbitration and decision-making process in case of conflict and has thus successfully survived multiple cold and hot conflicts between India and Pakistan.

Stifle the conditions for radicalization by integrating migrants, refugees, and displaced persons directly into local communities.

Displacement camps are often overcrowded, lacking basic hygiene infrastructure, and in recent years aid workers have reported that they are now a key recruitment ground for insurgent groups. This is reportedly the situation in Yarmouk in eastern Syria, a long-established Palestinian refugee camp that is now also home to displaced Syrian civilians, which militants now use as a base for food, shelter, and recruitment. Improving conditions in the camps is a near-term, concrete step that governments can take to improve well-being of migrants and reduce risks of radicalization. However, it is also vital to take decisive action and integrate displaced people into the local community and economy as quickly as possible.

Bangladesh Creates Green Jobs Through Public-Private Partnerships

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A successful partnership among the Bangladeshi government, multilateral development banks, and the burgeoning solar energy industry has created thousands of green jobs and connected rural communities to the energy grid since its establishment in 1996. Seeing an opportunity in its tradition of vocational technical education, the Bangladeshi government worked with Grameen Shakti to import solar energy home units and create a new solar energy industry through establishing factories to manufacture panels, training engineers—including women in rural communities who lack access to jobs in the formal economy—to maintain energy infrastructure, and funding research and development for new models and technology. The government estimates that between 1996 and 2011, the partnership sold solar home units to 650,000 households and created more than 3,000 jobs for rural women. The projects not only expand sources of sustainable energy but also contribute to economic security and stability.

Bangladesh creates green jobs through public-private partnerships
Solar panels are seen on the rooftops of buildings on Oct. 30, 2018, in Dhaka, Bangladesh. MAMUNUR RASHID/NURPHOTO/GETTY IMAGES

Reinforce and verify border security agencies’ protection and safeguarding of migrants’ human, civil, and political rights.

Countries’ border security and national defense agencies have critical roles and an increasing responsibility to ensure that border personnel are trained and have the capacity to safely and humanely manage migrant inflows. In addition to countries’ commitments to the UN Global Compact safeguarding of “environmental migrants,” allocating funding to expand training and capacity of border personnel will likely be needed in order to safely manage increasing numbers of migrants. Strengthening communication channels between border agencies and international NGOs could be another means to more effectively align skills and resources to that end.

Create cross-border/regional task forces to identify and respond to the most pressing climate-related threats domestically and to neighboring countries.

PeaceGame participants representing the governments of Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan formed a sub-regional bloc in order to speak with one voice on the world stage when advocating for their chosen policies, and to take action that would mutually benefit their countries. While this approach has yet to be tested in the real word, within the crisis simulation, the bloc was able to advocate for its positions with strength, even when faced with disagreement from more powerful actors. Participants effectively highlighted the cross-border nature of the threats and the needed response. Bilateral or sub-regional coordination of climate-related programs among ministries of agriculture, finance, defense, among others, could help to more effectively align limited resources and scale response strategies.

Establish diversified, sustainable food supply chains to avoid crippling food shortages and strengthen local agriculture.

Developing more diversified and sustainable processes for both importing and producing food locally could enhance food security. The IPCC recommends proactively identifying new sources of food imports that do not rely on transportation chokepoints, cultivating crops and introducing agricultural techniques that require less water, and ensuring that biodiversity remains a key priority, to avoid creating monocultures, which can be uniquely vulnerable to both sudden weather events and long-term changes in climate.

Foster innovation by offering business incentives to companies developing green technology, for example, via tax credits, no-interest grants, and free business registration and support.

As part of national investment programs in public goods, governments can target investments in resilient infrastructure. National Innovation Systems (NIS) are public-private ventures that share risk in order to foster local innovation. For example, Bangladesh has successfully created a domestic solar energy industry through the creation of a state-owned infrastructure-development company, which then contracted with local factories to develop and manufacture the necessary parts, and now exports its solar panels to Africa. One key factor for success in implementing such policies is clarity regarding government priorities and the terms of available incentives.

Private Sector

Calls to action

Expand R&D and facilitate access to mitigation and adaptation technologies, including agricultural techniques suited to increasingly arid or salinized soil, and renewable energy infrastructure that is suited to both high and low population density areas.

Participants in the FP PeaceGame suggested that in moments of acute crisis, private companies should consider making their sustainable technology open-source and freely available, to benefit as many people as possible. Businesses based in countries with a history of technological innovation may find it useful to lobby their governments to establish an National Innovation System or similar scheme that can protect intellectual property rights while encouraging the widespread proliferation of a company’s products or services.

Invest in sustainable job creation in sectors most vulnerable to the immediate threat of climate change.

The UN recommends that companies focus on the creation of so-called “green jobs” which either slow the impacts of climate change or actively shift the economy to be more sustainable. One example of a successful green job-creation effort is in Laos, where the company Sunlabob provides off-grid solar, hydroelectric, and biomass energy to rural communities, and has created numerous local jobs in infrastructure engineering and maintenance, which are not threatened by the economy’s shift away from fossil fuel reliance.

Sunlabob Renewable Energy Contributing to Energy and Economic Security in Vulnerable Regions

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Sunlabob is a Laos-based enterprise that specializes in bringing renewable energy infrastructure to rural and remote areas, to enable long-term access to clean energy and clean water. The company, established in 2001, now works with governments, NGOs, and development agencies throughout South and Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Pacific. Sunlabob estimates that it has installed over 10,000 renewable energy systems in Laos alone, including by implementing the country’s first rural electrification project that connected to the national grid. In addition, the company hires local residents and trains them in engineering and maintenance skills to ensure the upkeep of energy infrastructure and provide local employment opportunities.

Sunlabob Renewable Energy contributing to energy and economic security in vulnerable regions
Sunlabob installs solar cells in remote villages in Laos for rural, off-grid electrification. JOERG BOETHLING

Crisis-Response NGOs

Calls to action

Form strong relationships with local civil society groups and community leaders, to strengthen trust with affected populations and distribute aid in a more effective, equitable, and humane manner.

Building familiarity and trust with beneficiary communities can make it easier for aid providers to ensure more equal distribution of resources, mitigate the potential for tension among community members, and decrease the distrust of international NGOs. For example, in order to increase the impact of its work, UNHCR has a long history of partnering with local NGOs in countries with large displaced or refugee populations, and it currently works with over 900 NGOs to distribute aid and implement projects in camps. Local aid workers are also vital in assessing at-risk individuals’ suitability for resettlement—organizations including HIAS, which has done notable work in Kenya’s displacement camps, and local branches of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) have in recent years become increasingly responsible for processing resettlement requests on behalf of UNHCR due to their trusted status within communities and their greater flexibility of movement.

HIAS Identifies and Refers Refugees in Kenya for Resettlement

Expand Case Study

HIAS is a Jewish refugee protection and assistance NGO operating in eighteen countries around the world, where it provides a wide range of support services to refugees. In Kenya, home to nearly 500,000 refugees, asylum seekers, and stateless people, HIAS acts as a referral body for UNHCR and several foreign governments, identifying candidates for third-country resettlement. Given HIAS’s longstanding status in Nairobi, where it has had offices since 2002, it is well positioned to visit refugees and asylum seekers in their homes in order to assess their suitability for resettlement. Its comparatively small size and limited area of operations make it an appropriate partner for UNHCR and for individual governments whose scope of work is so wide that they cannot send staff to evaluate each forced migrant’s claims.

HIAS identifies and refers refugees in Kenya for resettlement
Refugees wait for food on Feb. 1, 2018, at the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. TONY KARUMBA/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Moving Forward

Forward momentum and action to fight climate change and mitigate its effects remain vital. The interconnected nature of the risks extends well beyond those examined here. Research published by the University of Queensland in 2019 found that climate change may be responsible for an increase in animal-to-human virus transmissions like avian flu and the novel coronavirus. In addition, the WHO has long warned that changes in the global temperature, and the associated shifts in settlement and migration patterns, are likely to affect the spread of infectious diseases and the rate of epidemics. In light of the current COVID-19 pandemic, slowing the progression of climate change is also a vital public health concern.

While COP-26, which was due to be convened in November 2020, has been postponed until 2021, it is critical that its planned agenda not be forgotten. As we approach the five-year anniversary of the Paris Agreement, governments must soberly assess their progress and announce their new greenhouse gas-reduction targets, both to signal their continued commitment to the Agreement and to create a roadmap for the next few years of climate action. While climate adaptation will vary from country to country and region to region, international bodies and supranational blocs have a vital role to play in coordinating effective responses and facilitating investment. In the face of a global challenge, climate adaptation and mitigation strategies must be flexible and adaptable to the circumstances of many different countries, not limited by borders. Global leadership will be necessary not only to hold the major polluters, both countries and companies, to account, but also to harness the economic opportunity that strategic investment in climate resiliency can provide—notably to low- and middle-income countries.

In this moment of great uncertainty, climate activists can and will advocate for system change and comprehensive efforts to reduce the impacts of climate change. Governments, ministries of defense, international organizations, NGOs, and industry must work collaboratively in order to design and implement cross-sector climate-security solutions that can scale to meet the challenge.

FP Analytics

This report was produced by FP Analytics, the independent research division of The FP Group. Written by Allison Carlson and Isabel Schmidt. Copy editing by David Johnstone. Development by Andrew Baughman. Design by Adam Griffiths.

Foreign Policy and FP Analytics would like to acknowledge and thank our partners and supporters, including the Paris Peace Forum, Körber Stiftung, Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, the Emirates Diplomatic Academy, and the United Arab Emirates - FP PeaceGame’s founding sponsor. We would also like to thank all the Climate & Security PeaceGame participants for their collaboration, creative thinking, and continued work on these pressing issues.

FP PeaceGames are scenario-based crisis simulations that offer participants a chance to address the challenges of diplomacy and peacebuilding with the same creativity and focus that traditionally have been devoted to war games. With the primary goal of peacefully resolving or avoiding conflicts, these simulations also strengthen communication among stakeholders; enable more strategic and effective planning; and inform policy, investment, and resource-allocation decisions. Participants take on the role of another key stakeholder in the crisis, enabling them to see the issues through another lens, more deeply understand other actors’ incentives, and think creatively about solutions.



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