'There Will Be Another Syria. It's Just A Case Of Where And When', Experts Warn

And it'll all be down to climate change.

Climate change will inevitably help cause another major war, having already caused the brutal Syrian conflict, experts have warned.

A panel of national security and climate change specialists made the sombre warning at the One Young World summit in Tucson, Arizona, last weekend.

"At some point, the environmental stress of a given group of people becomes so great they have no choice but to change their way of life," said Eric Holthaus, meteorologist and climate change journalist. "Wherever the next Syria is, it's hard to know. But we know there will be one on the path."

Chair of the panel Alexander Verbeek, global issues policy advisor for the Netherlands' foreign affairs ministry, highlighted the effect climate change will have on the younger generations.

"We're talking about a massive, worldwide, manmade climate change that is going to impact each and every one of us. And youths will really start to feel that impact.

"If you think about any conflicts you read about in the newspaper, you will see that droughts are in zones prone to conflict. If we look at the impact of climate change on war, there's never a conflict that's 100% attributable to climate change but it is always a factor."


Verbeek pinpointed the Syrian civil war as an example of this, referencing research published by Colin Kelley, a climate scientist based in Santa Barbara.

In his 2015 publication, Kelley states: "There is evidence 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.. We conclude that human influences on the climate system are implicated in the current Syrian conflict."

Speaking to young leaders at the One Young World summit, Verbeek explained: "In the past few decades in Syria, rainfall went down, temperature went up, and droughts increased in frequency and duration. The last drought began in 2007 and never really stopped.

"And that has been a factor in the uprising that ultimately resulted in the Syrian Civil War."

He continued: "Because of the drought, farmers had moved to the city and lost their lands. They had no income, they were in the city, were poor and ready for a change. At that moment, again another climate change related incident, the grain harvest completely failed in 2010 in Russia, and the food prices in the Arabian world doubled. If you spend half of your income on food and the food prices double you are in the position that you want change."

Verbeek emphasised the link between world food prices spiking and a "significant increase" in uprisings and revolutions across the world.

"So there is a clear link between food prices, between water shortages, between climate change and the impact they have."

Holthaus says the Syrian war has "opened people's minds" about what could happen in the future.

"I think people assumed we could have catastrophic events in places we normally think of as vulnerable - places of sea level rising such as Bangladesh or the Pacific Islands - and that's where I thought issues of future migration would arise.

"But then we see it happening in a place prone to drought, far away from the ocean. We talk about migration and climate change, and we have really seen this issue in Syria.

"There is some point in individual countries where the situation becomes ungovernable and we have seen that in Syria for sure.

Lt Colonel Hal Bidlack, a senior research fellow at the Center for Climate and Security and former military officer, expanded on the role of the US military in natural disasters brought on by climate change - but said its increasing presence made him uneasy.

"Sometimes the military is the only tool to deal with [these disasters]. When there were typhoons in the Philippines in 2013, the USS George Washington taskforce were sent there to provide relief.

"I'm very proud of being in the military service, but it makes me nervous about military people being directed to overreach. There is a law in America [the Posse Comitatus Act] which says military people cannot be policemen. It's very dangerous to have the military expand their role, but we've been lurched into it.

"We didn't ask for this," Bidlack continued. "We have the capabilities, and we're going to do it because it is going to save lives, but I'd ask policymakers and citizens to think deeply about the implications of having military forces around the world heavily involved in their business.

"It makes me nervous."

Holthaus also emphasised his concerns over action taken against climate change, but said the issue did not "just" lie with how to prevent it.

"Even if we have a really ambitious climate mitigation path and we do a really good job, we are still going to have climate change, we are still going to have migration, we are still going to have adaptation that we need to sort out.

"So this is something that is one of the most important things that anyone can study right now. It’s how to survive climate change, not just how to prevent it."