Early in the 2016 US Presidential campaign, candidate Martin O’Malley presented a controversial claim, stating, “One of the things that preceded the failure of the nation-state of Syria and the rise of ISIS was the effect of climate change…” . O’Malley’s statement was immediately met with incredulity and disbelief from his opponents . While the evidence is inconclusive as to the degree to which a causal relationship exists between climate change and the rise of ISIS over the past five years , there are links between climate change and political instability in Syria in particular, as well as throughout the world more broadly.
From 2007 to 2010, Syria and surrounding areas witnessed “the most severe drought in the instrument record,” causing livestock mortality and crop failure and resulting in the migration of nearly 1.5 million people from farming communities to urban centers . The subsequent strain on urban infrastructure by this refugee population contributed to crime, unrest, and ultimately the rise of ISIS . Climate scientists have controlled for natural variation in temperatures and humidity and illustrated a causal effect between climate change trends and the occurrence of this abnormally severe drought .
As weather patterns become increasingly volatile, and temperatures in aggregate increase, the reliability of the world’s current water and agricultural infrastructure will continue to degrade. This will continue to cause migration of affected people largely into urban centers where they will place strains on local infrastructure and social systems . These effects will be disproportionately great in poorer areas of the world where infrastructure and social safety nets are less developed to begin with . These places are overwhelmingly the ones whose governments are most unable to defend against militant groups such as ISIS. Agents cooperating in the fight against ISIS today, including the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL led by the US Government, must recognize this increased risk, and adjust their operating models appropriately.
The Global Coalition to Counter ISIL was formed in 2014 by US President Obama and presently includes 66 participating states . The coalition organizes operations under several “lines of effort,” the primary five being: (1) Providing military support to our partners, (2) Impeding the flow of foreign fighters, (3) Stopping ISIL’s financing and funding, (4) Addressing humanitarian crises in the region, (5) Exposing ISIL’s true nature . The fourth line of effort includes the humanitarian assistance in the forms of “shelter, food and water, medicine and education”  diverted by participating states directly to the citizens in the regions where ISIS is active. These activities have provided lifesaving services to a group of people caught in a conflict zone; it will be critical for this coalition to maintain this element of its operating model to prevent exacerbated humanitarian and geopolitical crises.
There are, however, critical changes that must be made to the coalition’s operating model to address the increased destabilization from climate change over the next hundred years and beyond. First, and most urgently, the coalition needs to recognize the link between climate change and increased geopolitical risk induced by the degradation of water and agricultural infrastructure, and begin allocating investment dollars that are commensurate with this risk. The US Government needs to authorize the coalition’s partner defense organizations to collaborate with research organizations and the private sector to develop breakthrough technology to prevent or reverse the effects of climate change. Furthermore, the coalition must initiate a campaign to convince the US electorate of the risks posed by climate change. It must be clear to voters that any decision to postpone major and sustained investment in advanced technologies for low-carbon energy generation and usage, water conservation, and sustainable agriculture will increase the US’ and world’s vulnerability to militant groups.
To do this, I argue the coalition incorporate into their five “lines of activity” operating model a sixth line that is similar to what scholars describe as a “Manhattan-project” for climate change. Modeled on the US-led initiative to develop the first nuclear weapons in the 1940s, this type of program would rally an interdisciplinary group to devote talent and investment to technological advancement . The military as a customer of the resulting technology presents the additional benefit of generating immediate and significant demand to drive market dynamics that will ensure successful outcomes. While the present non-wartime environment presents restrictions on the power government has to execute such a program (compared with the wartime allowances available in the 1940s), a concerted effort engaging multiple stakeholders to sprint to a solution on a complex problem is only possible under the leadership of a government organization .
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 David A. Graham, “A Link Between Climate Change and ISIS Isn’t Crazy,” The Atlantic, July 22, 2015, [http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/07/martin-omalley-isis-climate-change/399131/], accessed November 2016.
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 Kathleen J. McInnis, “Coalition Contributions to Countering the Islamic State,” Congressional Research Service, August 24, 2016, [https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/R44135.pdf], accessed November 2016
 US Department of State, “The Global Coalition to Counter ISIL,” [https://www.state.gov/s/seci/], accessed November 2016
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