A Clear Weather with chances of Black Swans – by Marcello Tomasina

Whether we should be worried about the nexus between climatic and environmental changes and human security should no longer be up for discussion. Nonetheless, we should have transformed this awareness into operational and policy solutions long ago.

At the present time, with the international community standing the laden of a modern political order built on the Westphalian and Wilsonian peace [1], the unforeseen rise in hybrid conflicts [2] during the past decades seemingly had disrupted any perception of foreseeable peace. At the same time, a series of Black Swans [3] had left us on the verge of a sharp turn from a 73% decrease in civil war (1990-2003) to a 125% increase in armed conflict within countries (2010-2017) [4], while many of the grievances and vulnerabilities behind these events could lie within the impact of climatic and environmental changes on our society.

The question “could climate change lead to conflicts?” is per se misleading, and its answer has been bound by theories which resemble the mythological “Procrustes Bed” [5], a series of paradigms seemingly built to explain a unique case study and forcedly adapted to similar scenarios.
As result, climate security has long remained a niche divided on the definitional conundrum of “climate induced conflict” and united be its adherence to the correlation between climatic variables and violence [6], leaving a vacuum on “how”, rather than “if”, human security is threaten by a changing climate.

In order to answer to this question, the article dives into the “Environmental Milieu”, described as the complex and reciprocal interaction of human, environmental and climatic factors within a specific scenario and its influence on selected intervening variables. Based on an internationally awarded research [7], the analysis presents the “Anthropogenic Climate Change and Human Security Approach”, a systemic risk model built to define thresholds and geophysical hotspots for climate induced vulnerabilities. While space limitations will not allow an in depth analysis, which will be presented in the following publications, it will provide an operational insight in the field of climate and environmental security and why its acquiescence could be the link between advocating and implementing effective climatic policies.

“Historia Magistra Vitae”

Civilizations do not arise nor demise in a vacuum, rather they are the outcome of a complex interaction within a specific Milieu, a unique mixture of socio-economic and geopolitical variables characterized by geographical, temporary and societal dimensions.

The influence of climatic and environmental changes on these dimensions is known as climate security. It begun as academic activity at the Harvard Department of History in 1979 [8], an attempt to study the nexus between profound and long term climatic oscillations and the demise of secular empires of the Late Holocene, as the Akkadian (4.200 BP), Classic Maya (1200 BP), the Mochica (1500 BP) and Tiwanaku (1000 BO) [9]. A decade later, in 1987, the release of the UN Brundtland report, formally known as “Our Common Future”, set frothed the genesis of the climate security genre.

Limited in scope as academic practice and heavily influenced by existing theories in humanities, this niche soon turned out to be “mainly inconsistent, not limited to methodological weaknesses and theoretical analytical shortcomings, but rather to the fundamentally flawless of the theory of environmentally induced conflicts itself.”[10]. Seldom sufficient to explain more than an handful of cases, the concept of climate security was built on two parallel yet antagonistic ideas:
first, the Resource Centric Approach (RSA), based on the social psychology theories of “Realistic Conflicts” [11], “Relative Deprivation” [12] and the “Gaussian Law” [13]; second, the Extreme Weather Events Approach (EWEA). Respectively, climate security was understood as the outcome of a social process based on the perception rather than ef­fective scarcity of natural resources, or via the risk of major societal di­sruption from weather and climate extreme events such as droughts, floods, heat waves and wildfires. While both currents were supported by representative quantitative and qualitative studies, their limitations and nature of academic exercise reduced the relevancy of climate security to strategic and tactical operational concerns within the military community, as proven by a report released by the US Center for Naval Analysis in 2007 [14].

On October 13th, 2014 the Pentagon’s “National Security Implications of Climate-Related Risk and Changing Climate” report turned the tables of the climate security field.
Uncommonly, a government institution univocally defined climate change as “threat multiplier” for terrorism, infectious disease, global poverty and food shortages [15], providing a first example of a cohesive model for climate induced insecurity. In spite of the limitations of its results, the report led to a renewed interest on the topic, followed by the release of innovative studies as the German Federal Foreign Office (FFO-Auswaertiges) “Insurgency, Terrorism and Organised Crime in Warming Climates” [16], the INTERPOL-UNEP strategic report on “Environment, Peace and Security: a Convergence of Threats” [17], and the RAND Corp. “NATO climate Change and International Security” dissertation [18].

Notwithstanding the prompt interest in the climate security field and the renewed trust in previously established correlations between severe climatic changes and trends in violence, or the deep roots between interstate conflicts and natural resources [19] and its connection with terrorism [20], the revolutionary result of the Pentagon’s report was to bring these nexuses outside a niche, rather than solve their conundrums and methodological limitations.

The Model

As previously posited, “could climate change lead to conflicts?” it is per se a misleading question; “How does anthropogenic climate change contributes to conflicts?” would rather be a more appropriate one.

In order to answer to this question, the Anthropogenic Approach was developed in 2017 as operational and policy tool to prevent Black Swans in the field of climate security. Based on the concept of global hazards [21] and damages function [22] in a post-modern Risk Society [23], the models was built to identify geophysical hotspots and security thresholds.

Differently from pre-existing theories, it is based on a holistic approach to climate security and the central role of the human variable as agent of change, from which it takes its peculiar name.

Anthropogenic Climate Change refers to any direct and indirect influence by the human species on the state of the climate and the environment leading or contributing to changes in the mean and/or variability and availability of its properties for an extent period within the ecosystem.”

With human societies thriving in the frame of climatic and environmental changes which are no longer defined exclusively by long term and time driven alterations, the Anthropogenic Approach analyses the mutual active and passive influence of three leading variables, human and climate.
At the same time, it accounts for their influence of five specific intervening variables, respectively: the presence of areas of limited statehood (ALSs) [24], endemic violence [25], uneven development, population growth [26] and migratory patterns. By doing so, it defines specific security thresholds and geographical hotspots which could outburst in three different forms of organized violence: State based armed conflicts, Non-State conflicts and One-sided conflicts [27].


A long way ahead    

While space limitations do not allow for a case study, the analysis of the constituent variables of the model exemplifies several ties between climatic and environmental changes and human security, opening to future studies and analysis.

In conclusion, climate security is a dynamic yet contradictory picture of progress and challenges in understanding “how” and “why”, rather than “if”[35], we should start addressing anthropogenic climate change (ACC) as a major threat to post-modern Risk Society. As previously posited, the feedback loops described by the model results in consequences of consequence, and the links between climate, fragility and conflicts are far from been linear. At the same time, as threat multiplier, ACC interacts and converges with existing risks and pressures, afflicting the poorest the most, reducing government’s strength and offering Non State Armed Groups opportunities to rise and prosper [36].

According to the UNDP, humanitarian and development assistance to fragile and conflict-affected states has been facing an increased demand, while it appears clearer and clearer how life-saving intervention alone are no longer sufficient to meet the needs and mitigate the risks.
As described by Bruker and Miguel in 2013, the existing body of research on climate security has successfully established a correlation between climatic events, conflict, political violence and terrorism. As result, with existing models addressing how this correlation unfolds on the field, it is time for policy makers to bring climate security on the table of National Security Strategies and align it with hybrid and cyber warfare among the future security trends.



  1. The Westphalian sovereignty is an international law which defines the sovereignty of each nation state over its domestic affairs and territory. It includes the exclusion of all external powers, the principle of non-interference in another country’s domestic affairs and that each state is equal in the international law. The Wilsonian order or “Wilsonialism” is a political theory created by the 28th US President Woodrow Wilson in the aftermath of the First World War. The most widely accepted definition includes the following elements: war is no longer a useful instrument of policy and nation state should aim to disarmament; the power should pursuit the promotion of democratic ideas and institutions; national self-determination; free-trade; modern politics is global and related to a collective idea of security; the need of international cooperation in global political and economic system and lastly that a conflict arising anywhere can develop into a major war and ultimately, a World War. To learn more on the topic: Farr, Jason (2005) The Westphalia Legacy and the Modern Nation State, JSTOR, Vol. 80, pp- 156-159; Magyarics, Tamas Wilsnoialism, a blueprint for 20th century American Foreign Policy?, The Cold War History Research Center (CWHRC)
  2. The Hybrid Warfare is a diffusive, pervasive and decentred type of conflict which outreaches the simple definition of asymmetrical warfare and involves national states, non-governmental organizations and non-state armed groups. To learn more on the topic: Lombardi, Marco (2008), Daesh, quale forma sta prendendo il terrorismo?, ITSTIME.
  3. According to Nassim Taleb (2007), a Black Swan is “an event with the following three attributes. First, it is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility. Second, it carries an extreme impact…. Third, in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable.”
    Taleb, Nassim Nicholas (2007).
    The Black Swan: The Impact of Highly Improbable. The New York Times (https://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/22/books/chapters/0422-1st-tale.html)
  4. Melander, Erik. Pettersson, Therèse. Themnèr, Lotta (2016). Organized Violence, 1989-2015. Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 53, Uppsala Conflict Data Program.
  5. The Procrustean Bed describes plan or scheme to produce uniformity or conformity by arbitrary or violent methods. The concept is named after Procrustes, the bandit from Greek mythology who stretched or amputated the limbs of travellers to make them conform to the length of his bed (Taleb, 2010). Taleb, Nassim Nicholas (2010). The Black Swan (Second Edition): The Impact of Highly Improbable with a new section on “Robustness and Fragility (incerto). Random House Trade Paperbacks.
  6. The correlation between climatic variables and violence has been established in different studies, among the most relevant we recommend:  Dac, O. (2005). Overview of the links between the environment, conflict, and peace. The OECD; Hisiang, Solomon.M. Burke, Marshal, Miguel Edward. (2013). Quantifying the influence of climate change on human conflict. Sciencexpress (RG), August 2013; Smith, Dan. Vivekanada, J. (2007). A Climate of Conflict: The links between climate change, peace and war. Publsihed on Internationa Alert. Retrieved form the Libravy of Confress Online Catalog at https://www.loc.gov/item/2009316401; (2017). Insurgency, Terrorism and Organized Crime in a Warming Climate. Germany Fede­ral Foreign Office, Climate and Diplomacy. Published by Adelphi, April 2017.
  7. The model presented in the article was elaborated based on the “Environmental Mileu: The Nexus between Climate Change and Violent Extremism Inclusive Resilience: A Plan of Action for Governmental and Non-Governmental Actors”, a research projected authored by Marcello Tomasina and awarded of the “Neville and Emma Shulman IDC Cup 2017, Challenges for the Middle East” and the “Ragonis Scholarship for Counter Terrorism 2017”, Israel 2017.
  8. McCormick, Michael, Ulf Büntgen, Mark A. Cane, Edward R. Cook, Kyle Harper, Peter John Huybers, Thomas Litt, et al (2012). “Climate Change during and after the Roman Empire: Reconstructing the Past from Scientific and Historical Evidence.” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 43 (2) (August, 1979): 169-220. doi:10.1162/JINH_a_00379. http://dx.doi.org/10.1162/JINH_a_00379; Tsonis A. A, Swanson K. L, Sugihara G, and Sonis P.A (2010). Climate Change and the demise of the Minoan Civilization. Climate of the Past 6, 525-5230.2010. DOI: 10.5194/cp 6-525-2010.
  9. Haug, Gerald H. et al. (2003). Climate and the Collapse of the Maya Civilization. Science 299, 1731. DOI: 10,1126/science.1080444; Kennet, Douglas J. et al (2012). Development and Disintegration of Maya Political Systems in Re­sponse to Climate Change. Science AAS, Science 338, 288 DOI: 10.1126/science,1226299; Menocal, Peter B. (2001). Cultural Response to Climate Change during the Late Holocene. Science AAS, vol 292, no. 5517, pp 667-67. American Association for the Advancement of Science.
  10. Hagmann, Tobias. (2005). Confronting the concept of environmentally induced conflict. Peace, Conflict and Development 6 (6) 1-22.
  11. As described by Sheriff in the Robber Cave Experiment, “whenever there are two more groups that are seeking the same limited resources, this will lead to conflict and discrimination among the groups”. Muzafer Sherif, O. J. Harvey, B. Jack White, William R. Hood, Carolyn W. Sherif (1954/1961), Intergroup Conflict and Cooperation: The Robbers Cave Experiment. Classic in the History of Psychology, York University, Toronto.
  12. The “Relative Theory of Deprivation posits that resources are not really insufficient, rather it is the conflict upon their perceived limitation and the major benefits to other groups that generates the conflict, led to a new definition of resource scarcity as product of social processes rather than nature. Merton, Robert King (1957), Social Theory and Social Structure, from the Free Press (1968) Enlarged Edition.
  13. The “Gaussian Law” or “Gaussian Competition” is a “central model in theoretical ecology considers the competition of a range of species for a broad spectrum of resources. Recent studies have shown that essentially two different outcomes are possible. Either the species surviving competition are more or less uniformly distributed over the resource spectrum, or their distribution is ‘lumped’ (or ‘clumped’), consisting of clusters of species with similar resource use that are separated by gaps in resource space. Which of these outcomes will occur crucially depends on the competition kernel, which reflects the shape of the resource utilization pattern of the competing species”. Pigolotti, Simone. Lopez, Cristobal. Hernandez-Garcia, Emilo. Andersen, Ken Haste (2010). How Gaussian competition leads to lumpy or uniform species distributions. Theoretical Ecology: Volume 3, Issue 2 (2010), 89
  1. CNA Military Advisory Board (2007). National Security and the Threat of Climate Change. https://www.npr.org/documents/2007/apr/security_climate.pdf
  2. Davenport, Coral. (October 13, 2014). Pentagon Signals Security Risks for Climate Change. The New York Times, retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/14/us/pentagon-says-global-war­ming-presents-immediate-security-threat.html; Department of Defense, United States of America. (23 July 2015). National Security Implications of Climate-Related Risks and Changing Climate. Generated on May 27, 2015 RefID: 8-6475571 retrie­ved from http://archive.defense.gov/pubs/150724-congressional-report-on-national-implications-of-cli­mate-change.pdf?source=govdelivery;
  3. (2017). Insurgency, Terrorism and Organized Crime in a Warming Climate. Germany Fede­ral Foreign Office, Climate and Diplomacy. Published by Adelphi, April 2017; Berrebi, Claude. Otswald, Jordan (2011). Earthquakes, hurricanes, and terrorism: do natural disasters incite terror? Public Choice 149:383-403 (retrieved from http://public-policy.huji.ac.il/.upload/staff/19/2011-Berrebi-Ostwald-PUB-CHOICE-Terr-ND.pdf)
  4. The United Nations Environmental Program UNEP. (2016). Strategic Report: Environment, Peace and Security. A converging threat. Available at www.interpol.int and www.unep.org
  5. Lippert, Tyler H (2016). NATO, Climate Change and International Security: A Risk Governance Approach. RAND Corporation (https://www.rand.org/pubs/rgs_dissertations/RGSD387.html)
  6. Dinar, S. (n.d.). Resource Scarcity and Environmental Degradation: Analysing International Conflict and Cooperation; Merwe, T. V. (2017). Resource extraction and violent extremism in Africa. South African Institute of International Affairs; Schaik, L. V., & Dinnissen, R. (2014, January). Terra Incognita: land degradation as underestimated threat amplifier; Schwartz, D., & Singh, A. (1999). Environmental Conditions, Resources, and Conflicts: an introductory overview and data collection.
  7. (2017). Insurgency, Terrorism and Organized Crime in a Warming Climate. Germany Fede­ral Foreign Office, Climate and Diplomacy. Published by Adelphi, April 2017. Throndeheim. (2010, July 8). Climate Wars. The Economist. Retrieved from http://www.economist.com/node/16539538; Hsiang, Solomon M. Burke, Marshall. Miguel, Edward (2013) Quantyifing the influence of climate on human conflict. Science, Vol 341, Issue 6151; Hsiang, Solomon M. Burke, Marshall (2013) Climate, Conflict and Social Stability: what does evidence say? Climate Change, March 2014, volume 123 Issue 1 (first online in 2013).
  8. The theoretical background of the project includes the concept of global hazards, described as the impact of one damage function over non-directly correlated systems as result of globalization.
  9. In addition, it includes the concept of damages functions in systemic risks, which describes the impact of critical vulnerabilities in one or more components leading to the systemic dysfunction of the entire system.
  10. The Risk Society was developed by Ulrich Beck in 1992 using the principles of “reflexive modernization”, characterized by the unintended and unforeseen side-effects of modern life’s standards backfiring on a modernity shaped by an “elevator effect”, where the growth toward the top is achieved by pushing down other social groups; what we know now as the widening gap within developed countries and between developed and developing ones.
  11. For the purpose of this research, the areas of limited statehood (ALSH) are described as “those parts of a country in which central authorities lack the ability to implement and enforce rules and decisions and/or in which the legitimate monopoly over the means of violence is lacking, at least temporarily. As posit by Smith and Vivekanada (2007), those more exposed are people living in poverty, under developed and unstable state with endemic poor governance, accounting for forty-six countries home to 2.7 billion people. Risse, Thomas (2010) Governance Under Limited Sovereignty. Presented at the Annual Convention of American Political Science Association, September 2010. Smith, D., & Vivekanada, J. (2007). A Climate of Conflict: The links between climate change, peace and war. International Alert.
  12. Low Intensity Conflict are defined as situations where armed violence has become endemic, including threats such as international crime organizations, gang violence, domestic violence, gender-based violence, and terrorism.
  13. As reported by UNDP (2016), uneven development and inequality have a more severe impact in disaster prone areas afflicted by geological hazards and extreme weather events, where most of the population relays on agriculture and pasture for its livelihood, and renewable resources are scarce. Moreover, a significant majority of households, more than 75 percent of the population, are living today in societies where income is more unequally distributed than it was in the 1990s. The United Nations Development Program UNDP. (2016). Preventing Violent Extremism: Promoting Inclusive Development, Tolerance and Respect for Diversity. UNDP Press 2016.
  14. On this regard, the definition of conflicts is based on Melander’s study on organized violence, which describes three different forms of organized violence: first, state based armed conflicts; second, non-state conflicts; third, one sided conflicts; each of them sharing the same intensity cut-off 25 fatalities in a calendar year. Melander, Erik. Pettersson, Therèse. Themnèr, Lotta (2016). Organized Violence, 1989- Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 53, Uppsala Conflict Data Program.
  15. (2017). Climate change: How do we know? NASA. Retrieved from https://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/; NASA. (2017). Scientific consensus: Earth’s climate is warming. Retrieved from https://climate.nasa.gov/scientific-consensus/; Gabbatiss, Josh (2018). Carbon emissions hit record high in 2017 due to rising energy demand. The Indipendent, Environment. https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/carbon-emissions-record-high-2017-energy-demand-greenhouse-gas-a8269336.html
  16. The United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development (1987). Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future. (http://www.un-documents.net/our-common-future.pdf)
  17. Taylor, Adam (2016). UN Appeals for 22.2 billion in 2017 humanitarian funds, it’s the highest request ever. The Washington Post, retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/12/05/u-n-appeals-for-22-2-billion-in-humanitarianfundsitshighestappeal ever/?noredirect=term=.04c106855333)
  18. The United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Risk Reduction. Natural Disaster and Conflicts. Infographic retrieved from https://www.unisdr.org/we/inform/disaster-statistics.
  19. Putoto, Giovanni (2018). Environmental Vulnerability: South Sudan’s Endgame. ISPI, retrieved from http://www.ispionline.it/it/pubblicazione/environmental-vulnerability-south-sudans-endgame-19956
  20. Janetos, Anthony (2017). What if Several of the World’s Biggest Food Crops Failed at the Same Time? The Conversation, retrieved from (https://theconversation.com/what-if-several-of-the-worlds-biggest-food-crops-failed-at-the-same-time-74017)
  21. The Economist (2009). A bad climate for development, The Economist, retrieved from https://www.economist.com/node/14447171
  22. For more information about correlation studies on climate security: Rahmstorf, S. (2008). Anthropogenic Climate Change: Revisiting the Facts. Brookings Institution Press, Washington.
  23. For more information about climate change and conflicts: SIPRI, S. U. (2016). Climate Change and Violent Conflict in East Africa: Implication for Policy. Stocholm University and SIPRI; Nordsa, R., & Gleditsch, P. (2007). Climate Change and Conflict. ELSEVIER Political Geography; Barnett, J. Adger, N. (2007). Climate Change, Human Security and Violent Conflict. Political Geography, Elsevier. (https://ams.hi.is/wp-content/uploads/old/Barnett,Adger2007climsec_Kronsell.pdf)