The thousands of people fleeing Syria right now may well be the first major wave of climate refugees in the world, but according to the Guardian, the world will continue to see such crises if climate change continues unabated. Citing a paper from the National Academy of Sciences, Craig Bennett says one of the inciting factors in the 2011 Syrian uprising and subsequent refugee crisis was a severe drought in fertile farmland that was “probably caused or exacerbated by climate change.”
The academic paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences states: “There is evidence that the 2007−2010 drought contributed to the conflict in Syria. It was the worst drought in the instrumental record, causing widespread crop failure and a mass migration of farming families to urban centres.
“Century-long observed trends … strongly suggest that anthropogenic forcing has increased the probability of severe and persistent droughts in this region. We conclude that human influences on the climate system are implicated in the current Syrian conflict.”
And while Bennett notes there are always various factors behind social unrest and armed conflict, and it’s hard to say that climate change “caused” the crisis in Syria and other recent crises like it, it likely had a contributing role. “And if this is what is possible when average global temperatures have risen less than 1 C, then goodness help future generations if/when it reaches 2C, 4C or even 6C.”
Bennett notes with those increasingly dire climate scenarios, mass migration will increase throughout the world – either with or without armed conflict. And the Middle East may be a hotbed for climate crises; as he notes, the World bank has reported drought and heat waves caused by climate change will hit the Middle East and Africa particularly hard – most likely leading to more crop failure, food and water shortages, then subsequent wars and massive displacement of the people who live there.