Synthesis of the debate organized during the 2019 Normandy World Peace Forum
Moderator: Paul Stares, Director of the Center for Preventive Action, Council on Foreign Relations
Speakers: Kabiné Komara, Former Prime Minister of Guinea; Nancy Lindborg, President of the United States Institute of Peace; Nicolas Regaud, Special Advisor for Indo-Pacific Asia, International Relations and Strategy, French Ministry of the Armed Forces

A clear scientific consensus on climate change has been established. This will result in higher temperatures and an increase in the frequency of certain phenomena, such as heat waves and droughts. Experts on military matters have seized on this issue, concluding that climate change could be a source of conflict in some parts of the world.

The scarcity of drinking water is one of the main threats associated with climate change. This phenomenon leads to a decrease in rainfall in some regions. Climate change has been evident for decades in West Africa, for example: Kabiné Komara mentions the Sahara Desert, which has been spreading south since the 1960s, while Nancy Lindborg notes that droughts which used to occur every ten years now tend to occur every year in the Horn of Africa.

Rising temperatures are also having an effect. The evaporation rate of rivers is rising, as can be seen with the Nile and the Niger. Some countries may even become completely uninhabitable simply because of rising temperatures, leading to population flight. This situation is compounded by human pressure: the global population is growing rapidly in some parts of the world, as are per capita water requirements. For example, Nancy Lindborg comments that the Nile will only be able to meet 60% of the water requirements of the countries it crosses over the next ten years. However, Kabiné Komara notes that water requirements can be reduced by recycling, particularly with regard to irrigation.

The issue of declining river flows takes on another dimension when the rivers cross several countries. There are many examples of upstream/downstream conflicts: Nicolas Regaud mentions China’s construction of numerous dams on the Brahmaputra, a source of irritation for India, which was planning to do the same. Meanwhile, Bangladesh must suffer the consequences of Chinese and Indian construction.

However, Kabiné Komara mentions an example of the efficient sharing of the Senegal River’s water resources: Guinea, Mali, Mauritania and Senegal have created the Senegal River Basin Development Authority for the joint management of the river and the various countries even share ownership of the developments which are built.

The issue of accessing water is the cause of both international disputes and armed conflicts, particularly when states are not robust enough to manage the crisis. Conflicts are often exacerbated by additional problems, such as economic underdevelopment, exploding population and inter-community tensions. Kabiné Komara explains that because of the scarcity of water in the region around Lake Chad, the surface area of which has decreased by 90%, nomadic populations do not have enough water for their herds. In consequence, they migrate towards the south, where overcrowding with local farmers is the cause of significant violence, which has been twice as deadly as Boko Haram’s attacks in the region.

Nancy Lindborg points out that Syria experienced its worst drought in 900 years between 2006 and 2009, according to NASA measurements. 85% of farms ceased farming and 70% of herds were lost. Farmers left the countryside en masse, seeking refuge in cities where they became victims of social exclusion, orchestrated by the Syrian regime, and were forced to survive in very difficult conditions. This contributed to the emergence of the protest movement in 2011 which quickly degenerated into civil war.

Climate change also results in the melting of glaciers which leads to rising sea levels. Kabiné Komara emphasises that new conflicts are likely to emerge in a race for the resources of the Arctic Ocean, as the polar ice melts. On the other side of the world, rising sea levels endanger some island nations, such as the Kiribati Islands and the Marshall Islands, which have already partially disappeared. Because of its large population and low altitude, Bangladesh will be hard hit by coastal erosion and soil salinisation. 50 million climate refugees could be forced to migrate north. Countries in the path of the most powerful typhoons suffer massive destruction, from which they struggle to recover.

Over the coming decades, we should therefore expect to see an increasing number of international conflicts caused by climate change. Kabiné Komara stresses that current global warming predictions remain limited to an increase of 1.1°C when compared to the pre-industrial era. However, according to the assumptions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), global temperatures will rise by more than 3°C in 2100. Some studies predict an even greater rise in temperatures.

In Nicolas Regaud’s view, if we want to provide a better response to these situations, it is important to ensure a better understanding of weather events, to secure infrastructure so as to be able to help the local victims of climate disasters and to launch prevention programmes which are based on scientific research.

To respond to environmental issues, several speakers mention initiatives as part of an approach of international solidarity to protect the climate. Kabiné Komara believes that it is essential that developed countries, which are primarily responsible for climate change, make funds available for the victims of this phenomenon, most of whom live in developing countries. He adds that these states will need to be supported if they are to make a transition to more virtuous systems, including the fight against deforestation and the recycling of water, for example. Developed countries are not immune to the consequences of climate change, as Nicolas Regaud notes: the cost of such consequences is constantly increasing and may require the use of such funds.

Nancy Lindborg believes that public opinion must be taken into account in authorities’ decision-making processes in developed countries with regard to the establishment of international climate solidarity. The fight against the ideas shared by climate sceptics will be decisive, as will efforts to raise awareness among younger generations, who are most affected by climate change.