10 March 2021
  • climate security
  • France
  • policy
  • Bangladesh

Perspectives on the French foreign affairs commission report on climate change & conflict

This report by Margot Araujo is the result of an information mission initiated by the French Foreign Affairs commission in 2019. It included a country visit to Bangladesh where the rapporteurs had the opportunity to discuss with civil society stakeholders key topics such as migration, water scarcity and health in the region. Other professionals interviewed for this report included representatives from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Defense, research institutes, UN officials and specialists from relevant NGOs, offering a wide range of expertise on the topic. The report also comes with a set of 62 proposals ideated by a group of citizens underlining the significant presence of civil interest in this topic.


The report draws on three parts, starting with a review of the threats caused by climate change, their consequences on the setting of conflict and the actions to be taken by relevant actors. This structure allows the authors to finish the report with a set of recommendations based on the needs they have identified.

The first chapter introduces a framework that stems from the rollback in climate regulation. The report explains why climate is becoming less and less predictable due to various threats: the rising sea levels and temperatures on one hand, and the multiplication of extreme climate events, on the other. Direct security consequences include the risk of flooding, an increase in the frequency of droughts and put a threat to the resilience of societies as a whole.

Against this backdrop, the authors move to identify four major climate-related security risks: migration, food scarcity, water scarcity and to a lesser extent, energy scarcity. The increasing competition to access these resources could impact the level of security and stability at the local, regional and even international level. This is where the dynamics of this conflict are put in place.

The authors point to a low level of adaptation and preparedness of two actors, one at the national level (the French army) and one on the multilateral level (the UN). The French Army still considers climate change as an operational setting (the impact of climate on defence) rather than a strategic topic (the impact of climate on security), while the UN is described as focusing its’ climate security approach on population and development regardless of defence.

To close their report, the authors are taking a stand in favour of two national actors as key actors to reduce security risks caused by climate change. The French diplomatic body is called on to support action in tackling the root causes of climate change while reducing tensions by proposing new cooperation and encouraging investment in aid. As for the Army, the reports suggest ways to strengthen operational capacities, adapt its equipment and infrastructure and engage in long term strategic thinking.


 As a “threat multiplier”, climate change creates a more volatile environment for conflicts and crisis to appear under multiple forms and through various issues. The topic remains a double-edged sword; on one hand, it should be considered as a distinct security topic but on the other hand, its consequences cannot be addressed without building connections to other security issues. To bring climate change from a background issue to the forefront of security initiatives, this report identifies four key takeaways.

  1. The difficulty of finding the right angle to position climate security at the centre of discussions. The report shows the constraints on actors in this field. All of them tend to consider the issue from an angle that won’t cover all security implications. It will take an effort of coordination of the defence sector, diplomacy and international aid, to set a perimeter of its own for climate security despite their own perspective and agenda.
  2. At the international level, the politicization of the topic makes it difficult for the international community to move forward as one. On some occasions, the report sheds light on normative, political and conceptual gap that is being addressed through non-binding initiatives. A consequence of climate change on conflicts (for instance migration and “climate refugees”) is that the issue is often put forwards on an ad hoc basis through advocacy platforms. These frameworks increase their visibility without forcing countries to commit to a new set of international norms. This situation has also been used as “a comparative advantage" [for countries] to defend their interests in the framework of international negotiation” as one of the experts interviewed for the report explained, increasing the politicization of the debate.
  3. The complexity of climate change’s impact on security is also dependent on the time scale. As shown in the recommendation sections, it requires policy and action to adapt to its’ consequences while continuing to fight its’ causes. This point is important when considering that this report was commissioned by legislative body (the French National Assembly), as it emphasizes an important point in terms of policy implementation. Taking actions will require a wide set of policy planning (consultations, laws, decrees) across several fields, to achieve different short-term to mid-term goals that aim to ultimately achieve one common long-term goal (reduce the impact created by the nexus “climate change and conflicts”).
  4. Finally, policy identification emphasizes the need for cooperation and targeted action. The level of transformation needed is high and will have to cover a broader range of actors (scholars, NGOs, development banks, diplomats, etc.) to establish new cooperation and engage in reflection to mobilize on the topic. Bringing these actors together could create positive synergies that hopefully will enhance the ideation and execution of policy once it has been identified. This could ultimately transform the issue from a top-down approach to a bottom-up network that could help bring new perspectives and sustainable solutions.

Find the full report HERE (in French)

By Margot Araujo, Policy Support Analyst at Sciences Po Paris
Photo credits: WorldFish/Flickr