Climate change

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the UN body responsible for assessing the science on climate change. It prepares reports about the “state of scientific, technical and socio-economic knowledge on climate change”, including its impacts and risks, and options for reducing the rate at which climate change is occurring.

In 2022 the IPCC released its Sixth Assessment Report along with a Summary Report for Policy Makers (PDF). This states with “high confidence” that “approximately 3.3 to 3.6 billion people live in contexts that are highly vulnerable to climate change”. The report also states that the levels of vulnerability vary “substantially:”

Vulnerability of ecosystems and people to climate change differs substantially among and within regions driven by patterns of intersecting socioeconomic development, unsustainable ocean and land use, inequity, marginalization, historical and ongoing patterns of inequity such as colonialism, and governance.

What is human security?

The United Nations Trust Fund for Human Security (UNTFHS) website highlights General Assembly resolution 66/290 (PDF), which was adopted in 2012 and sets out that:

Human security is an approach to assist Member States in identifying and addressing widespread and cross-cutting challenges to the survival, livelihood and dignity of their people.

The UN resolution calls for:  

People-centred, comprehensive, context-specific and prevention-oriented responses that strengthen the protection and empowerment of all people.

Human security and climate change: IPCC assessment

The IPCC says climate change will exacerbate vulnerabilities and the risk of conflict, especially in already-conflict affected areas and those with weak governance. Its 2014 report states (PDF):

  • Human security will be progressively threatened as the climate changes

  • Climate change will compromise the cultural values that are important for community and individual well-being

  • Climate change will have significant impacts on forms of migration that compromise human security

  • Some of the factors that increase the risk of violent conflict within states are sensitive to climate change

  • People living in places affected by violent conflict are particularly vulnerable to climate change

  • Climate change will lead to new challenges to states and will increasingly shape both conditions of security and national security policies

Migration and climate change

Directly linking climate change and migration is complex as a range of socio-economic factors influence population movement. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) report on Migration and Climate Change (2008, PDF) provides further context:

While the scientific argument for climate change is increasingly confident, the consequences of climate change for human population distribution are unclear and unpredictable. With so many other social, economic and environmental factors at work establishing a linear, causative relationship between anthropogenic climate change and migration has, to date, been difficult.

Predicting future flows of climate migrants is complex; stymied by a lack of baseline data, distorted by population growth and reliant on the evolution of climate change as well as the quantity of future emissions.

This view is supported by a 2011 report published for the UK Government’s Office for Science Migration and Global Environmental Change (PDF). One of its conclusions stated that:

Environmental change will affect migration now and in the future, specifically through its influence on a range of economic, social and political drivers which themselves affect migration. However, the range and complexity of the interactions between these drivers means that it will rarely be possible to distinguish individuals for whom environmental factors are the sole driver (‘environmental migrants’).

A World Bank Report published in September 2021, sets out that up to 216 million people could be forced to move within their countries by 2050, but that immediate action to reduce global emissions could reduce this by up to 80%. It expected Sub-Saharan African and East Asia and the Pacific to be the most impacted (86 million and 49 million internal migrants, respectively).

Additional information

Food security and water scarcity

Food security

Climate change is one of multiple issues affecting global food security.

Chapter 7 of the IPCC’s Food Security and Food Production Systems states the impact of climate change on food availability and security will be variable, but “negative impacts of climate trends have been more common than positive ones” although “positive trends are evident in some high latitude regions.”

The report also notes that climate change is impacting on the abundance and distribution of harvested aquatic species and that this “is expected to continue with negative impacts on nutrition and food security for especially vulnerable people, particularly in some tropical developing countries”.

On 26 October 2022 a debate on Global food security took place in Westminster Hall and discussed these issues in more detail. During the debate Labour MP Taiwo Owatemi highlighted the interconnected nature of the impacts of climate change and global food security:

Global warming could lead to a 20% rise in global food prices by 2050, hurting the world’s poorest countries. The Government must finally deliver on their promise on international climate finance, to help developing countries fight the climate crisis, and help to protect food supply. If food security is not connected for the world, it is not protected for us at home. This, more than most, is an interconnected issue, and if we do not deal with it on a global scale, there is minimal chance of success. We cannot close ourselves off from the reality of climate change; we must work together with those who will be worst affected to find a solution now.

In response to the debate, the Minister for Europe, Leo Docherty, said the Government would use both diplomatic channels, such as the UN and the Climate Conference, and aid spending to address the challenge of global food insecurity.

Further details are available in the full transcript of debate. A Commons Library briefing on global food security also contains further information on the issues affecting global food security.

On 8 September 2022 a debate on Climate Change and Biodiversity: Food Security also took place in the Lords Chamber. 

An article titled “The World’s Food Supply is Made Insecure by Climate Change” from the United Nations Academic Impact series contains further information.

Water scarcity

Water scarcity is already common in South and East Asia, North Africa, and the Middle East. The IPCC states the Middle East is likely to experience “chronic” water scarcity (PDF), even if global temperature rises remain less than 2⁰C. Small islands are expected to see some freshwater stress.

A Unicef report in 2017 estimated that by 2040 up to 25% of children (600 million) will live in areas with extremely limited water resources. In 2021, 1.4 billion people lived in areas of high, or extremely high, water vulnerability (impacting 20% of children).

The United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) will be held from 6 to 18 November 2022 in Sharm El Sheikh, where the UK will hand over presidency to Egypt, having hosted COP26 in Glasgow in November 2021.

On 14 November 2022, water and water scarcity will be the focus of the conference. This will see the official launch of the AWARE (Action for Water Adaptation and Resilience) initiative in partnership with the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). Other themes covered include water security and sustainable development, climate adaptation and early warnings for the water sector.

UK foreign policy and climate change

Integrated Review

In March 2021, the UK Government published its integrated review of security, defence, development and foreign policy. This stated that tackling climate change would be the Government’s “number one international priority.”

It cited several impacts of climate change on global stability and development, including on poverty, global health risks, political stability, and migration. The review expects the effects to be felt most acutely in Sub-Saharan Africa, South and East Asia, and the Middle East.

In November 2021, the UK hosted the Climate conference, COP26. This resulted in the Glasgow Climate Pact. For more on the outcomes of the climate conference, see the Commons Library Insight What were the outcomes of COP26?


In addition to the integrated review, the Ministry of Defence (MOD) has published two strategy documents on climate change and security.

Its Climate Change and Sustainability Strategic Approach (March 2021) states UK defence will “take a lead” in responding to the emerging geopolitical and conflict-related threats exacerbated by climate change. It argues that there is an increased risk of competition for resources such as energy and water, the potential for civil unrest, and a rise in migration.

The strategy includes commitments to ensure UK defence continues to adapt and remain resilient to climate change, including through strengthening its disaster response capabilities, and encouraging NATO to mainstream climate change in its policy and capability development.

The MOD’s Global strategic trends (October 2018) provides a forward-look at what challenges the world faces to 2050. Increasing disruption and cost of climate change, and increasing demand and competition for resources, are among the trends discussed.

International development

The UK Government published its new ten-year strategy for international development in May 2022. This re-iterated the Government’s commitment to help countries adapt to, and mitigate the effects of, climate change, with climate change forming one of the four priorities of UK aid spending.

In the strategy, the Government notes that those in conflict-affected states will be most impacted by climate change and rising poverty. Included within the strategy are pledges to:

  • Double international climate finance spending to at least £11.6 billion between 2021 and 2026. Finance can take the form of loans, grants, guarantees and bilateral funding. However, there is no officially agreed definition of climate finance.
  • Ensuring all UK bilateral aid aligns with the Paris Agreement in 2023. This broadly means that spending will meet three long-term goals: Stabilising greenhouse gases at a level which will hold the increase in average global temperature to below 2⁰C above pre-industrial levels increasing the ability of countries to adapt to climate change; and ensuring finance flows support climate-resilient and low-carbon development

The Commons Library briefing, UK aid and climate change (updated October 2021) provides more on UK aid policy, spending, and scrutiny.

Commentary and scrutiny of Government strategy

UK Parliament Select Committees

In May 2022, the Defence Select Committee launched a review on defence and climate change, with a focus on the effects of climate change on global security and the MOD’s contribution to reducing UK emissions. At time of publication, no oral evidence has been published.

The International Development Committee published a report on UK aid and climate change in October 2021. This followed an earlier report in 2019 that focused on how climate change may worsen migration and displacement. The Committee recommended the Government “play a role in supporting research and improving data on climate migration” to better understand its potential effects.

Further reading

UN reports and proceedings

World Bank reports

Reports by civil society organisations and think-thanks

Commons Library briefings

Related posts