The report by the research institute Sipri shows how environmental crises – climate change, scarcity of resources, extinction of species – can interact with security crises and other threats such as the corona pandemic. It paints a bleak picture of the future global security situation.


Sweden’s former Foreign Minister and EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström writes in the foreword: “The mixture is toxic, pervasive and harmful. And institutions with the power to find solutions are waking up far too slowly.”

In Somalia, for example, persistent drought and other consequences of climate change, combined with poverty and a weak government, have driven people into the arms of the Islamist terrorist militia al-Shabaab, they say. In Central America, the effects of climate change on grain harvests, combined with violence and corruption, increased migration towards the US.

“Many experts argue that we are at a crucial juncture: we can let the environmental crisis run its course, or recognize the problem now and do something about it,” said Sipri director Dan Smith.

“The bad news is that this extremely important moment comes at a time when international politics is in a terrible state.” Relations between the major powers are “toxic and dangerous” with populism and nationalism on the rise.

According to the report, the number of armed conflicts involving at least one state and the number of people killed in conflicts doubled in the 2010s, as did the number of refugees and displaced people worldwide. After years of decline, the number of operational nuclear warheads rose again in 2020. Last year, global military spending peaked at more than $2 trillion.

At the same time, the report describes alarming developments in the environment. About a quarter of all species are threatened with extinction. The number of pollinating insects is declining dramatically. “Climate change ensures that extreme weather events such as storms and heat waves occur more frequently and more intensely, thus reducing the yield of important food crops and increasing the risk of large-scale crop failures.” Politicians must assess risks better and tackle the fight against environmental crises decisively.

The Sipri researchers called for a rapid transition to a “green economy”, which must also take place fairly and peacefully. “With such a big economic change, there are always winners and losers,” Smith said. “The interests of the people most affected by this transition must be taken into account. Otherwise there will be new risks for conflicts.”

Even in the face of acute crises such as the corona pandemic and war in Ukraine, we must not lose sight of this goal, Smith warned. “It seems like most governments can only handle one crisis at a time. That is an enormous complication factor.” However, the pandemic has also shown what is possible with determination and international cooperation – for example in the development of vaccines.

The researchers therefore also want to give hope. “Humanity has the knowledge and skills to get out of the trouble we’re in,” Smith said. But action must be taken now. “Every day we put it off, the job gets harder.”

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