11 January 2024

Climate security challenges in Iraq: Entry points for local-level dialogue

The following text is the executive summary from the full report by The Berghof Foundation and PEACE Paradigms.

Iraq has begun to feel the brunt of climate change and an increase in climate-related security risks. The country’s vulnerability to climate change is a product of a high degree of exposure to climate change factors, a susceptibility to be affected by climate change, and a lack of capacity to adapt and respond to the effects of climate change through weak governance, structures and mechanisms. The uptick in extreme weather events over the last decade – from sweltering temperatures, droughts and desertification, to flooding, and sand and dust storms – has had several pernicious consequences. Four in particular are noteworthy for their severity: water scarcity; the loss of economic livelihoods, especially for those dependent on the agricultural sector, which has been decimated by the effects of climate change; climate-induced displacement and migration; and rising food insecurity. The effects of climate change have only exacerbated the countless challenges facing the country, particularly those associated with the recent conflict with so-called Islamic State (aka ISIS), as well as the two main drivers of tension and conflict in the post-2003 period, political exclusion and poor governance.

This study seeks to delve deeper into the issue of climate change and its links to and effects on conflict dynamics throughout the country. Specifically, it examines nine districts spanning the provinces of Basra, Kirkuk, Al-Qadisiyah, Salahaldin, and Sulaymaniyah, exploring the ways in which climate change is contributing to conflict and insecurity in these districts through an analysis of climate security risk pathways. These pathways, described below and based on adelphi’s approach and research,1 will help to unpack the climate/ security nexus and to understand how climate and conflict interlink in Iraq.

  • Natural resources. Climate change impacts such as changes in temperature and precipitation can alter access to and availability of natural resources such as land and water. This can increase competition and tensions between different groups or communities. Increased competition over natural resources can possibly escalate into violence or conflict.
  • Livelihood insecurity. Floods, storms or forest fires or slow onset hazards such as drought or precipitation decrease have adverse impacts on people’s livelihoods, particularly in rural areas. This can result in displacement and migration. Combined with high unemployment rates, state fragility, and low capacities of cities to host newcomers, among other factors, people are often left with little choice but to turn to activities that further exacerbate environmental degradation, including maladaptation activities, or illicit economies. This can also create competitive tensions between residents and newly displaced migrants.
  • Food insecurity. Climate change impacts on livelihoods, such as agriculture, contribute to volatile food prices and supply which can act as a catalyst for protest and political instability. When combined with the impact of high reliance on fluctuating international markets on political stability, this can lead to social unrest and result in state violence against citizens.
  • Weak governance. Research has shown that climate-related security risks are particularly significant where governance mechanisms are weak or failing in terms of their presence, legitimacy and capacity. Actual climate-related changes and extreme weather events have an impact on society and human security, as well as systems which are dependent on many factors which also influence the vulnerability of affected people, economies and political systems. Low adaptive capacities to respond to climate change impacts and weak or absent conflict resolution mechanisms further exacerbate conflict dynamics.
  • Climate-induced disasters. When combined with inadequate governmental response and perceived exclusion, extreme weather events and climate-induced disasters such as floods, wildfires or earthquakes can contribute to grievances and political instability. Climate hazards can undermine authorities, erode state capacities, or challenge state control which can lead to social unrest, governmental crackdowns, and state violence against citizens.
  • Unintended policy consequences. When climate change policies fail or central authorities or the international community put policies in place that are not conflict-sensitive, climate factors can contribute to the onset of violence or social unrest. If these policies are poorly designed and/or combined with top-down decisionmaking, they can marginalise communities or aggravate existing grievances in vulnerable communities.
  • No direct causal link. The specific causal mechanisms linking climate change to insecurity and (violent) conflict are still to be explored. While there is no simple causal link between climate change and conflict, it is widely evidenced that climate change acts as a threat or risk multiplier.

Overall, the study found that various pathways are present to some degree in the districts, with natural resources, livelihood insecurity, food insecurity, and weak governance the most prominent pathways. Though pathway dynamics and findings vary in each of the districts looked at, cross cutting findings do appear. Click here to read more about the pathways.


The Planetary Security Initiative has been active in Iraq since 2018 and has established the Basra Forum for Climate, Environment and Security to foster dialogue and collaboration among Iraqi civil society, governmental institutions, non-governmental organizations, academia, and other actors involved in climate change, environmental degradation, and security. In November 2023, the Iraqi NGO Ozon organised with PSI a get-together in the context of its Basra Forum for Climate, Environment and Security. Click here to read the key takeaways. 

Photo credit: Flickr/ UNDP Climate