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Dire U.N. report warns of conflicts worsened by climate change

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change called for countries most responsible for global warming to pay for "losses" experienced by other countries.


A new United Nations report sheds light on grim prospects for the planet if world leaders don’t act to curb climate change and its catastrophic impacts. The report includes particularly troubling predictions about the future of climate-induced conflict. 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a body of experts assembled by the U.N. to represent 195 governments, said in its report Monday that “climate change has caused substantial damages, and increasingly irreversible losses, in terrestrial, freshwater and coastal and open ocean marine ecosystems." The impacts of climate change are “larger than estimated in previous assessments," according to the report.

The report includes an intricate, regional breakdown of how climate issues will rear themselves on every continent.

"Any further delay in concerted anticipatory global action on adaptation and mitigation will miss a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a livable and sustainable future for all," the report stated.

Photo Illustration: An image of the world on fire
Justine Goode / Getty Images

Some of their most dire warnings concerned the conflicts that could arise in a climate-afflicted world, where communities are forced to compete for increasingly scarce resources such as food, water and shelter. That’s the very fear I wrote about in a ReidOut Blog post in November. 

The panel report’s specific warnings come at a time when global strife — including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — is in focus, with several communities around the world seeking refuge in foreign countries. Climate change and the scarcity it creates, the experts warned, will color those interactions. 

Here are just a few examples cited in the report: 

  • “Increased drought and flood events and increased pests and disease from rising temperatures cause widespread crop failure. Rising ocean temperatures, marine heatwaves, and ocean acidity lead to dramatic decline in fisheries contributing to migration and conflict.”
  • “Food insecurity from food price spikes due to reduced agricultural production associated with climate impact drivers such as drought can lead to both domestic and international conflict, including political instability.”
  • “Afforestation and deforestation” — planting and cutting down trees  — could “exacerbate conflicts” and “accentuate uneven power relations.”

To avoid these otherwise inevitable conflicts, the report calls for the nations most responsible for climate change — which include the United States — to pay for the “losses and damages” experienced by smaller, less-culpable countries. 

Fixing that inequity, the report claims, will help communities avert climate crises that cause their people to flee, occasionally into unsafe and unwelcoming territory.